When asked, “Are you more empowered because of this group?” the women erupted in laughter. “Empowered? God help our husbands!” exclaimed one woman. Wahiba smiled and explained, “Her husband is complaining because she’s too empowered!” Yesterday in the northern Galilean village Majd al-Krum, nine women gathered as part of the local women’s group there. These women are a part of Kayan’s intensive empowerment training program, Jusur, through which they have learned how to voice their needs professionally, as well as establish projects that transform cohesive demands into the actualization of their rights.
Each week, Reem Zoabi of Kayan’s Department of Community Work travels to Majd al Krum to mentor these women, and to help in their development as activists and community leaders. Previously, the activists organized an educational lecture series for the women in the village, a program with a focus on health education. Reflecting on the impact of this initiative, one of the women remarked, “When we invite women to a health lecture – and the doctor expects 20 women to show up – but we end up with 135 participants just in the first lecture…this is a change!”
Not only are these events educationally enriching for the women, but they also provide an excuse to get out of the house and participate in empowering activities. One of the women explained that on a personal level, her family is used to her being out of the house on Wednesday afternoons. She said, “It’s my time to participate in something for me. They are becoming more accepting of this.”
Participants have recently begun a spoken Hebrew course offered to the women in the village. They are also planning to set up a class on First Aid. Asmahan joked that before the group began, she only knew how to speak about “laundry and cooking food” and other household activities. She explained, “Now I know how to talk about Hebrew courses, activities on women’s issues….I have more to say. I’m stronger.”
Unfortunately, only three women are currently participating in the Hebrew course. The women met yesterday to analyze the downfalls of the project and brainstorm ways to boost the number of participants. Many of the women thought that they needed to be more present in the course and should follow-up with the participants to better evaluate and monitor the success of the class. The empowerment workshops offered by Kayan have taught the women the professional tools of evaluation, monitoring, and program analysis. The women feel confident that they can move the program forward, but also realize that there is room for improvement. As Rina pointed out, “We are still at the beginning. We have a long way to go.”
Isma explains how the group helped to empower her, “Now I know what the women want. I know how to approach people to ask about their needs, and I know how to be assertive. I can handle community issues and I know how to network and create community partnerships.” Reem observed, “The community center is becoming more alive. It used to cater mostly to children, giving ballet and sports classes.” Now the women have a strong presence in the community center.
The women were open and friendly with each other, yet were at the same time articulate, professional and diplomatic. Wahiba spoke on a more personal level when she described the “tremendous change” she experienced. “I was so shy, I wasn’t able to speak. But now I can speak my mind and do what I want! I’m more active in the community too.” Fatmah defined her experience in the local women’s group as enriching, “We know how to talk to any part of the community. We are all more brave.”
The women plan to continue improving and promoting the Hebrew course before moving onto the establishment of the First Aid course. They also hope to construct a community garden on a piece of land near the community center. All expressed a desire to continue to learn from each other’s experiences and advance themselves both personally and professionally.