Gender inequality in the Palestinian Security Services

Female recruits in the Palestinian Security Services undergo training
6 min read
Ramallah
21 July, 2021
Haitham Alsharif shines a light on gender inequality in the Palestinian Security Services, where female recruits are barred from access to the financial benefits their male counterparts enjoy as well as promotions and decision-making roles.

Female members of the Palestinian Security Services (PSS) endure unequal treatment in comparison with their male colleagues when it comes to social security, health insurance, promotions, social allowance, holidays, scholarships, courses abroad and accessing decision-making positions.

Brigadier General Rana Al-Khouli, director of the Advisory Committee for Gender and director of Public Relations, Media and Gender in the National Security Forces experiences discrimination alongside her female colleagues when it comes to accessing social security and health insurance due to administrative regulations defining their social status as 'single'.

Marriage status denied

Al-Khouli is one of 838 married women out of the 2,300 female employees who make up 7.4 percent of the security services workforce in the West Bank. All those married are marked as 'single' on their ID papers, according to Nihad Wahdan, head of the Gender Unit at the Ministry of Interior, during a conversation with Al-Araby Al-Jadeed, The New Arab's Arabic-language sister publication.

The report showed clear discrimination against the social and economic rights of female staff. They were barred from social security and health care insurance provisions as well as being discriminated against in terms of promotion and scholarship opportunities, and access to decision-making roles

Captain Anas Rayan, Director of Management and Regulation in the Palestinian Civil Defence forces, admits that there is discrimination, citing the example of the Civil Defence female employees, who number 72 out of 1,277.

Fifty-four are married yet have 'single' marked on their official papers, and they have no power to alter this in order to access social allowance benefits for their husbands and children.

The Palestinian Security Services is made up of 18 different divisions, including the National Security Forces, the Civil Police, the Intelligence Services and Preventative Security, alongside other bodies which support the work of the security services such as the Political and National Guidance Commission.

There were 30,700 employees in these services at the start of 2019 – 1,920 of which were women and 1,267 of them worked in the police, preventative security, intelligence, the national security forces and the military medical services, according to the report, Women’s rights in the Palestinian Security Forces: Equality and Non-Discrimination, published by the Independent Commission for Human Rights (ICHR) in 2019.

Clear discrimination

The report showed clear discrimination against the social and economic rights of female staff. They were barred from social security and health care insurance provisions as well as being discriminated against in terms of promotion and scholarship opportunities, and access to decision-making roles.

Palestinian police woman with whistle
Female recruits in the Palestinian Security Services are prevented from accessing the same benefits as their male counterparts [Getty Images]

For the most part, female recruits in the security services are given administrative jobs, and will not end up in leadership roles, according to Jehad Harb, a researcher in the Coalition for Integrity and Accountability – a civil society institution combatting corruption and promoting accountability.

However, Deputy President of Al-Istiqlal University for Military Affairs, Brigadier General Salman Abdallah, does not view this as discrimination: "Most of the female recruits in the security services are placed in administrative roles according to their specialisms, and some are placed in the field."

Regarding other forms of discrimination, Fatima Da'na, legal expert in Gender and Child Justice who works in the International Labour Organisation and UN Women, says that female staff pensions cannot be transferred to their husbands if they die, contrary to the case for male staff. This is despite the fact that monthly pension contributions are taken from their salaries.

This violates the Palestinian Basic Law which was amended in 2003, as its 9th article stipulates: "Palestinians are equal in front of the law and the judiciary and there is to be no discrimination between them on grounds of race, gender, colour, religion, political opinion or disability," according to lawyer Khadija Zahran, who is Director of Control over National Policy and Legislation in the ICHR.

The security institution's failure to adopt reformative policies which promote an understanding of and tackle gender inequality is one of the most important obstacles preventing equality in rights and responsibilities

Abdul Karim Abu Arqoub, head of the public relations department in the Political and National Guidance Commission (a governmental body that supports the security services) denies the link between the term 'single' and the lack of financial rights for female recruits. He argues that the financial system doesn't depend on what is written on people's ID cards – it depends on what is in the ID papers, like the marriage contracts and children's birth certificates. He holds the law responsible for the limitations on female recruits' financial rights.

So why is there discrimination between men and women?

Eman Redwan, senior project manager at the Geneva Centre for Security Sector Governance answers: "The security institution's failure to adopt reformative policies which promote an understanding of and tackle gender inequality is one of the most important obstacles preventing equality in rights and responsibilities."

The study Women's Representation and Participation in Decision-Making in Institutions in the Justice and Security Sectors published by CARE International in May 2020 emphasised the existence of legal texts "which discriminate against women, bolster stereotypical societal images of them, and restrict their ability to enter decision-making positions". According to the study, the most important of these texts, the Law of Service in the Palestinian Security Forces No. 8 of 2005, defines a soldier as follows:

"Every (male)officer, non-commissioned (male)officer, or (male)individual in any of the security forces".

Article 72 from the same act states:

"Social allowance is paid to the (male)officer on behalf of his non-employed wife and his sons and daughters in accordance with the executive regulation specifications of this act".

The discriminatory language is clear in both articles. There is no reference to female officers, their roles or needs.

Who is responsible for the discrimination?

Many hold the Palestinian Authority responsible for gender-based discrimination. Harb believes that leaders both in government and the security forces are to blame for choosing not to amend the discriminatory legislation.  Abu Arqoub adds that without clear laws, it is impossible for individuals working within the system to reform the current situation, however hard they try or how single-minded they are.

In-depth
Live Story

Furthermore, even though this legislation was reviewed three years ago and amendments to the law were proposed to the Council of Ministers by the Just Legislation Sector Committee (under the Ministry of Justice) and the Gender Advisory Committee in the Security Sector, these amendments were not passed. Da'na states that these amendments are not legislative priorities for the council:

"There are internal challenges in the security institutions, around how the decision-makers view the roles and needs of women, and around integrating the concept of gender equality into the security forces".

Integrating gender issues in policies and legislation must be undertaken by the government, security services and women's institutions in order to ensure the principles of equality and non-discrimination, according to Zahran, who points out that mixed gender units in the security services and in the Ministry for Women's Affairs should play a big role.

Policies must be pursued which comply with the CEDAW Agreement (Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women) which aims to end all forms of discrimination by amending local regulations and laws connected to the security sector. Legal, political and practical steps should be taken to change the stereotypical image of women in the military and security sectors and the roles they are assigned, and positive discrimination in the workplace should be promoted as a tool to start addressing this imbalance.   

This is an edited translation from our Arabic edition. To read the original click here.

Translated by Rose Chacko