AMMAN: Hanan Ashrawi has been the first woman in many positions in Palestine. She was the first female dean of a Palestinian university, the first spokeswoman for the Palestinian delegation at the 1991 peace conference in Madrid, one of the first elected female MPs, the first female minister of higher education, and the first elected female member of the executive committee of the Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO).
“Being the first is important because it breaks the impasse, creates precedents and encourages women in other fields, especially politics, to get involved. Politics and other fields have traditionally been the monopoly of men,” Ashrawi, a professor of English and comparative literature at Bir Zeit University, told Arab News.
She rose to international prominence when Ted Koppel, the American anchor of ABC’s “Nightline” program, conducted a televised “town meeting” in Jerusalem in 1988 during the first Palestinian uprising against Israeli occupation.
She articulated the Palestinians’ case in a debate with Ehud Olmert, the Israeli mayor of Jerusalem at the time, who later became prime minister.
Ashrawi told Arab News that her happiest moment was when Jerusalemites elected her to the first Palestinian Legislative Council in 1996.
In 2009, she was elected to the Palestinian National Council (Palestine’s Parliament in exile), after which she became the first female member of the PLO executive committee, a post she still holds.
Ashrawi says her passion will always be contributing to Palestinian civil society, adding that gender equality should not be delayed until an Israeli-Palestinian peace deal is reached.
“It’s one struggle. We can’t fight occupation if we can’t agree on the need to stop the oppression of women,” she said.
“In order to strengthen ourselves, we need to fight for social justice, equal rights and opportunities for all citizens,” she added.
“In all my work, I’ve insisted on intervening for the rights of women. I’m committed to the weak, the excluded and the marginalized, especially women.”