Post by Adeline Tibakweitira
In June 2015 CILC was awarded a new Nuffic NICHE project in Palestine: “Capacity development in higher legal education”. CILC applied for this project in collaboration with five consortium partners: University of Utrecht, VU University Amsterdam, the University of Jordan, MDF Training & Consultancy and Saxion University of Applied Sciences. On the Palestinian side, the project will benefit the law faculties of An Najah National University, Birzeit University, Al-Quds University, Hebron University, as well as the Palestinian Judicial Institute (PJI).
Due to Ramadan (the Islamic holy month) and summer holidays, we could only conduct the first mission of the project at the beginning of September. Our project team (consisting of the CILC Project Director Abdeljalil Taktak, our Controller Richard van den Bos and consultant Ans Voordouw, in addition to myself) was very enthusiastic to conduct this first mission. The goal of the mission was to conduct an inventory and determine the status of all aspects relevant to the development of a sound legal education in Palestine. We wanted to fine tune the project proposal, but also acquaint ourselves with the project partners and stakeholders. Little did we realise at the time of departure that we were facing a challenging mission, and that we would need to devote time and care to listen thoroughly to the needs and expectations of the beneficiary.
The first mission week was basically spent to visit the four beneficiary universities, under the guidance of our counterpart, An-Najah National University. Given the security situation at the Palestinian Territories and particularly at the check points between cities, travelling from one city to another was time consuming and an obstacle for Palestinians to attend meetings during late hours.
The consortium of the Palestinian universities was successful in voicing their opinion on what they expect from this NICHE project. They made it clear that they need a project that is useful to the Palestinian people, a project that will take into consideration the Palestinian context and will invest a majority of resources in the Palestinian Territories.
We asked ourselves whether we reflected the actual needs of the beneficiaries, if we applied the right approach to address these needs and whether we would reach a common ground within the period of two weeks that our mission was supposed to last.
One thing was obvious: if we wanted to proceed, we needed to make tremendous adjustments in determining the priorities and the necessary interventions. Among the priories discussed were capacity building in research, that could lead to the establishment of a peer-reviewed Palestinian Legal Journal, the provision of scholarships for PhD studies and intensifying the link between the universities and the labour market (inter alia through the PJI and Bar Association), to better absorb graduates of law.
The female touch
Among the four universities we visited, Hebron University is the youngest and has the highest number of female students (75% of total students) pursuing legal studies. We were told that these ladies both outnumber and outperform their male colleagues in law school. Hebron is looking for opportunities for female students to pursue studies abroad, so that they can gain exposure and expand their knowledge and experience.
Despite the large number of female students in the Palestinian Universities, the absorption of female graduates in the labour market is very small. This raises the questions of: Where do the remaining female graduates go and what do they do after graduating from law studies? These and other questions will be looked at during the baseline assessment of the project, which can help develop a gender strategy aimed at a more proportionate absorption of female graduates in the labour market.
While gender equality is the main priority of the Dutch policy regarding development cooperation, it is often a challenging aspect to introduce in the beneficiary institutions. It is often misconceived as a culture that is imposed in developing countries. Many do not see this as a priority. The challenge this project is willing to meet is deploying suitable strategies and activities, that will engage both male and female staff and students and utilise already available expertise and resources, to develop a bottom up approach that fits well in the Palestinian context.