Already pipped to the post of first Arab female to enter the Israeli Knesset, Haneen Zoubi has succeeded in becoming the first female member to be elected for an Arab party, namely the Tajamu Party.
Known for its strong nationalist sentiment, the Tajamu Party is the foe extraordinaire of its Zionist political counterparts, and Zoubi has so far proved adept in further ruffling governmental feathers.
On a recent Knesset induction day, Zoubi tersely corrected an official who referred to ‘the territories’ with ‘the Occupied Palestinian Territories’, and has been active in the criticism of Israeli media bias.
The first Palestinian citizen to graduate from a media studies course at Hebrew University in Jerusalem, Zoubi has since established media classes in Arab schools to enhance media awareness.
Yet it is her approach towards women’s issues that is particularly refreshing as she shirks the mantle of gender box-ticking, and promises action of a different kind:
I don’t want to become the Knesset address for Arab women’s issues. I need to raise the interest of the men in my party on women’s issues, not allow their interest to wane because they can dump the issue on me. [Source]
Perhaps we too often forget that change for women does not only originate from the mantra of equality and empowerment, but rather from empowerment and awareness from the top down.
At the moment I’m reviewing a book on women’s political empowerment in North Africa, the Middle East, and South Asia, and a common theme comprises women being appointed and feminist groups being acknowledged, but there the action stops.
The token female presence is often just that: a token.
If the dominant male contingent in government perceive female candidates as vote fodder and ticks in the gender box, the wrong message is conveyed.
Zoubi is being heralded for her status as the first female member of an Arab party in the Knesset; her real worth lies in her motivation, nationalist bite, and zest for total equality starting with her governmental contemporaries.
And it is for that that I applaud her.