The Women are Marching: The Second Sex and the Palestinian Revolution

THE WOMEN ARE MARCHING: THE SECOND SEX AND THE PALESTINIAN REVOLUTION by Philippa Strum (Lawrence Hill Books, 1992, $29/$16.95).

When the Intifada began in December 1987, its leadership eagerly strategized ways to “shake off” all things Israeli: political and economic control, ideas and culture. Their plans were wide-ranging and included strike days against Israeli employers, rock-throwing at hated settlers and soldiers, and the establishment of small businesses to reduce reliance on Israeli goods.

What the leadership failed to plan for, however, was women’s ready participation in the struggle. This failure, say Palestinian feminists, is sure to have long-term consequences, for whether or not the Palestinians win their fight for an autonomous state, daily life in the West Bank and Gaza Strip has been irrevocably changed by women’s participation in public life.

While most women got involved in the Intifada out of nationalist fervor, female activists soon discovered that issues of gender equity were an important component of shaking off the old and building the new. And, while the four largest Palestinian women’s organizations are tied to groups such as the Communist Party, the Democratic Front for Liberation of Palestine, and the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine—groups that historically have given women short shrift—other independent groups have formed and have reached scores of previously uninvolved women.

Philippa Strum, an American Jewish civil-rights activist and professor of political science, has documented the burgeoning feminist movements that have sprung up on the West Bank. The result, The Women Are Marching, combines journal entries with well-researched, probing interviews and commentary on the changes wrought by the five-year-old Palestinian insurrection.
Intent on arguing her ease for a two state solution. Strum relies on an eye for detail and on language meant to compel the reader to truly feel life under Israeli rule. She also focuses on growing Islamic fundamentalist movements, and never misses a beat in condemning the misogyny endemic to this strain of political thought. Although I wish Strum had also addressed the impact of feminism on the sexuality of Palestinian women, the book is nonetheless essential reading for anyone interested in Third World feminism, the Middle East, or any current struggles for self-determination.