West Bank Pioneers: Dalal Salameh

19 March 2009

In 1996 Dalal Salameh was one of the first Palestinian women to win a seat on the Palestinian Legislative Council. She was one of five women serving on the council and held her position for ten years, before becoming the head of the General Union for Palestinian Women in Nablus. In any context her achievements would be considered remarkable, but for a woman who grew up in the largest refugee camp in the West Bank her achievements are all the more striking.

Dalal grew up in Balata Camp, near Nablus. Her family was displaced in 1948 from their village ‘Tireet Dandan’ near Al-Ramalaha city. Dalal went to UNRWA Balata Basic School for Girls, before going on to gain a B.A in Biology from Al-Najah University and an M.A in International Studies from Birzeit University.

Dalal emphasised the role that education provided to girls by UNRWA schools played in widening their choices, fostering leadership, and encouraging voluntary work:

UNRWA’s schools have played a great role in educating generations of refugees and creating future leaders. There were problems such as overcrowding in schools but that didn’t stop great educational achievements. I was involved in the extracurricular activities which UNRWA tried to implement in its schools from the beginning. I was on both the library and cultural committees.

Dalal also received considerable support from her family, "The school and family complete each other. The refugee family has a responsibility to educate their sons and daughters and make it clear that education is the key to empowerment."

In the 1980s Dalal became involved in the Balata Women’s Programme Centre. The centre was set up in Balata following the efforts of a group of women who had been involved in the Ramallah Women’s Training Centre and wanted to set up centres across refugee camps in the West Bank. Dalal became a member of the centre in 1984 and frequently participated in activities at the centre, she said the centre played an important role in encouraging women to take an active part in their communities:

The centre provided women with traditional vocational training at the beginning, which empowered marginalised women. Women could attend educational meetings and seminars. The existence of these centres in a traditional society helped change some of the traditional gender roles at the time. The centre allowed women to gather and meet, which was previously not possible as houses in the refugees camps are small. The work of the centres encouraged the refugee community to accept the participation of their daughters in the centre’s activities.

Dalal’s work in Women’s Programme centre encouraged her to be a candidate in the elections of the Al-Najah University Student’s Union in 1986. She was then elected to the board of the Balata Women’s Programme Centre. "The centre was a very important step in my public and community activism since it deepened my understanding of women’s issues", she said.

As part of the Palestinian Legislative Council Dalal played an important part in legislating effective laws to improve the everyday lives of women and refugees. "My childhood at UNRWA’s schools and community role in Balata Women Programme Center enabled me to improve my understanding of refugee issues, and promoted initiatives in thinking of creative solutions to improve refugee conditions", Dalal said.

Now Dalal Salameh hopes to continue her voluntary work and community role through women organisations, and improve and raise the status of women in Palestinian society. She will carry on pursuing her aim to build a democratic society on the basis of social justice, democracy and gender equality.