In Gaza, first female mukhtarah mediates legal disputes

female mukhtarah
A palestinian woman participates in a training. Photo: UNDP

Um Mohammed broke the conservative tribal traditions of her community when she became one of Gaza strip’s first “Mukhtarah” – the female equivalent of Mukhtar, one who peacefully settles disputes without need to resort to formal judicial systems.

Highlights

  • 18 legal aid clinics have been established and supported across the Gaza Strip.
  • More than 17,000 Palestinians received legal aid in 2011 through 6 legal aid clinics.
  • 74 percent of women represented by UNDP-supported legal aid providers received outcomes in their favour.

“I once found myself having to intervene to resolve a problem between a husband and his wife,” recalls Um Mohammed. “The angry man ridiculed me, [but] I approached him calmly until he was able to engage in a constructive discussion. After a few sessions, I was able to bring him and his wife back together. Many men had previously intervened before but failed to resolve the differences.”

Fifty-year-old Um Mohammed became a Mukhtarah after learning the legal skills necessary to perform this informal, yet important, role of gatekeeper of justice during a 52-hour training on legal mediation and its basic rules. As part of UNDP’s Access to Justice programme in the occupied Palestinian territory, legal experts provide training on conflict resolution, negotiation techniques and an overview of laws and regulations in matters of engagement, marriage and divorce.

Um Mohammed graduated, along with 75 other female Mukhtars, from the Culture and Free Thought Association’s Legal Clinic in Gaza and now practices in cooperation with the Legal Clinic teams, assisting in drafting agreements and contracts of reconciliation; and providing legal advice or representation. She says her knowledge of religious verse and mastery of traditional sayings and proverbs helps her fulfill her role as a broker of social peace.

“I had been a preacher for many years,” says Um Mohammed. “But the turning point that gave me the confidence to practice this profession was the training I received at the Legal Clinic, in addition to my husband’s support.”

The majority of Mukhtaras come from remote and marginalized areas in the Gaza Strip. Some of them are engineers, social workers, teachers or activists. They are highly respected in society and have proven to be very effective in a short period of time.

“Being a woman gives me an advantage because I can talk to all parties, men and women. Male Mukhtars can only talk to men,” says Um Mohammed. “They end up communicating through a male family representative, who may not be completely neutral or accurate.”

From July 2012 to April 2013, female Mukhtars mediated close to 1,500 cases.  They do not get any financial return for their reconciliation role apart from a small allowance covering their transportation costs.

Through the establishment of courts and legal aid clinics, UNDP’s programme is also building confidence and awareness so that people have information about their rights and various legal procedures, and access to legal-aid resources.

The US $25 million programme is funded by the governments of Sweden, Canada, Japan and Netherlands.