What to make of this? Today's New York Times has a front-page feature on the growing role of women in Hamas. The party's surprising victory in the Jan. 25 election put 74 of the Palestinian Legislative Council's 132 seats in Hamas' hands -- and mandatory quotas meant that six of those 74 seats went to women. The Times notes putting women in leadership roles is relatively new for Hamas, and it quotes a political science professor from the occupied territories' Al Azhar University as saying, "In Palestinian society, our values do not accept women to go out and campaign in the street. It's really a new phenomenon."
But just because women are gaining increased visibility doesn't mean Hamas represents progress for women's rights. The Times points out that "the model will be Islam: women in Hamas wear head scarves and follow strict rules for social segregation from men."
Female legislator Naima Sheikh Ali told the Times, "Yes, they [Hamas] respect women, but as they conceive that respect. It is from a religiously fundamental view. For the women's movement, this will set us back several steps." (It should be noted that, as a member of Hamas' rival party, Fatah, Sheikh Ali isn't necessarily offering an unbiased opinion.)
And, the Times notes, Hamas' most famous female legislator, Mariam Farhat, "has a pedigree particularly troubling to many in Israel and the outside world." Farhat is "the mother of three Hamas supporters killed by Israelis. She bade one son goodbye in a homemade videotape before he stormed an Israeli settlement, killing five people, then being shot dead. She said later, in a much-publicized quotation, that she wished she had 100 sons to sacrifice that way. Known as the 'mother of martyrs,' she was seen in a campaign video toting a gun."