"Women are very insightful on how to run a city, ensure its improvement and cleanliness and take care of supporting women, children and families, through cultural centers, parks, and social projects." - Janet Mikhael
iKNOW Politics: Ms. Janet Mikhael, you are the first female mayor in the Occupied Palestinian Territories. What challenges have you faced as a woman in a leadership position? How have your background and prior experience helped you?
Firstly, I would like to thank iKNOW Politics for its interest in Palestinian women. In fact, Palestinian women have made considerable progress to access decision-making positions, successfully working with men, fulfilling all the tasks at hand and proving their competence.
It was not easy for me to be the first woman to become mayor of a major city such as Ramallah. However, Ramallah is a liberal and open-minded city that is home to educated citizens, and that helped me access this position. I was also the principal of a distinguished high school, and dealing with parents and citizens greatly consolidated my ability to lead the city council.
I have faced many challenges, namely:
- Tremendous pressure to relinquish the mayor’s seat or share it with other parties, but I refused out of respect for voters.
- Intimidation and threats.
- Traditions undermining the role of women in society and declaring their inability to be in public positions. This position was adopted by a restricted group, but I ignored these attempts as I was confident and ambitious.
- Israeli occupation limits our ability to implement our plans.
- Political instability which posed a challenge, but today the situation is much better.
- The city council was not institutionalized, and its staff could not adapt to the requirements of fast city expansion. The structural change, staff training, and recruitment of new skilled staff helped to overcome these challenges, in addition to our social participation, field visits, communication with citizens, consultations and continuous workshops. It was also through determination, confidence, perseverance, faith and passion for my job that I was able to overcome obstacles. However, several still lie ahead.
I ran in the elections as I loved and wanted to improve my city and my parents, friends and colleagues encouraged me. The 2005 elections were crucial and garnered enthusiasm as they were held under the Palestinian National Authority’s mandate and for the first time in 30 years. These elections were democratic, yet witnessed a strong battle between blocs. I strongly benefited in the elections from my former experience as principal of a distinguished high school and from my wide knowledge.
iKNOW Politics: In your opinion, what are the things women candidates should be aware of? What piece of advice would you share with women candidates running with limited resources in male-dominated societies?
A woman candidate should be fully aware of the tasks awaiting her. She should undergo training, study all the relevant laws and regulations and have self-confidence. She should also treat everyone equally and according to the law, and commit before people to habits and traditions. However, she should also prove herself and disregard rumors, especially degrading rumors. I believe women can prove themselves only through legal and successful work, which also needs efforts and sacrifice.
iKNOW Politics: Would you kindly inform our readers of one particular change you have proudly achieved as Ramallah mayor, that benefited women and continues to resonate?
Palestinian women triumphed in local governance; that is the most important change for me. I am proud to be a Palestinian woman who has broken traditions and was elected mayor of the most important city council in Palestine. I hope more women will be elected in major city councils in Palestine, as Palestinian women are fully capable to be in decision-making positions.
I am very proud of the strategic plan and projects implemented to improve the city. We have particularly changed the old concept of the city council, which was perceived as a citizen-oriented service provider. Town councils are today providing several cultural services and local and international contributions, which made Ramallah world renowned and transformed it into a distinguished cultural center, in addition to its political status.
iKNOW Politics: You were the first woman to occupy the position of mayor. What is the importance of a woman being in such a leadership position? Do you think you have brought a new dimension to the position, being a woman?
Having a woman in the mayor’s seat is highly important for several reasons:
First, it highlights the importance of the Palestinian woman and is an acknowledgement of her long battle alongside men during the Palestinian crisis. Palestinian women have sons, brothers and husbands who are martyrs and political prisoners. When men are away, imprisoned or martyred, women are in charge of the political realm and society.
Second, my election broke traditions in local governance. Women are very insightful on how to run a city, ensure its improvement and cleanliness and take care of supporting women, children and families, through cultural centers, parks, and social projects. I think the focus on environmental and improvement projects added a new dimension to the city.
iKNOW Politics: Do you think that joining a global network such as iKNOW Politics might help women leaders to achieve success and mobilize their supporters on issues of common interest?
In fact, joining networks and sharing experiences with other women will contribute to spreading knowledge. No matter how educated you are, you will still benefit from other people’s experiences. For example, I used to think that European women were perhaps stronger and more active. But, experience has proven that we have common interests and that they are not stronger or more experienced. As Palestinian women, we are very active and we can benefit from and be useful to other women around the world. Palestinian women are very active and have as much experience as I have, even more.
iKNOW Politics: If you were to give one advice to iKNOW Politics members, namely women candidates and leaders, what would it be?
Be confident, trust your knowledge, and be honest in your actions. Treat everyone equally and with transparency, respecting different opinions.