GAZA, Sept. 15 (Xinhua) -- For centuries in Palestine, the role of Mukhtar, head of a clan in charge of various affairs in the village, had been performed by men. But recently, more and more women in Gaza are taking up the job.
Um Ahmed Al-Hanafi, 50, is one of those women. She was given this title by the Mukhtars Association in Gaza for her diligent efforts to help arguing people to reconcile with one another.
There are at least 60 female Mukhtars working in the Hamas- ruled Gaza Strip now.
Al-Hanafi, who is a mother of four, has been an Islamic preacher for nearly 13 years, an experience giving her enough expertise to deal with problems among the local people.
"Seriously, I'm very proud to be a Mukhtar. And I'm very proud because I have achieved my goal. Helping people is a unique job and I really love what I'm doing," said Um Ahmed after she finished a successful session to appease a quarreling couple.
She is now a celebrity in the southern Gaza Strip city of Khan Younis. People approach her for help and she never lets any of them down.
Um Ahmed works at a few women centers at the same time and also with some male Mukhtars who need her help.
The Mukhtar system started in Palestine while it was under the Ottoman rule, when a Mukhtar had greater authority over the areas he was in charge of.
Nowadays, the role of Mukhtar has diminished. His main tasks now are stamping death and marriage certificates in addition to mediating local quarrels.
The female Mukhtars are mostly teachers, preachers and social workers who have received courses at local human rights organizations about solving disputes under the traditional local law.
Generally, male and female Mukhtars do their jobs for free as they don't receive any salary from the government.
Unlike male Mukhtars, female ones do not have a stamp or any other powers and their main job is just to put an end to family disputes. They usually deal with women-related problems like divorce, women's inheritance right and marriage problems.
In spite of the limited role female Mukhtars are playing, criticism piled on them is harsh in an Islamic society like the Gaza Strip.
Abu Moussa Qaddoum, a well-known Gaza Mukhtar said women should have not been allowed to play this role since such a job is definitely against the teachings of Islam as he claims.
"This is against our Palestinian social customs because our society is Arabian and Islamic," he said.
He described this new phenomenon as a "form of western culture that is meant to spoil the conservative Palestinian society through giving women the chance to join men in their jobs."
However, this criticism did not bring down the morale of Um Ahmed, but rather stimulated her to go on.
"Some people have opposed the idea of women being a Mukhtar, and they think that the role of men will vanish if there will be female Mukhtars. But I say my role is supplementary. I throw these accusations away and go on," she said.
Al-Hanafi believes she is better at certain things than men since it is difficult for men in the conservative Palestinian community to meet with a woman privately and talk to her about her problems with her husband and family.
That is why the female Mukhtars, though criticized by some, are becoming more and more accepted in the Gaza society.
Head of Mukhtars Association Saif Abu Ramadan views the role of female Mukhtars as very important and vital, urging more wise women to take the job in order to facilitate the mission of male Mukhtars.
"I think women have a role in this cause and we need to improve it. There must be a group of female Mukhtars to help male Mukhtars in every Palestinian city," he said.