Securing women’s housing rights in Palestine
By Mayra Gomez, COHRE’s Senior Expert on Women and Housing Rights.
16 November 2010 - Since the 1967 occupation of the West Bank and Gaza Strip, Israel has demolished close to 25,000 Palestinian homes in the West Bank, Gaza and East Jerusalem in violation of both human rights law and international humanitarian law, leading to mass displacement and violations of their housing, land and property rights.
More than 4,000 houses were demolished during Operation Cast Lead in Gaza, further compounded the housing rights crisis in the Occupied Palestinian Territory.
Demolitions have been carried out for punitive reasons, to clear land surrounding illegal Israeli settlements, bypass roads and the Wall, in the course of military incursions, and for Palestinian building without the permit required by the occupation authorities.
Although many Palestinian homes are demolished for being built ‘illegally,’ it is virtually impossible for Palestinians to get building permission, leaving them with little choice but to build illegally. This is not the case for Israeli citizens or Israeli settlers, who easily get permits. The practice of denying Palestinians building permits not only constitutes a clear case of discrimination, over time it also has the broader effect of changing the ethnic composition of the Occupied Palestinian Territory.
Palestinian women in particular, have been disproportionately affected by these housing rights violations, and too often have little access to judicial forms of redress.
Whether they work outside the home or not, Palestinian women devote a significant amount of their time and energy to unremunerated and often overlooked work in the home, and are therefore particularly affected by forced eviction from, and destruction of, their homes.
When families are made homeless, by whatever means, women shoulder the greatest burden when it comes to rebuilding the home or making a new one elsewhere. Through COHRE’s previous and ongoing work on Palestine, we also know that forced eviction is often correlated with increased levels of violence against women (before, during and after evictions), and serve to decrease women’s overall autonomy.
In cases where women must contend with inadequate living conditions, including lack of access to essential services such as water and sanitation, these conditions also impact women in gender-specific ways, particularly due to their care-giving roles within the family and community.
Against the unique political background of the Palestinian context, it is important to recognize the vital role women play within the household and to identify their relationship with the home.
Within the immediate context of the occupation, however, and the urgent hardships that it routinely imposes, the reality is that women have had little space to press for these rights. Today, thousands of Palestinian women are at risk of being forcibly displaced as a result of Israeli actions.
Using the prism of gender discrimination and human rights, COHRE is working with partners in Palestine to support the creation of space for Palestinian women to struggle for their rights, while at the same time highlighting the gender-specific dimensions of housing rights violations suffered by women within the context of the occupation.
COHRE is partnering with the Women’s Center on Legal Aid and Counseling (WCLAC), an independent Palestinian NGO that has been able to make a number of important achievements in the area of human rights and in particular, the rights of Palestinian women since its founding in 1991.
Currently, COHRE and WCLAC are working together to document violations of Palestinian women’s housing rights, particularly with regard to forced evictions, house demolitions, inadequate living conditions and lack of access to essential services, including water and sanitation. This information, including firsthand testimonies from affected women themselves, will soon be brought to the attention of the United Nations Committee on the Elimination on All Forms of Discrimination against Women (CEDAW), as it gears up to review Israel’s record on women’s rights early next year.
To learn more about WCLAC and its work to defend the rights of Palestinian women, please click here.