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Zahira Kamal

Zahira Kamal

Published: March 30, 2010
Zahira Kamal

Zahira Kamal

Head of the Federation of Palestinian Women’s Action Committee, part of the Women’s Work Committee (WWC). The WWC, which Kamal helped found, addresses the problems women faced in a patriarchal society, including illiteracy and lack of job skills. She was put under town arrest from 1980 to 1986 for her affiliation with leftist groups.

Zahira Kamal was born in 1945, the eldest of eight children, in the Wadi Joz district of East Jerusalem. After completing her college education in Cairo in 1968, Kamal returned to Jerusalem and started her work at the Women’s Teacher Training College with the United Nations Relief Work Agency (UNRWA) in Ramallah, teaching women how to prepare for jobs in teaching physics and other sciences. 

Her activism began with a charitable organization, teaching women crafts and then helping them to sell their products. She eventually started to feel that this was not helping the larger problems that women faced in a patriarchical society.  Therefore, in 1974, Kamal and some of her colleagues started to work on a project that would grow into the Women’s Work Committee (WWC), founded in 1978.  It was also around this time that she entered the realm of political activism, aligning herself with the Democratic Front for the Liberation of Palestine (DFLP). 

Kamal was head of the Federation of Palestinian Women’s Action Committees of the WWC. The Federation undertook several efforts. The first was to erase illiteracy, encouraging women to partake in discussions and idea sharing, and teaching them skills that would enable them to hold jobs and become self-sufficient. She believes that taking women out of the house is "the first step toward social liberation." Kamal also created a family planning program, started and maintained childcare programs for the newly working mothers, and taught time management so that the women would be equipped to handle their paid and domestic jobs. 

"We like to stress that the women's movement is part of the national movement,” Kamal says. "We believe that both personal and national liberation go hand in hand."

In 1979, Kamal was imprisoned in Israel for six months for her affiliation with leftist groups. Afterward, she was put under town arrest for six and a half years, from 1980 to 1986. Town arrest meant that she was confined to her home from sunset until one hour after sunrise, and was banned from leaving Jerusalem. Despite this, she continued to teach in Ramallah, sending papers to her students early in the morning with the first UN vehicle that left Jerusalem for Ramallah, and receiving the papers from her students with the last car to return to Jerusalem at 2:30 p.m.

While she shies away from the media spotlight, Kamal continues to be outspoken and open about her opinions concerning Palestinian women’s double struggle: liberation from Israeli occupation and male domination.

In addition to participating on the Palestinian negotiating team during peace talks with Israel, Kamal was the General Director of the Directorate for Gender Planning and Development with the Palestinian Authority and served as the Coordinator of the Women’s Affairs Technical Committee. Currently, Kamal serves on the boards of Jerusalem Link, a joint Israeli-Palestinian initiative, Women’s Center for Legal and Social Counseling, and the Jerusalem Center for Women.