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Year: 2009 Type: Report Language: English

Using topical life stories, focus groups, data and discourse analysis, this paper, presented to 'Pathways: What are we Learning?' Analysis Conference, Cairo, 20-24 January 2009, explores the experiential diversity and thematic commonalities in the lives of Palestinian unmarried women, in the context of a society experiencing prolonged warlike conditions, political crisis, and social disruption. In particular, the project examines dynamics of choice, embodiment, responsibility, and survival, as well as attempt identify structural, social, political and economic factors shaping Palestine’s rather unique pattern of early, but not universal marriage, with a relatively high proportion of never-married women (but not men) over time. Comparing topical life stories of an earlier generation of largely educated unmarried women (now 40-65) who often had a clear trajectory of a life committed to the national project e and/or self-improvement with the diverse voices found in focus groups of contemporary young women (18-25) in diverse locations in the West Bank offers a window into how choice and responsibility operate differentially in the lives of unmarried women. Issues explored are how unmarried women place and value themselves in family and societal settings, how families and communities view unmarried women and shape these choices and responsibilities, and how unmarried women narrate marriageability, self-fashioning, and embodiment. Of particular interest is unmarried women’s perceptions of what constitutes marriageability in the present times where survival and mobility are at the top of family and community agendas. A focus on public debate – both locally and regionally – that frames unmarried women as a “problem” is of particular concern, as is the engagement of the project in encouraging alternative public discourses on the contributions and rights of unmarried women in various settings.