On June 1-2, 35 women from 17 different Palestinian villages across Israel gathered in the town of Buqay’a for a meeting of the Forum for Arab Women Leaders. This two-day workshop provided the women an opportunity to share their experiences, discuss common obstacles and celebrate achievements as community activists through the “Jusur” program.
The meeting began with a lecture by Abed Anabtawi, the Office Administrator of the National Committee of Local Authorities. His session on a “Critical Reading of Arab-Palestinian Feminism in Israel” offered a unique and critical framework with which to analyze the Arab feminist movement. He argued that instead of constantly speaking about “equality,” women should begin speaking about “opportunity.” Rather than fighting to put women on the same social, economic and political level as men, Anabtawi suggested that feminists start from the root of the issue. He suggested challenging a dichotomous framing of “men v. women,” with a more direct consideration of the rights of people to equal opportunity. One woman commented that Anabtawi’s presentation, “broke out of the square of obvious matters.” Anabtawi criticized governmental affirmative action system, in which seats are reserved for women within political parties. To “create” a space for a woman within a male-dominated system, he argued, is not an effective avenue toward change; rather, change must be made from the foundation, in an environment open to the equal participation of men and women. His perspective, however well received by the forum, nonetheless remain controversial within a dynamic and growing Arab feminist movement developing pragmatic strategies for change.
In her lecture on “Milestones in Arab-Palestinian Feminist Action,” Kayan General Director Rula Deeb offered another perspective on frameworks for feminist action. She began by elucidating the difficulties of advancing a feminist agenda within a political context of Israeli-Palestinian conflict. Often, organizations such as Kayan must take political considerations into account, while being practical in balancing feminist and nationalistic concerns. Many of the participants disagreed with Rula, arguing that the nationalist and feminist agendas often converge and cannot be separated. Rula concluded that as women leaders, we must be open to multiple courses of actions within our work as women leaders within a dynamic and evolving political environment.
Day two of the Forum began with a screening of the film “Taking Root: The Vision of Wangari Maathai,” an inspirational story of one woman’s personal journey of community organizing amid the turbulent political history of Kenya. A workshop followed, lead by Yael Ben David, organizational advisor and professor of Sociology at Ben Gurion University. She spoke about “Building Power Process for Social Change,” whereby the women divided into small groups to discuss the film, and analyze their own strengths as leaders, as well as the tools they needed in order to remain strong individually and as a group. Many of the participants recognized the need to work together, understand alternative perspectives, network, learn, contextualize their environment, and remain focused, empowered and assertive in their work.
By way of summary and evaluation, the women expressed great satisfaction with the Forum. The two days, they remarked, had helped them to learn more about themselves, and the diverse range of discussion opened new perspective into their work as community activists. Many also voiced a need for additional time to discuss their projects and strategies with one another. Kayan has agreed to work more closely with the women through additional consultations and meetings in the future. At the end of the day, the 35 women of Jusur returned to their communities with a renewed energy to continue their activism for social change.