Palestinians will head to the polls on Saturday for municipal elections across the West Bank. It's been seven long years since local elections were last held. In that time, peace talks have ground to a halt, and public faith in the divided Palestinian leadership has plummeted.
But there's still plenty to be hopeful about. Take Maysoun Qawasmi. A seasoned activist, Qawasmi is heading an independent ticket of 11 women – under the banner of "By Participating, We Can” – in the long-suffering, conservative city of Hebron.
More women are running in these elections than ever before, thanks in part to new gender quota requirements. This has been a mixed blessing, but Qawasmi and her all-female list are different from other token female candidates, some of whom have been attached to other lists to meet electoral quotas. The Hebron women are professionals eager to stand up for women's rights, revitalise their city and end the Israeli occupation. And Qawasmi is optimistic: “I am running for the election to win,” she told the Daily Beast. “I’m coming to change my society, in the best way, in a positive way, to send a message that women can do lots of things as decision makers.”
She's not alone. In Bethelehem Vera Baboun, a university lecturer, is running to become the famous little town's first female mayor. Representing the favoured Fatah movement, she sits atop a list of 12 Muslims and Christians.
Of course there are plenty of sceptics ahead of Saturday's vote – many of them Palestinian. To begin with, Hamas, which has been feuding with its more mainstream rival Fatah since the 2006 legislative elections, is boycotting the polls. That means that there will be no voting in the Gaza Strip, which is run by Hamas, and Hamas candidates will not be standing in the West Bank.
But whatever the challenges are ahead of Saturday's vote, these are positive signs for democracy and for the Palestinians living on West Bank, who are in great need of strong local leadership.
Learn more: The New York Times has a great video of Qawasmi out on the campaign trail.
Sources: Ahram, New York Times, Daily Beast, Reuters, Los Angeles Times, Wikipedia, Haaretz