‘Braking’ boundaries: Palestinian women seek new chances

Dalia Al-Darawish prepares for an exam to become one of only a handful of qualified female Palestinian truck drivers. (AFP)
Updated 15 October 2019

‘Braking’ boundaries: Palestinian women seek new chances

  • Palestinian women are pushing boundaries in the traditionally conservative city of Hebron
  • ‘(Society) has changed a little. There have been some developments, but not enough’

HEBRON, Palestinian Territories: As the 30-ton truck weaves through the crowded Palestinian streets, groups of men stop and gawp at the diminutive figure of Dalia Al-Darawish in a purple headscarf seated behind the wheel.
Darawish is preparing for an exam to become one of only a handful of qualified female Palestinian truck drivers, a test the 26-year-old sees as about more than just driving.
“It is symbolic,” she said. “It shows we can do anything — that as a woman you can work, drive a trailer or whatever.”
The mother-of-two is among several Palestinian women pushing boundaries in the traditionally conservative city of Hebron in the Israeli-occupied West Bank, amid a growing assertiveness of women’s rights.
Darawish said she had faced criticism from both sexes as she trained, but the men were far more vocal.
“They are some who supported, a minority,” she said. “But then there are people shouting in the street, ‘No, why are you driving a trailer?!’”
“Whenever I made any mistake you would find men shouting, ‘It’s impossible (for you)’.”
At the driving center, she shakes slightly as her black-moustached examiner Issam Bedawi explains the test.
After briefly demonstrating her ability to detach and re-attach the trailer, the two clamber up into the carriage and drive off.
Recent months have seen protests in the West Bank after a 21-year-old woman was allegedly killed by her family members after posting a photo with her soon-to-be fiancé on Instagram.
The demonstrators are demanding more protection for women, but also a more prominent political movement for women’s rights.
Palestinian women still often give up their careers to care for children.
A World Bank study last year found that 58 percent of skilled women between 25 and 34 were unemployed, compared to 23 percent of men.
The general unemployment rate for women (44 percent) is double that of men, according to official Palestinian statistics.
Wafaa Al-Adhami had long dreamt of being an artist, but didn’t have the opportunity to study growing up.
But five years ago and with the kids older, she returned to her passion, studying hours of videos about artists on YouTube.
“Painting and art courses are expensive and I had no time,” she said. “So I loved educating myself.”
“Every artist has their own style, and I wanted to find mine,” she said.
From her living room table with an array of children passing through, she developed a specific layering technique for her work, pouring the paint onto the canvas before sculpting and manipulating it.
The result is a 3D texture that she says is unique among Palestinian artists.
Her inspiration ranges from Palestinian icons such as the Dome of the Rock mosque in Jerusalem to more Jackson Pollock-inspired surrealism.
A recent 40-work exhibition was a big hit.
Elsewhere in the city, 31-year-old Asia Amer has set up what she believes is Hebron’s first women-only restaurant.
The idea behind the Queen Restaurant, she said, is to give women a space to feel at home.
Those who normally wear the hijab can remove the headscarf if they wish.
“I felt that it was the right of women to have a place they can relax in — where there are no restrictions or people watching her,” she said.
“I am proof that Palestinian women don’t just stay at home to cook and look after the children.”
Back at the driving test center, Darawish pulls the trailer to a stop and waits nervously as Bedawi tallies up the score.
“I’m happy to say she passed,” he announces. “Everything I asked of her during the test she did fantastically.”
Darawish doesn’t even know if she will work as a truck driver, as right now she is still looking after her children.
But she said she wanted to help drive change in attitudes.
“(Society) has changed a little. There have been some developments, but not enough,” she said.
“If there had been big movement, men who see a woman driving a trailer would be happy or they wouldn’t say anything at all.”

Internet restricted in protest-hit Iran: report

Updated 23 min 25 sec ago

Internet restricted in protest-hit Iran: report

TEHRAN: Authorities have restricted Internet access in Iran, the semi-official ISNA news agency said on Sunday, after nearly two days of nationwide protests triggered by a petrol price hike.

“Access to the Internet has been limited as of last night and for the next 24 hours,” an informed source at the information and telecommunications ministry said, quoted by ISNA.

The decision was made by the Supreme National Security Council of Iran and communicated to Internet service providors overnight, the source added.

It came after state television accused “hostile media” of trying to use fake news and videos on social media to exaggerate the protests as “large and extensive.”

Netblocks, a website that monitors online services, said late Saturday the country was in the grip of an Internet shutdown.

“Confirmed: Iran is now in the midst of a near-total national Internet shutdown; realtime network data show connectivity at 7 percent of ordinary levels after twelve hours of progressive network disconnections,” it said on Twitter.

At least one person was killed and others injured during the demonstrations that started across the country on Friday night, Iranian media said.

The protests erupted hours after it was announced the price of petrol would be increased by 50 percent for the first 60 liters and 300 percent for anything above that each month.