In 2006 the Islamic Resistance Movement (Hamas) won the Palestinian parliamentary elections thanks to what is generally held to be an unexpectedly high level of support from the female constituency; as many as 60% of the votes for the Change and Reform List are said to have been cast by women. The bulk of the support allegedly came from women outside the formal labour market and statistical data indicate that since the outbreak of the Al-Aqsa Intifada in 2000, Islamic movements like Hamas have drawn more than half of its support from housewives. Women, often the only breadwinner in the family, are the main receptors of charitable assistance from Islamic civil society organisations. At the same time, the typical image of female Hamas supporters is that of young, self-conscious, ambitious, and outspoken graduate students from the universities of Gaza, Nablus and Ramallah. Like their counterparts in other Middle Eastern countries they demand an active political role and argue that there is room for feminism within the frames of religion.  

Despite the contradiction pointed out above, there is a tendency in academic research and popular presentations to treat women as if they constitute a homogeneous group sharing the same needs and opinions. Taking the women who participate - as activists and beneficiaries - as a point of departure, this project proposes a more nuanced approach, starting by exploring who these women are and why and how they participate in Islamic civil society organisations. This micro-level starting point will serve as an intake to explore the nature of the social work of Islamic civil society organisations. The outcome will be a study that combines political, social and religious dimensions and contributes towards a holistic understanding of Palestinian society, of women's social and political roles, and also of the potential role of religious social movements in democratisation processes.

This scholarship is part of the MUWATIN-CMI co-operation project.