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'Braking' boundaries: Palestinian women seek new chances

Recent months have seen protests in the West Bank after a 21-year-old woman was allegedly killed by her family members after posting a photo with her soon-to-be fiance on Instagram.

FILE: Dalia al-Darawish  is preparing for an exam to become one of only a handful of qualified female Palestinian truck drivers, a test the 26-year-old sees as about more than just driving. Picture: Pixabay.com

HEBRON - As the 30-tonne truck weaves through the crowded Palestinian streets, groups of men stop and gawp at the diminutive figure of Dalia al-Darawish in a purple headscarf seated behind the wheel.

Darawish is preparing for an exam to become one of only a handful of qualified female Palestinian truck drivers, a test the 26-year-old sees as about more than just driving.

"It is symbolic," she told AFP. "It shows we can do anything -- that as a woman you can work, drive a trailer or whatever."

The mother-of-two is among several Palestinian women pushing boundaries in the traditionally conservative city of Hebron in the Israeli-occupied West Bank, amid a growing assertiveness of women's rights.

Darawish said she had faced criticism from both sexes as she trained, but the men were far more vocal.

"They are some who supported, a minority," she told AFP. "But then there are people shouting in the street, 'No, why are you driving a trailer?!'"

"Whenever I made any mistake you would find men shouting, 'It's impossible (for you)'"

At the driving centre, she shakes slightly as her black-moustached examiner Issam Bedawi explains the test.

After briefly demonstrating her ability to detach and re-attach the trailer, the two clamber up into the carriage and drive off.

3D ART

Recent months have seen protests in the West Bank after a 21-year-old woman was allegedly killed by her family members after posting a photo with her soon-to-be fiance on Instagram.

The demonstrators are demanding more protection for women, but also a more prominent political movement for women's rights.

Palestinian women still often give up their careers to care for children.

A World Bank study last year found that 58% of skilled women between 25 and 34 were unemployed, compared to 23% of men.

The general unemployment rate for women (44%) is double that of men, according to official Palestinian statistics.

Wafaa al-Adhami had long dreamt of being an artist, but didn't have the opportunity to study growing up.

But five years ago and with the kids older, she returned to her passion, studying hours of videos about artists on YouTube.

"Painting and art courses are expensive and I had no time," she said. "So I loved educating myself."

"Every artist has their own style, and I wanted to find mine," she said.

From her living room table with an array of children passing through, she developed a specific layering technique for her work, pouring the paint onto the canvas before sculpting and manipulating it.

The result is a 3D texture that she says is unique among Palestinian artists.

Her inspiration ranges from Palestinian icons such as the Dome of the Rock mosque in Jerusalem to more Jackson Pollock-inspired surrealism.

A recent 40-work exhibition was a big hit.

'CHANGED A LITTLE'

Elsewhere in the city, 31-year-old Asia Amer has set up what she believes is Hebron's first women-only restaurant.

The idea behind the Queen Restaurant, she said, is to give women a space to feel at home.

Those who normally wear the hijab can remove the headscarf if they wish.

"I felt that it was the right of women to have a place they can relax in -- where there are no restrictions or people watching her," she said.

"I am proof that Palestinian women don’t just stay at home to cook and look after the children.”

Back at the driving test centre, Darawish pulls the trailer to a stop and waits nervously as Bedawi tallies up the score.

"I'm happy to say she passed," he announces. "Everything I asked of her during the test she did fantastically."

Darawish doesn't even know if she will work as a truck driver, as right now she is still looking after her children.

But she said she wanted to help drive change in attitudes.

"(Society) has changed a little. There have been some developments, but not enough,” she said.

"If there had been big movement, men who see a woman driving a trailer would be happy or they wouldn't say anything at all."

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