Women Leadership State and Society Conference, 2009

AL-Quds University

On May 3, 2009, the Al-Quds and Brandeis Universities presented an international conference on “Women, Leadership, State, and Society.” The conference—which was organized by faculty from both Al-Quds and Brandeis, including WGS Professor Sue Lanser, and held at Al-Quds University, Abu-Dis Campus, East Jerusalem, with the support of funds from the Ford Foundation— offered an exploration of the achievements, possibilities, challenges, and strategies for women’s leadership in Palestinian education, government, community-based organizations, and civil society.

Structured to combine national and global perspectives and to blend expertise with participation, the conference featured three plenary sessions; two sets of concurrent sessions; and a final discussion session. The first plenary session, “Changing the Face of Government,” featured Drude Dahlerup (Stockholm University), an expert on gender in electoral systems, and a discussion of women’s leadership in the Palestinian Authority by Zahira Kamal, former Minister of Women’s Affairs and currently Director of UNESCO’s Palestinian Women’s Research and Documentation Center in Ramallah.

A second session, on law, family, and rights, brought together Anita Hill (Brandeis), speaking about the legal and political implications of issues like sexual harrassment that cross public and private boundaries, and Khuloud Khayyat Dajani (Al-Quds University), offering a model for conceptualizing women’s agency in the context of social change. In the final plenary session, “The Politics of the Possible,” Islah Jad (Birzeit University) presented the experience of the Birzeit Institute for Women’s Studies as a mechanism for political action, while Mari Fitzduff (Brandeis), an expert in co-existence, offered an experience of “parallel politics” by showing how women in Northern Ireland were able to cross political barriers and foster peace in ways that were not available to the men engaged in a polarized struggle.

Interspersed with these larger sessions were workshops exploring law and legislation, university leadership, theories and practices of leadership, culture and religion, political factors in women’s leadership, and the role of classrooms
 in fostering leadership. Together, these sessions addressed social, cultural, and political factors that facilitate or impede women’s leadership and considered the particular role that universities can play in advancing women’s status.

In addition to a lively range of faculty from several universities in the region 
and in the United States, and members of non-governmental organizations within and outside Palestine, there was a large number of Al-Quds students, both women and men, who took an active role in discussions throughout the day. Every session stimulated conversation that ended only because of time constraints, as members of the audience debated issues of both substance and strategy. The focus on women and leadership, the excellent presentations, and the opportunities for conversation across age, gender, occupation, and nationality advanced the potential for Palestinian women in all walks of life to be full partners in progress and furthered an important dialogue among people of different cultural traditions and backgrounds.

Source: WGS Newsletter, Fall 2009.