As a result of continuous struggles for decades, women have been able to achieve equality and play a fundamental role in public life. Palestinian Arab women, despite suffering from gender and national discrimination, have reached great heights. There has been a noticeable increase in women's academic enrollment, which exceeds that of men’s. Two-thirds of Palestinian Arab students in Israeli universities are women, with 18% of women holding a bachelor's degree and 2.4% a master's degree.
However, with this progress and development, their participation in political life, especially on the local level, is still limited. Therefore, it is necessary to enhance women's participation in local decision-making processes and promote women's partnership in local power. The presence of women in decision-making positions, particularly as elected officials in Palestinian Arab local authorities, has a positive impact and a qualitative leap on several vital issues that concern us all, including gender equality, access to education, and health services.
In Israel, political marginalization of Palestinian Arab society in general is deliberate which affects women in particular. Political parties exclude women from influential positions within them despite the fact that they are marginalized in local authorities. Narrow factional considerations and interests, including family, economic, and social, do not allow women to compete freely and seriously.
According to Dr. Maha Karkabi, in the 2003 local authority elections, 249 women ran for office in local authorities but only two were elected. In the 2008 elections, women's participation dropped to 149 with six being elected. In 2013, out of 165 women 16 were elected in addition to 18 men and 8 women through rotation. Furthermore, since 1948, only one Palestinian Arab woman has held the executive position at a local council in 1972 in the Kafr Yasif council.
Despite marginalization, challenges, and obstacles, there must be systematic work on several fronts including civil society institutions, political parties, and the media which play a fundamental role in supporting and promoting women's presence in decision-making positions, especially in local authorities as council members and municipal leaders.
To enhance women's leadership role and encourage them to participate actively in political life and decision-making, the Mossawa Center developed the "Mahal-li" project (“my place” in Arabic) as part of its work to promote gender equality in the Palestinian Arab community and Israel at large, as well as the economy, social, cultural, and political rights of Palestinian citizens of Israel. The Mahal-li project works in cooperation with the Friedrich Ebert Foundation and the Naamat union branches in the Galilee, Triangle and Negev.
The Mahal-li project attracts Palestinian Arab women from all regions and localities including the Galilee, the Center, and the Naqab. The Mahal-li project empowers Palestinian Arab women interested in becoming more politically active to run for local office through specialized training programs, workshops, and seminars focused on practical skill-building and improving local governance problems, legal issues, budgeting, local economy, media relations, program development in local councils, and more. The project aims to increase the number of women represented in local councils as they are incredibly important to the development of the Palestinian Arab community in Israel. On this year’s International Women’s Day, we highlight this program as we celebrate the strength and perseverance of women, especially Palestinian women.