French Journal For Media Research

Lara Lengel, Victoria Ann Newsom et Catherine Cassara Ph.D.

Transcending Essentialisation and Discursive Strategies of In/Visibility


Malgré les impératifs et les politiques de genre, les femmes palestiniennes restent largement invisibles dans les médias et dans les postes de direction. Nous construisons notre recherche sur l'intégration de la dimension de genre pour mener une analyse comparative des femmes palestiniennes dans les médias sur quatre temporalités (1967-2018), notamment les arrestations de 2018 de femmes journalistes palestiniennes.


Despite gender imperatives and policies, Palestinian women remain largely invisible in media leadership roles. We build our previous research on gender mainstreaming to conduct a comparative analysis of gender imbalance of Palestinian women in the media across four key temporalities spanning from 1967 to the present, most notably the 2018 arrests of Palestinian women journalists.

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1Democracies function best where there is free access to information and where unhindered discussions allow citizens to examine all sides of civic issues. Because journalism is one of the most important forums for civic debate, it is an essential partner in any society’s transition to democracy. As the Palestinian Authority, and other governing bodies in the Middle East and North Africa move toward democracy, it is imperative that their journalists have the professional training and dedication to maintain the highest codes of conduct and practice that will make them integral components in the process of building democratic discourse and civil society.

2Yet, the possibility of gender and equity in the media industry is problematic. Take, for example, the debates of the UN WSIS Gender Caucus focused on how to encourage women from the so-called Global South to participate more fully in the expanding media and technology industries. A number of women’s activist organisations, particularly those espousing, either discernably or surreptitiously, Western-influenced and/or neoliberal feminisms,1 were present for the discussion, presenting arguments that illustrate how substantially these industry sectors can impact transnational women’s movements.

3Despite gender imperatives and policies, women remain largely invisible in leadership roles in the fields of media, journalism, and technology. The lack of women in leadership roles in media and technology has long been viewed as a problematic issue by women’s activist groups (TAM, 2009; Women’s International League for Peace & Freedom, 2018), international bodies such as the United Nations (UN Women, 2013), media practitioners (Drainville & Saeed, 2013; Watson, 2017), and, and, to a lesser extent, some government bodies (Al-Agha, 2018; Hillis & Constant, 2018). Despite multiple efforts to reach an underrepresented, relatively invisible group — women — in the media and technology fields, there is a converse result that might be classified in Foucault’s (1988) terms as confinement, relegating women to certain professional roles. This confinement occurs on two levels, the invisibility of women in leadership roles and in high-visibility media and technology programs as well as the eventual retention of females in the job force. Therefore, particularly since the Fourth UN World Conference on Women in Beijing in 1995, many government agencies and NGOs have placed emphasis on finding ways to encourage women, in all parts of the world, to obtain media and digital literacy skills, practice citizen journalism, and, ultimately, enter media, journalism, and technology workforces in more visible and meaningful leadership roles.

4How can the discrepancy of gender in such leadership roles be addressed without creating and legalising categories of gender? The simple answer is, gender cannot be addressed without essentialisation and therefore all policies and procedures attempting to addressed gendered issues are likely to negatively impact the gender divide. In order to address this gender divide, a process known as “gender mainstreaming” was developed (See Al-Agha, 2018;Newsom, Cassara & Lengel, 2011; Padovani, 2015; 2016; UN Women, 2013; UNESCO/UNTWIN, 2018; van Eerdewijk & Dubel, 2014).  In the media and information technology sectors, this process involves encouraging organisations, corporations, and governments to increasingly hire and incorporate women and women’s issues into media and technology production and related professional endeavours. Gender mainstreaming functions as a strategic narrative on the part of the UN and related institutions; a means of constructing a message with emotive audience appeal meant to promote ideological concerns and interests of the political entities and institutions. Gender mainstreaming as a strategic narrative has become the standard mechanism for promoting gender and the inclusion of women in the workforce, technology, and other underrepresented areas internationally.  Strategic narratives such as those surrounding the concept of gender mainstreaming confine and obscure local narratives, as well as restrict identities to the roles designed for the narratives themselves (Stremlau, 2016).  This intentionally nebulous definition reflects the debate against strategic essentialisation, as gender and mainstreaming are not standardised other than to create an effective label.  However, the process of mainstreaming by nature entails strategic essentialising because when we assume that women everywhere need to be brought into the technology workforce, and use more technology, we are assuming a specific oppression faced by all women.

5This is particularly challenging for Palestinian women, who have faced tremendous intersectional oppressions for decades (See, for instance, Caron & Damant, 2014; Shahid, 1977), including, but not limited to, the occupation of their homeland, settler colonialism, violence targeted to women, children and older adults, poverty, malnutrition, gendered family law, and gendered marginalisation both within and outside their own community (See Azzouni, 2010; Hilal, 2012; Sh'hada, 2003; UN Women, 2013). In addition, Palestinian women face immense challenges in professional development and advancement in all sectors (See Abu-Rabia-Queder, 2017; Abu-Rabia-Queder & Weiner-Levy, 2013; Daoud, 2016) and, specifically, in media and technology professions. Further, Palestinian women are grossly underrepresented in the media profession, and misrepresented by the media, both by Palestinian and foreign media, most recently exemplified by the very recent crisis of women journalists being arrested (Hammad, 2018, July 24; Middle East Monitor, 2018, July 28). All of these challenges rest on top of the biggest concern regarding invisibility—the invisibility of Palestinians broadly in the international sphere.2

6Thus,in this study, we focus, in particular, on a gender mainstreaming context that is largely absent in policy making and research—women in the media in Palestine—and organizations who have enhanced women’s leadership roles in the media, such as TAM/Women Media and Development, which seeks to change existing cultural norms and the marginalising and stereotyping of women through women’s media production, in order to “communicate the voice of the voiceless” (TAM, 2009, p. 4). Whilst there are studies on Palestinian media and the professional challenges and lived experiences of Palestinian media practitioners (See, for instance, Ashthana, 2015; Berger, 2013; Hazboun, Ron & Maoz, 2016; Jamal, 2004; Nuseibeh & Dickinson, 2013; Palestinian Centre for Development and Media Freedoms, 2016; Suliman, 1987; TAM, n.d.; 2009), and research on the representation of Palestinians in other national media (See, for instance, Alsaffin, 2014; Martin, 2011; Ron & Maoz, 2013), the research on Palestinian women journalists is nearly nonexistent. Thus, this study is important to understand the challenges of invisibility of Palestinian women, broadly, and Palestinian women journalists specifically.

Theoretical and methodological considerations

7In order to conduct the study, we draw from Foucault’s (1988) theorising on confinement, on Newsom’s (2004) theory of contained empowerment, and on our previous work analysing gender mainstreaming in the media and technology industries (Newsom, Cassara & Lengel, 2011). This work has critiqued global policy versus local value systems, through a methodological approach of critical discourse analysis and participant-observation to compare global policy discourses, and those discourses sponsored by global initiatives, to the discourses arising from local knowledge and narratives created by grassroots organisations and women’s movements. We are informed by other researchers, such as Anouka van Eerdewijk of the Institute of Gender Studies in Nijmegen, Netherlands, and Tine Davids (2014), who have critiqued the discrepancies between “the general acknowledgement of the importance of gender equality and women’s empowerment on the one hand, and the weak implementation and resistance to GM [gender mainstreaming] on the other” (p. 346).

8In our interrogation of the politics of essentialism in gendered discourses for Palestinian women in media, in both “traditional” and digital contexts, we have conducted an exhaustive literature review of all scholarly work concerning Palestinian women in the media and an extensive review of western media coverage of Palestinian women, many examples of which are included in this study. Also, we come to the analysis enriched by our lived experience in the Middle East and North Africa, most notably our collaboration with colleagues in the region, and by our participation in media and technology-focused events, such as the UN World Summit on the Information Society and the conference Arab Women, Information and Communication Technology and the Arab World.

9This study is grounded by a methodological approach of critical and feminist ethnography and critical discourse analysis. We are guided by the work of researchers who have conducted critical discourse analysis in the Middle East and North Africa region. For instance, in his work on social movements in the MENA, Farid Shirazi (2013) employs critical discourse analysis, a “form of critical research, is applied to analyze the meanings and context generated through the process of communication discourse and their impacts on mobilizing citizens for democratic change in the region” (p. 30). Shirazi notes that, “framed within a material/social and language environment, conversation is the site where the process of sense-making occurs and where agency and text, symbols, speech and other communicative objects are generated to better understand the meaning of discourse” (p. 30). We argue that the method of critical discourse analysis in particularly suited for research in the Middle East and North Africa, particularly as it can be utilized to “gain insights into how the use of social media as a platform for engaging citizens in public discourse transforms citizens-to-citizen dialogue into mobilization of the masses, particularly when citizens want to confront the authorities in power” (Shirazi, 2013, p. 30) and to combat the marginalisation and oppression of citizens. It also builds on our previous work in the MENA that combined methodological strategies of critical discourse analysis and feminist and critical ethnographic participant-observation that compared global policy discourses, and those discourses sponsored by global initiatives, to the discourses arising from local knowledge and narratives created by grassroots organisations and women’s movements.

10In addition, we draw upon our respective scholarly and practitioner backgrounds in journalism, journalism history, managerial experience at a national public radio affiliate station, critical intercultural and transnational communication studies, humanistic research methods, transnational cultural studies, and transnational feminisms to interrogate politics of essentialism in gendered discourses in the media, both within and outside the MENA. We come to this analysis enriched by our lived experience in the MENA, most notably our collaboration with MENA colleagues, and informed by our participation in the UN World Summit on the Information Society and the conference Arab Women, Information and Communication Technology and the Arab World, both held in Tunis. Finally, and most importantly, our work draws upon Catherine Cassara’s field research and participant observation as a participant in the Palestinian American Research Center’s Media Development Seminar in East Jerusalem Ramallah from 15 to 25 July 2016, her experience as a participant in the Summer Programme on Political Science and Middle East Studies at the Galilee International Management Institute in Nahalal, Israel from 9 to 21 July 2014, and, most recently, her 2018 award of Visiting Scholar at the Truman Institute of Hebrew University in Jerusalem.

Women in the Media in Palestine:  Key Temporalities

11In their study on gender and journalism, Iiris Ruoho and Sinikka Torkola (2018) critique journalism as gendered “in the processes, practices, images and ideologies of journalism – and its power distributions” (p. 67). They aim, in particular, to “clarify why so few women held top executive positions in the journalism sector” (p. 67). Given their study focused on the challenges for women in leadership roles in European journalism, it is clear that women in the MENA, and Palestinian women specifically, face far greater challenges.

12In order to trace the history of the challenges of Palestinian women in the media, this study is highlighted by a comparative analysis of gender imbalance across the following key temporalities, divided into four phases spanning from 1967 to 2018: Phases one through three (Phase 1: 1967–1987; Phase 2: 1987–1994; Phase 3: 1987–2017) run parallel to those outlined by the group of women media practitioners and activists known as TAM, a Palestinian women and media organisation that aims to bring voice to the voiceless. During these phases several key occurrences are worthy of analysis including, but not limited to, the Fourth UN World Conference on Women in Beijing in 1995, when gender mainstreaming (GM) was first put on the agenda as a core strategy to ensure gender equality and where the oppression of Palestinian women was a key focus of concern; the impact of the Palestinian Authority elections in January 2006 on Palestinian women; the erasure of Palestinian women’s candidates’ in the time leading up to the 2016 municipal elections; and subsequent initiatives in Palestine to enhance the status of women in media management and regulatory bodies, lessen the invisibility of Palestinian women in traditional and digital media formats, and evaluate the involvement of Palestinian women in media strategies more broadly in order to identify indicators of gender imbalance and ways to reduce that imbalance. We extend TAM’s temporalities to include a new phase, Phase 4: 2018–present, during which time there have been notable crises for Palestinian women in the media, most notably the March, June, and July 2018 arrests of Palestinian women journalists.

Phase 1 (1967-1987)

13It is important to note that whilst TAM identifies three phases of women and media development in Palestine beginning in 1967, Azki Hasan Nuseibeh and Roger Dickinson (2013) argue “The Palestinian press has evolved through seven, sometimes distinct, sometimes overlapping, stages in its history: the Ottoman Empire (1876-1914), the British Mandate (1919-48), Israeli rule (1948- ), Jordanian and Egyptian rule over the West Bank and the Gaza Strip (1948-67), Israeli occupation of the West Bank and Gaza (1967- ), the Palestinian Authority (1995- ), the Palestinian dispute and division between the Palestinian National Liberation Movement (Fatah) and the Islamic Resistance Movement (Hamas) (2007-  )” (p. 66).  For the purposes of this study, we follow TAM’s three temporalities, or phases of women and the media in Palestine.

14The first phase occurred following the June 1967 al-Naksa [known as the Six Day War], after which time the Gaza strip, the Golan Heights, Jerusalem, the Sinai Peninsula, and the West Bank all became occupied by the state of Israel. During this phase, women became active in the fight against occupation, and founded cooperatives, training centers, and advocacy groups such as the Arab Women’s Association and the Arab Women’s Union, in order to bring together women from various communities and form alliances with regional and international feminist organisations (Azzouni, 2010). In addition, leading up to and during this phase, Palestinian women were “prominently engaged” in “resistance against the foreign occupation of Britain and then Israel. It is also a testament to the fact that women in resistance have been an integral part of the struggle against the ongoing colonization of Palestine. This contradicts a lazy type of sensationalist media reportage on the topic, that depicts women either as anomalies in patriarchal Palestinian society or as somehow relatively new phenomena” (Alsaffin, 2014, para. 2).

15This phase was a time of immense ignorance by the west and the north about Palestine.  For instance, Nada Elia (2017), in her article, “Justice is indivisible: Palestine as a feminist issue”, analyses the “wall of censorship which silences Palestinians and their allies vis-à-vis the dual forces of Eurocentrism and Zionism in public lectures, in the workplace, and among progressive and feminist activists of color” (p. 58). Elia reminds us that “Global North feminism had come a long way from the days when a rude, clueless, and patronizing Betty Friedan attempted to silence the prominent Egyptian feminist Nawal al-Saadawi at the United Nations International Conference on Women in Nairobi, Kenya” (Elia, 2017, p. 59). Friedan (quoted in al-Saadawi, 2006) told al-Saadawi as she walked up to the stage to give her presentation, “Please do not bring up Palestine in your speech. This is a women’s conference, not a political conference” (p. ii).

16Whilst women were actively employed in Palestinian media organisations during this phase, they were in non-leadership roles. Women worked in the layout departments of newspapers and, occasionally, wrote op-ed pieces that presented a “women’s point of view” on contemporary issues (Suliman, 1987).  Our assessment leads us to call for far more research on the role of Palestinian women journalists and publishers during this phase.

Phase 2 (1987-1994)

17Phase two of the development of Palestinian media is marked by the first Palestinian Intifada,3followed by the years leading up to theup to the establishment of the Palestinian National Authority (PNA). TAM (n.d.), notes the first Intifada was characterised by the “Israeli suppressing of freedoms [and] military censorship on the media and depriving / banning Palestinians in the West Bank and Gaza Strip from possessing any of the media means” (para. 6).

18During this phase, as indicated in her book, Palestinian women of Gaza and West Bank, SuhaSabbagh(1997) notes, as in most struggles in the Global South, “Palestinian women were being asked to put their agenda on the back burner until national liberation had been achieved” (p. 4).However, there was one notable exception: ḤanānDaoud Khalil ʿAshrāwī, internationally renowned Palestinian legislator, diplomat, peace talks negotiator, government minister, activist, and scholar.  She was the first woman in most every position she has held and became a prominent woman activist during the first Intifada, 1987-1992. She was born in 1946 in Ramallah, a city located on the West Bank in Palestine, daughter of the founder of the Palestinian Liberation Organization. She was a protégée and later colleague of Edward Said.Her book, This Side of Peace: A Personal Account (1995), detailed the struggle of Palestinian women, particularly during this phase.  Cassara, during her field research in 2016, met with Dr. ʿAshrāwī at the Palestine Authority. During her field research, Cassara learned about the role of women at Palestine Broadcasting, serving as stringers for Western news organisations and for Arab news networks. While there was not a preponderance of women Palestine Broadcasting, they were an important presence in the development of women and the media in Palestine. At Birzeit University women journalists served as instructors while in Hebron University, there were programs offering working journalists training to advance their professional skills.  

19During this phrase women began taking some leadership in radio and, later, online broadcasting, producing content focused for women and reaching an audience made up equally of men and women. Palestinian women were also prominent in peace efforts. In addition, toward the end of phase 1,Palestinian youth became more active and vocal through citizen and participatory media. The Ibda’a4 Cultural Center was conceptualised toward the end of 1993 and established near the Dheisheh Refugee Camp in Bethlehem the following year. The journalism, communication, and media production of Ibdaa cover a wide range of grassroots media efforts, from documentaries, oral histories, digital storytelling, and online radio programmes with a focus on Palestinian youth identity and cultural traditions (Ashthana, 2015, p. 5).

20In his study, Youth, self, other:  A study of Ibdaa’s digital media practices in the West Bank, Palestine, Sanjay Asthana (2015) notes that some of the media produced by Ibda’a youth “are reflections on gender roles and the place of women in Palestinian society that are explored through a rights-based approach” (p. 9).  Further, consistent with Lengel and Newsom’s work on digital reflexivity (2014), Asthana notes, that “Although such rights-based approaches are tied to the funding and support from international agencies such as UNICEF (the UN Children’s Fund) and other non-governmental organizations (NGOs), their deployment through the media narratives reveal that they are not copied tout court; rather, they are shaped by translation and localization to explore the specificities of the Palestinian context” (p. 9). For example, in her film, Restrictions on Society, 16-year-old Bara’a Awad, explores “customs and traditions within the Palestinian society that restrict the girl child and woman from expressing their feelings, constrain their right to education, and argues against forced marriages. For Awad, such customs and traditions should be interpreted in terms of a girl’s right to her feelings, and women’s equality. The question of rights here is strategically posed as a means to engage with Palestinian patriarchal customs” (p. 9) which she considers the “second occupation” (Asthana & Havandjian, 2016, p. 103).

21During this phase of development there experienced a severe silencing of Palestinian media. During the time periodbetween 1980 and 1986 six Palestinian publications’ operating licences were revoked by the Israeli authorities, claiming these media organisations were serving as propaganda outlets for the Palestinian Liberation Organization (Rigby, 1991). Along with these six publications, during this six-year time frame, three of the four Arabic language daily newspapers published in East Jerusalem, al-Quds, al-Fajr al-Sha'ab, similarly had their publishing licences suspended for time periods that ranged from several days to one month. They were suspended because the Israeli authorities claimed the newspapers violated censorship regulations. Through such means, the Israeli authorities were able to maintain very tight control over Palestinian media content and practices (Rigby, 1991).

Phase 3 (1994-2017)

22Phase three of Palestinian media development occurred immediately after the Palestinian National Authority (PNA) was established following the signing of the Oslo Accords in 1993. According to Linah Alsaafin (2014), in her article on the role of Palestinian women in resistance, the 1993 Oslo Accords between the Palestinian Liberation Organization and Israel “normalised relations with Israel, ended the popular uprising, and conceded national principles of self-determination, liberation and justice in exchange for a promised consolidation of political and economic power” (para. 10). Alsaafin notes that “Although women had been active in non-governmental organisations and civil society, female participation in the newly formed Palestinian Authority (PA) government was weak and marginalized”, contained to lower-level positions such as administrative assistants. “Women are still underrepresented in the leadership of the main Palestinian political parties despite high levels of political activism” (para. 10).

23Nahda Y. Sh'hada (2003), in her study, Gender and politics in Palestine: Discourse analysis of the Palestinian Authority & Islamists, notes the Oslo Accords “was a landmark in the struggle of the Palestinian people for self-determination and statehood” (p. 6). However, she argues, “The agreement was mediated on the basis of a severe imbalance of power between Israel and the PLO, where Israel always had the upper hand” (p. 6). Further, as a result of the Oslo Accords, Palestinian broadcasting within the occupied territories was permitted, however, media coverage of Palestinian women by Palestinian broadcasting networks tended to essentialise women (Tawil-Souri, 2007). Also, as of 1994, with the establishment of the PNA, there was increased attention of international media to Palestinian causes. In addition, Palestinians were now able to participate, to some extent, in regional and international media industries (TAM, n.d.). Nevertheless, TAM argues, media practitioners and organisations were and “are still suffering from repression and suppression of freedoms and censorship in both wings of Palestine of the West Bank and Gaza Strip” (TAM, n.d.).

24In addition to developments within Palestine, there was increasing attention to Palestinian women outside the MENA, most notably at the Fourth UN World Conference on Women in Beijing in September 1995, a milestone for gender equity efforts and the moment when gender mainstreaming (GM) was first put on the agenda as a core strategy to ensure gender equality. At the UN World Conference on Women, the Arab Plan of Action for the Advancement of Women to the Year 2005, was presented which was considered a breakthrough for Arab women's nongovernmental organisations, most notably organisations that addressed environmental sustainability, violence against women, and the media (UNFPA, 1995). One such organisation emerging at that time was the Global Media Monitoring Project (GMMP) (2015), “the largest and longest longitudinal study on the gender in the world’s media” and the “largest advocacy initiative in the world on changing the representation of women in the media.  It is unique in involving participants ranging from grassroots community organizations to university students and researchers to media practitioners, all of whom participate on a voluntary basis” (para. 1). The GMMP and other NGOs also addressed the oppression of Palestinian women as a focus of concern and, broadly, the GMMP (2015) “showed that news paints a picture of a world in which women are virtually invisible” (para. 7).

From virtually invisible to hyper-visible

25Rabab Abdulhadi, Nadine Naber, and Evelyn Alsultani (2005) remind us that not all visibility is advantageous. They note that “the hyper-visibility of Arab-Americans in post-9/11 U.S. multicultural discourses has provided a forum to challenge the racist and Orientalist logic that supports the criminalization of Arabs and Muslims” (p. 15), however, the challenges of hyper-visibility are problematic: “not all visibility is desirable or productive” (p. 15). In the years immediately following 2001, lead to the creation of organisations that aimed to combat misrepresentation of Palestinian women in the media specifically, and Arab and/or Islamic women more broadly. The invisibility of Palestinian women, both as represented by the media, and as practitioners of the media, lead to the creation of three important Palestinian women’s media organisations. The first organisation, Nisaa wa-Afaq [“Women and Horizons”, or NAWA], was organised by Wafa’ Abdel Rahman, after her own direct experience with being considered invisible as a woman activist.She (cited in White, 2014) recalls the time, in 2003, when she became committed to seeking a leadership presence in Palestinian media, after a particular incident involving the invisibility of Palestinian women, that she experienced directly:

26“I was one of a group of women who organised activities against the war in Iraq, including huge demonstrations in Ramallah. I was shocked to see one of the pan-Arab satellite channels interview a political leader in the street after the event, presenting him as a leader of the demonstration even though he was not even there. The camera manipulated the scene and the male politician manipulated the language! I contacted the Palestinian reporter to complain about how the channel lied to the audience and stole our efforts. But they ignored me” (para. 3).

27Abdel Rahman took away from that experience two key lessons: “firstly, that media is a very powerful tool in shaping public opinion and portraying certain leaders in the spotlight. Secondly, if I were a man, the channel would not have dared to overstep me and replace me with a male politician!” (para. 3).  As an immediate result, Abdel Rahman began to establish a non-governmental media organisation named Filastiniytat, that would provide training to women and youth leaders and advocate for more freedom in the Palestinian media. In addition, as indicated above, Abdel Rahman founded NAWA, a women’s news agency in the West Bank and Gaza Strip whose aim is to challenge the essentialising imagery of women by the Palestinian media. She notes, “The Palestinian media portray stereotypes of women as sisters, daughters and wives of a male hero, or we are the victims who cry and weep after the death of a beloved one or over a demolished house” (cited in White, 2014, para. 10).  Other organisations, such as NGO Monitor (2018) have reported on the various ways in which Palestinian women’s efforts are appropriated by others.

28These essentialising images ignore the active role that Palestinian women have had in leadership roles, for instance, in the political sector. It is important to note that whilst Husniyya Jabara was the first Palestinian Muslim woman to serve in Knesset, the Israeli national legislature, from 1999–2003, women have always been very active in informal politics including “grassroots organizing for election activities, encouraging voting, hosting political discussions, and encouraging attendance at political, religious, social, and national meetings” (Daoud, 2016, p. 30).  “Islamist activists were arguing not only against feminism—its frameworks, discourses and adaptations by secular feminist groups—but also against Islamic feminist/women’s groups, as evidenced by their attack on” NAWA (p. 30). Daoud (2016) argues that “many restrictions imposed on women are not rooted in Quranic dicta but rather in social norms within the Arab culture rooted in patriarchy” (p. 32). After its informational campaign focusing on Muslim women’s rights to inheritance, Nisaa wa-Afaq was strongly attacked by Islamists accusing it of working for the West and trying to distort the Islamic religion. Attacking women’s and feminist groups, however, is not unique to this case in Israel; it is a general phenomenon where feminism and secularism are viewed as representative of the West, serving the West at the expense of the Islamic religion” (pp. 34-35).

29One of the most prominent women in media organisations, TAM, was founded during this phase, in 2003. According to the organisation’s mission, TAM (n.d.) works to raise the level of knowledge and awareness within Palestinian communities regarding gender issues and women’s rights, with an emphasis on encouraging women to fully exercise their rights” (para. 1). The organisation “seeks to enhance the ability of local women and other marginalized groups to express themselves and highlight issues affecting them through the effective use of available media” (para. 1). In addition, TAM is the Palestine national coordinator for the Global Media Monitoring Project (GMMP), which was founded at the time of the UN Beijing Conference on Women in 1995. Every half decade since the UN conference, “GMMP research has taken the pulse of selected indicators of gender in the news media, studying women's presence in relation to men, gender bias and stereotyping in news media content. The fifth research in the series was conducted in 2015 by hundreds of volunteers in 114 countries around the world” (Iran News Agency, 2005, para. 3). Two years thereafter the Ministry of Women`s Affairs in the Occupied Territory was established and “given a mandate to reinforce the gender mainstreaming strategy previously located in several ministries, to increase the proportion of women in the labor force from 11 percent and to upgrade the political commitment to include gender, democracy and human rights issues in legislation and the policies and plans of the ministries” (Iran News Agency, 2005). Despite such efforts, the Committee on the Inalienable Rights of the Palestinian People notes that “the hardship of daily life was felt most acutely by Palestinianwomen who carried the burden of responsibility within the household because of the death, imprisonment, or unemployment of male members” (cited in Iran News Agency, 2005, para. 5).  

30During this time, however, there were some successes. For instance, several Palestinian feminist organisations were established, such as, in 1988, Women in Black in Israel/Palestine, as part of a coalition of Women for a Just Peace and, in 2000, the Coalition of Women for Peace.  The Palestinian group of the affiliated with the global coalition of women peace activities known as Women in Black.  The Women in Black coalition was particularly supportive of Palestinian women. The organisation reports (n.d.), in June 2001, when Women in Black in Israel/Palestine called for vigils to protest the occupation of Palestinian lands, at least 10,000 women affiliated with 150 Women in Black groups around the world responded. Women in Black groups from Australia, Austria, Azerbaijan, Belgium, Canada, Denmark, England, France, Germany, India, Israel, Italy, Japan, the Maldive Islands, Mexico, the Netherlands, Northern Ireland, Spain, Sweden, Switzerland, Turkey, and the USA organized peaceful protest vigils against the occupation and to support Palestine and Palestinian women.

31Several of these organisations also formed their own media divisions and institutes (Jamal, 2004). One particularly notable example is the Womanity Foundation which, in partnership with Radio Nissa Broadcasting Company, in 2009 established Radio Nisaa FM, the first commercial women’s radio station and website in the Middle East and North Africa. In 2010, the Palestinian National Authority implemented its National Strategy on Violence Against Women (VAW), legislative reforms, and media campaigns on technical and vocational training and on violence against women (UN Women, 2013).

Treatment of women journalists from outside the region

32During this phase women correspondents from outside the region, reporting on, were injured. For instance, the Palestinian Centre for Development and Media Freedoms (2016) reported that while Samantha Comizzoli, a freelance journalist and cameraperson from Italy, was covering the demonstration near the Howara check point south of Nablus on 16th of May 2015 that was commemorating the memory of the Nakba,5 “Israeli soldiers fired two rubber bullets towards her that injured her left arm and chest” for which she was treated in the Rafidia hospital in Nablus (p. 71). In addition, the Palestinian Centre for Development and Media Freedoms (2016) also reported on the male journalists who have been silenced for reporting on the murders of women and children. This is reflective upon the ongoing invisibility and silencing of the reporting on women’s issues. For instance, in her article, Palestine’s Occupied Fourth Estate: An inside look at the work lives of Palestinian print journalists, Miriam Berger (2013) addresses self-censorship of Palestinian journalists, particularly “the subjects that trigger it are part of the unwritten code of what is not fit to print for the Palestinian journalist” (p. 16). She cites Palestinian media expert and Al Jazeera Jerusalem Bureau chief, Walid Omari, and his study “Al-sahafa al-filastiniyya: thalath mutarek wa sendan” [“The Palestinian Press: Three Anvils and a Hammer”] (p. 146) for a list of topics that Omari identifies as “red lines: incest, suicide, Islam, sexual assault, honor killings, corruption, prostitution, extremism, child exploitation, and persecution of women. Self-censorship thus not only leads to restricted coverage of the political domain but of social, cultural, and religious domains as well” (p. 16).

33Also, during this phase, Linah Alsaafin (2014) noted thatin addition to the Israeli occupation, Palestinian women face repression from the [Palestinian Authority] PA government in the West Bank and Hamas in the Gaza strip. Protests are often met with beatings, sexual harassment, and intimidation” (para. 18). Alsaafin (2014) argues within various justice efforts, such as youth movements, and protests that take place in the West Bank, “there is still very little understanding that national liberation can never be achived [sic] within a patriarchal structure” (para. 18). Alsaafin (2014) suggests that “Women’s emancipation must come during the process of liberation and resistance, not afterwards. It cannot be postponed. Hopefully, we can witness a change and effectively dismantle the non-representative Palestinian governments and the Israeli occupation in order to secure an inclusive future built on the foundations of justice and self-determination” (para. 18).

34In response to the patriarchal limitations of the national liberation movement, in 2011 Laila Ghalion founded Ishraqa, an all-women print media organisationthat offers a gender inclusive perspective to the national liberation and the Islamic movements. Ishraqa achieves this by highlighting and promoting women’s activism through an all-women professional media environment. Ishraqa is sponsored by the Islamic Movement, however, and according to an Islamic Movement activist, “there has never been any male interference in the content or in managing the magazine” (Daoud, 2016, pp. 28-29).

35  During this phase, women journalists described their ongoing sense of threat and danger, particularly during the 2014 war (Hazboun, Ron & Maoz, 2016).  These concerns are highlighted in Israeli filmmaker, Zohar Kfir’s, 2014 documentary, Points of View, on the Palestinian video advocacy projects made for and/or disseminated by the human rights organization, B’Tselem, the Israeli Information Center for Human Rights in the Occupied Territories. The basis for project is video footage from B’Tselem, who, in 2007, began providing video cameras and basic training in videography and editing to Palestinians living in the occupied territories of the West Bank and Gaza. B’Tselem’s aim was to provide opportunities for Palestinians to document the daily infringement of their human rights, and “present their anger, pain, joy, and hope of their daily lives to both Israelis and to the international public” (i-Docs, 2014, para. 1; See, also, Watson, 2017). Once Zohar, an Israeli filmmaker, was made aware of the video footage, the collaborated with B’Tselem to bring Palestinian Points of View to a worldwide audience.

36 During the 2014 Gaza bombings by Israeli forces, “young Palestinian women were visible on the frontlines of protests” (Hazan, 2015, para. 1). For instance, in her investigative article in Al-Arabi Al-Jadid, a London-based news organisation, Palestinian journalist Naila Khalil highlighted the central role of women in the uprisings. In the article, Fatah member, Maysoun Al-Qaddoumi said, “I am certain that what I am seeing today is unprecedented in terms of the number and quality of women participants” (cited in Khalil, 2015). Hazan (2015) suggests “This visibility has prompted Palestinian and Arab media to feature dozens of articles on the issue of women in Palestinian resistance. The vast majority of writers stressed that the phenomenon was hardly new since Palestinian women have always played an active role in the Palestinian struggle, including in the armed struggle, and especially in the second intifada” (para 2). But, Hazan (2015) notes, “it is different this time, because their presence is more noticeable, and because they have moved ‘from behind the scenes…to the forefront of the conflict.’ Some even claimed that these women are seen as the leaders of the current struggle, more so than the men” (para. 2).

37Some of the media coverage of women’s advocacy and activist roles were entirely gendered. For instance, Hazan (2015) notes reporters critiqued “the modern dress of some women protestors” which, they claimed, “contravened the values of Palestinian society and that women should not participate in the intifada because their place is in the home” (para. 4).

38Toward the end of Phase 3, there were substantial efforts toward gender mainstreaming. For instance, the National Gender Strategy was developed and aligned with the Palestinian National Development Plan, 2014-2016 in the areas of, among others, human rights, gender, youth, civil society, media participation (UN Women, 2017), and the establishment of a media network by the Ministry of Women’s Affairs and other several media and radio outlets and programmes focussing on Palestinian women and women’s issues (A l-Agha, 2018), including a weekly women’s sports radio programme hosted by Sajeda Sweiti, a 25-year-old media practitioner, who is the first woman in Hebron to host such a programme (Hasan, 2018).

39Nevertheless, on the cusp of phase 4, there remained a dearth of women in leadership roles in media organisations and women-focused media organisations (Aboul Jalal, 2016). Further, as Kalende (2017) notes, “As in many parts of the world, women in Palestine are virtually invisible in news reporting on peace, conflict and security” (para. 1). Women “remain significantly under-represented in the media. Media messages often tend to perpetuate negative and biased stereotypes about women and usually highlight their victimization rather than focusing on their capabilities and unique contributions to society” (para. 1). This invisibility is due, according to the Palestinian Initiative for the Promotion of Global Dialogue and Democracy (MIFTAH) (2018), to the failure to significantly affect the perception that women are inferior to men through the proper utilization of the media and insufficient efforts to reform the educational system in order to disseminate the values of gender equality and active citizenship (See, also, Arnd-Linder, Harel-Shalev & Daphna-Tekoah, 2018; Asthana, 2015).
Toward the end of phase 3, TAM/Women Media and Development was one of the signatories of the New York Declaration6 on closing the gender gap in news media. This gap, according to research by Global Media Monitoring Project (2015), had remained nearly entirely unchanged for almost a decade. Efforts to analyse the gap were at the centre of the Palestine American Research Center (PARC) Media Development Seminar. As one of ten competitively selected fellows for the 2016 PARC Media Development Seminar, Catherine Cassara engaged in field research in East Jerusalem and at the Ramallah offices of Palestinian America Research Center (PARC), and met with broadcasters, film makers, university students, and staff members of NGOs, where women are respected professionals and, more often than not, organisations were comprised predominantly of women. She and the PARC cohort learned from the field research experience that Palestinian women must maintain perseverance and strength. When the PARC cohort went to universities to meet students and faculty they were generally met by a group of staff from the program, but invariably the sense of control and knowledge rested with the women who that provided the cohort with the insights about their programs and students.

40The PARC cohort also gained insight about the peaceful protest marches through portions of Israel and the West Bank, including a protest walk that began outside the Israeli Supreme Court and concluded in Independence Park with a rally and speakers from the Jewish and Israeli Arab communities.The cohort also learned, first hand, from the media practitioners and academics she met that peace protests receive next to no media coverage compared to the coverage conflict, with the exception of one article (Ettinger, 2016) published by the politically left-leaning news organisation, Haaretz whose coverage of Palestine is “loathed by many, mostly Israelis” (Rosner, 2017, para. 1).

41At Hebron University, for instance, despite resource challenges, Cassara and her cohort were met with a classroom room full of bright students, more women than men, with more women explaining, in English, to the cohort about their perceptions of the current professional journalism field in Palestine. The students had little respect for the currently working Palestinian journalists; they assessed the current work of journalists as subpar. Further, they were critical of the invisibility of women in the profession. They were determined to study, build their skills, graduate, enter the journalism profession, and aim to make substantial improvements. As evidence of the Hebron University students’ dedication to journalism excellence, one young woman explained that her fiancé told her she could study anything but journalism. So, she said she let her fiancé go and maintained her commitment to her educational plans to contribute to the future of journalism in Palestine.

42Improving training for future journalists is difficult for universities, however. Discussing programs with administrators, particularly at Al Quds University, Cassara and the PARC cohort were told that it is very hard for universities to make any changes to upgrade their curriculum because there are so many different factions with an interest in which direction those changes take—the various Palestinian political factions, the Israelis, and the donors, without whose financial support it is extremely difficult to operate. The reason the Israelis are involved in Palestinian university journalism curricula is that any equipment for which a university program might receive funding could be held up at the border for no particular reason.   

43At each of the universities visited by Cassara and the international delegation of which she was a part, the PARC cohort members asked the Palestinian students what they would like the delegation to carry back the US. Whether journalism students in Hebron, film students in Ramallah at Birzeit University, or students in Bethlehem, all the media and journalism told the delegation a similar message: They pointed to themselves and asked the delegation to explain to their own students in the US that they are just people — students, professors, administrative staff — not the stereotypical fierce warrior Palestinians the media in the West portray. Similarly, the Palestinian film students, half of them women and half men, showed the same commitment and drive as did the journalism students, which was evidenced by their approach to the world and their filmmaking. The short films they showed the PARC delegation were challenging examinations of their own lives and experiences, and broader challenges of Palestinian lived experience.

44One cannot help but wonder if what current Palestinian university media and journalism students see as a lack of training and professionalism on the part of the working press corps was not the result of political, economic, and conflicting pressures coming from the same directions. It is not an unfamiliar phenomenon in MENA countries to find that the freest journalists are the one who are in school. Further, once they enter the workforce, if they are lucky enough to get a job given the high rates of unemployment across the region, they will find that their reporting is circumscribed by political forces.

Phase 4 (2018- )

45Phase 4: We extend TAM’s three phases to a fourth phase that began in early 2018 with the arrest of Palestinian journalists by occupation forces. In March 2018, forces arrested of 21-year-old Ola Marshoud, from the Balata refugee camp in Nablus, after several hours of interrogation.  The Committee to Support Palestinian Journalists reported the total of Palestinian journalists held in Israeli prisons rose to 28 detainees by the end of March 2018 (Middle East Monitor, 2018, March 30).

46Two months after Marshoud’s arrest, Suzanne Oweiwi, a freelance journalist, and mother of four living in the Hebron municipality, was arrested from her home on June 5, 2018. Shatha Hammad (2018, July 24) reported that Oweiwi “was subjected to intensive interrogation, sleep deprivation, and solitary confinement in an Israeli prison for an entire month. She was eventually accused of charges related to her work, which mainly deals with documenting Israeli violations against Palestinians, such as settler attacks—which typically occur under the protection of the army—in Hebron” (paras. 17-18).  Hammad reports that “at least 63 Palestinian women are being held in Israeli prisons, including journalists and mothers” (para. 1).

47In June and July 2018 with the arrests and beatings of Palestinian women journalists as they were covering protests in the West Bank.  These arrests build upon the 10,000 of arrests of Palestinian women since 1967 (Alsaffin, 2014). The first, Majdoleen Hassona, a veteran freelance investigative journalist, was covering demonstrations in Tulkarem on June 28 calling on President Mahmoud Abbas to lift economic sanctions imposed last year on the Gaza Strip. Hassona reported that she was surveilled by Palestinian security forces since June 12, 2018; on that day Hassona was detained and interrogated upon her return from travel to Turkey. Videos posted on social media of the incident provided evidence of Palestinian security officers in civilian clothes, known as the Preventive Security, physically assaulting Hassona while attempting to stop her from recording the protest (Tawil, 2018, 3 July, para. 5).

48Two days after the arrest of Majdoleen Hassona, journalist Lara Samir Kan'an was arrested in Nablus on June 30, also during a protest against the sanctions on the Gaza Strip.  Kan'an reported to the Palestinian Information Center (2018) that “when she initially refused to hand over her mobile phone to a security officer, she was approached by a policeman who hit her on the arm and violently pulled the device out of her hand. She said that another two men in civilian clothes attacked her from the back, with one pulling her from the hair and the other hitting her left shoulder”. The Center also reported that Kan’an was taken to the Rafidiyeh Hospital, where x-rays gave evidence to bruises to the neck and shoulder caused by the security officers.

49Several Palestinian human rights groups and media organisations condemned the assaults, including the Palestinian Journalists Syndicate in the West Bank and the Palestinian Center for Development and Media Freedoms (MADA) (2018) who condemned the attacks against Kan’an and Hassona and expressed concern over the increasing number of assaults on journalists, broadly, and women journalists specifically. The organisation also demanded the investigation of the attacks and to hold accountable those responsible.

50Very recently, Lama Khater, a 42-year-old mother of five, and journalist for the independent, online news organisation, Noon Post, reported on crimes and violations committed by the Israeli occupation.  Khater was arrested two years ago, “barely a month after giving birth to Yahya, and was subjected to long hours of interrogation regarding her writings before she was released on the same day” (para. 9). The Al Jazeera report by Hammad (2018) also notes that Khater’s husband, Hazem al-Fakhouri, was held and interrogated by Israeli forces, “who warned him that Khater would be arrested unless he pressured his wife to stop writing” (paras. 9-19; See, also, Al Assad, 2018).

51In the present Palestinian media sphere, there is one person who has not succumbed to pressure to stop reporting. Janna Tamimi, who reports under the name Janna Jihad, is known as the world’s youngest journalist (Women in the World, 2016, 6 January). It was invisibility of Palestine broadly, and her West Bank village of Nabi Saleh, specifically, that compelled to begin engaging in citizen journalism at age seven.  She recalls that no one was reporting on Nabi Saleh: “I saw there were not enough journalists to cover things that happen in Nabi Saleh–like when my friend Mustapha had been killed and my uncle Rushdie [Tamimi] had been killed” (Tamimi, cited in Noormahomed, 2018, para. 5). She has expanded her coverage beyond Nabi Saleh by “travelling with her family and using her mother's iPhone to shoot videos in Jerusalem, Hebron, Nablus and Jordan. Her videos show everything from people being detained at checkpoints, protest marches and violence against Palestinian children” (Sarkar, 2016, para. 7).

52At age twelve, and with currently more than a quarter million facebook followers and nearly 7,000 twitter followers, Tamimi arguably has more capacity to reach wide audiences than most other Palestinian journalists.  One unique advantage is Tamimi’s age; she notes “The soldiers catch the big journalists and take their cameras” (Tamimi, cited in Sarkar, 2016). Despite this advantage, however, Tamimi is not immune to efforts to silence her; she was detained and interrogated by Israeli intelligence forces in April 2018.  She is seen as a threat not only for the wide reach and audiences she has gained, but also, because of her connection with other high-visibility activists, most notably her cousin, Ahed Tamimi, who was jailed at age 16 and held in Israeli military custody for eight months (Carpel, 2018; Parry, 2018).

53Both Janna and Ahed Tamimi continue to received international attention although, unsurprisingly, not in mainstream western media. In July 2018, Janna travelled to South Africa to speak at the Institute for the Advancement of Journalism in Johannesburg with her message of peace: “Let every child live in peace, live in love, live in equality. Let every child know what a childhood means.” Janna (cited in Visalli, 2018) continues to report because, she said, “The camera is stronger than the gun. I can send my message to many people, and they can send it to others” (para. 5).

Women in the Media in Palestine:  Future Research Directions

54As this study was being submitted for review for the French Journal of Media Research, the glaring invisibility of any U.S. reporting on Aisha Al-Rawbi, the 47-year-old mother of eight, who was reportedly stoned in her car by Israelis, leads us to call for far more research on Palestinian women.

55Research must continue to highlight the important role in the democratisation process in Palestine played by the civil society organisations, including, but not limited to,  Le Centre Palestinien d’Information (CPI), the Palestinian Centre for Development and Media Freedoms (MADA), Filistiniyat, and the WAN-IFRA’s Media Professionals Programme, that can influence intersecting political and professional systems by working toward, among others, human and citizens’ rights, women’s rights, and a free and independent press.

56Scholars should also analyse recent initiatives such as the International Youth Foundation and its local partner, the Palestinian Centre for Youth Economic Empowerment (CYEE), who are working toward the United Nations Sustainable Development Goal of gender equality. We need more research to examine the role that gender equality in media and journalism plays in democratic transition and the ways in which women journalists can serve as models of democratic practice.

57Finally, we argue that both researchers and media practitioners must work to critique and overcome the challenges for Palestinian women obtaining and thriving in leadership and management roles in the media, journalism, and technology fields is, particularly as it is localised and therefore is actually a type of contained empowerment (Newsom, 2004). More research should build on Newsom’s theorisation of contained empowerment as a limited potential for creating change, in this case change for women in relation to such leadership positions, and to critique the limits of this potential.  Without addressing all aspects of women’s containment and invisibility, such power is unlikely to impact change outside of localised, temporal spaces.


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1 Much has been written about the limitations of Western-influenced feminism in the Global South generally and the Middle East and North Africa (MENA) specifically. These scholars argue that the Euro- and Amero-centric, white, middle class bias of much feminist theory marginalises feminisms in the South. See, for instance, Florence Denmark’s (2004) discussion of Islamic feminists who critique the Western model. See, also, El Guindi’s (2005) analysis of Islamic-Egyptian feminism and how western-biased feminist thought and practice situates itself in a hegemonic hierarchy that ethnocentrically marginalises against Islamic and MENA feminists. Further, concerns regarding the safety of MENA women participating in gender-based activism further complicates the relationship to Western-influenced feminisms where freedom of speech for women provides more protection than for their MENA counterparts. In particular, ensuring MENA women’s voices are heard from their own perspectives rather than co-opted by essentialised narratives about women’s rights remains a key concern (Lengel & Newsom, 2014).

2  Palestine remains the most pressing, censored contemporary human rights crisis today (See, for instance, Palestinian Centre for Development and Media Freedoms (MADA), 2016).

3  In “Palestinian women, the Western press, and the first intifada”, Martin (2011) notes “Intifada is commonly mistranslated to mean ‘uprising’ in Arabic, but it actually means ‘shaking off’” (p. 95).

4   According to the Ibda'a Cultural Center, the term Ibda'a ( ابداع ) can be translated from Arabic as “creation” or “creative ability”, however, Asthana (2015) indicates it can also be translate as “to create something out of nothing” (p. 2).

5  The Zochrot (2014) organisation details al-Nakbah: “The 1948 Palestinian exodus, also known as the Nakba (Arabic: النكبة‎, al-Nakbah, lit. ‘disaster’, ‘catastrophe’, or ‘cataclysm’), occurred when more than 700,000 Palestinian Arabs fled or were expelled from their homes, during the 1948 Palestine war. The term nakba also refers to the period of war itself and events affecting Palestinians from December 1947 to January 1949.
     The very precise number of refugees is a matter of dispute but around 80 percent of the Arab inhabitants of what became Israel (50 percent of the Arab total of Mandatory Palestine) left or were expelled from their homes.”

6  The New York Declaration was adopted on 11 March 2017, by participants at the Gender & Media:  Challenges and Opportunities in the Post 2015 Era meeting organised by the World Association for Christian Communication (WACC). The New York Declaration updates the Bangkok Declaration adopted in 1994 at the Women Empowering Communication Conference organised by WACC, the International Women’s Tribune Centre, New York, and ISIS International-Manila, a feminist NGO.

To quote this document

Lara Lengel, Victoria Ann Newsom et Catherine Cassara Ph.D., «Transcending Essentialisation and Discursive Strategies of In/Visibility», French Journal For Media Research [online], Browse this journal/Dans cette revue, 11/2019 Les femmes dans les médias, last update the : 30/01/2019, URL :

Quelques mots à propos de :  Lara Lengel

Ph.D. and Professor
Department of Communication
School of Media and Communication
Bowling Green State University

Quelques mots à propos de :  Victoria Ann Newsom

Ph.D. and Professor
Department of Communication Studies
Social Sciences and Humanities Division
Olympic College

Quelques mots à propos de :  Catherine Cassara Ph.D.

Ph.D. and Associate Professor
Department of Journalism
School of Media and Communication
Bowling Green State University



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