Hanan Ashrawi: A rock of Palestinian politics and women’s rights
Following a long career, she now sits on the Palestinian Liberation Organization executive committee
Al Arabiya News is marking International Women’s Day, and the 20th anniversary of the Beijing Declaration on gender equality, with a special series profiling leading women around the world, among them Palestine’s Hanan Ashrawi.
One of the few women to have a prominent role in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, Palestine’s Hanan Ashrawi has participated in numerous negotiations between the two sides.
Following a long career, she now sits on the Palestinian Liberation Organization executive committee.
“It is true I am not typical,” she told The Independent newspaper, in one of the few interviews she has given about herself. “But I don’t believe there is a typical Palestinian.”
Born in 1946 to an affluent Christian family in Nablus, Ashrawi and her family were forced to flee to Jordan when the 1948 war broke out.
Her family managed to return to the West Bank after Jordan took control of the territory. She then travelled to Lebanon, where she studied English literature at the American University of Beirut.
Ashrawi’s political activism was inspired by her father, whom she described as an “advocate of women’s rights,” “quite progressive” and “socialist.”
She told Sojourners magazine: “My father said we raised you not to feel in any way that you are handicapped by your gender or your upbringing so do not accept to be defined or limited by others. To be daring. To be courageous. To speak up. To speak out. To stand up. To do things on issues of justice and what you believe in.”
The 1967 war signaled the beginning of her involvement with the Palestinian struggle. Having been barred from the West Bank upon completing her bachelor’s degree at the AUB, and with her family under Israeli occupation, she took on the responsibility of speaking on behalf of the General Union of Palestinian Students.
Along with organizing events, Ashrawi guided foreign reporters through Palestinian refugee camps in Lebanon.
After the war she got her doctorate from the University of Virginia, then returned to the West Bank, where she set up the English literature department in Ramallah’s Birzeit University
Ashrawi was reportedly a close friend of iconic Palestinian-American scholar Edward Said.
Decades into her career, Ashrawi shows no sign of slowing down. She is an outspoken member of the Palestinian Authority, and is regularly interviewed by international media on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.
She has highlighted the importance of speaking out “on behalf of peace and justice and human dignity and the integrity of life itself.”
This article is part of Al Arabiya News' Special Coverage on International Women's Day.