Palestinian women look to Bethlehem to boost their role

Sun Oct 14, 2012 7:30am EDT
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By Jihan Abdalla

BETHLEHEM, West Bank (Reuters) - "Many people still believe the post of mayor is exclusively for men," says Vera Baboun, aiming to become the first female mayor of the Palestinian town of Bethlehem, and in the process shake up a society where men still make the laws and do the deals.

The university lecturer has a good chance of achieving the first goal in municipal elections being held across the West Bank on October 20. She heads a bloc of 12 Muslims and Christians in Bethlehem representing the Fatah movement, which one recent survey found to command 49 percent support in the West Bank.

The municipal ballots are the first in the territory since 2005. In the ancient hilltop city just a few miles from Jerusalem, posters with the faces of six blocs of hopefuls cover nearly every lamp post and wall.

Baboun's group promise to improve services and promote the tourism potential of the town where the Bible says Christ was born. "Women have abilities, vision and a unique way of bringing about change," Baboun told Reuters.

For many residents, things can only improve after seven years in which the town's workings were hobbled by a withdrawal of international aid after five members of the Islamist Hamas group were elected to the 15-member council in 2005.

Western donors feared their funds would be channeled to a group that refuses to recognize Israel's right to exist, and that they consider a terrorist organization. To their relief, Hamas is not standing in this month's election.

For her part, Baboun, a mother of five, has no previous political experience.

But victory for someone who is head of a local school and a social worker in addition to her research in gender studies could mark a new departure for women in a community still run along patriarchal lines.   Continued...