During my first week at Kayan, I read through a number of grant proposals and reports, attempting to become fluent in the language of fundraising. I came across the word empowerment a number of times, and other “hot non-profit words,” such as sustainability, participation, education, community involvement, and so on. Over the course of the past six months, I have learned to speak this language, write this language, and internalize its vernacular for my position as “Intern of Resource Development.” But beyond using this language within the confines of Kayan’s office, I have been privileged to also observe its realities and effects in the field.
I have come to understand that Kayan is more than a non-profit. It is more than the objectives, goals, measurements, and evaluations that are drawn out in a grant application. Kayan is a movement. The women of this movement are opening new conversations, questioning the status quo, and allowing Arab women a space to redefine their own roles within their families, communities and societies. From an outsider’s perspective, these women have even redefined their feminism. They are not fighting for “equality” with their male counterparts. Rather, Kayan is re-imagining the idea of feminism to symbolize women coming together to raise the bar, realize their potential as individuals, and increase their control and spheres of influence over their own lives.
During my time here, I have had the opportunity to attend a number of women’s empowerment meetings, educational workshops, conferences on Economic Security, and the Jusur Women’s Forum. I have had personal and professional conversations with the staff of Kayan, and have come to realize that at Kayan, the line between “implementer” and “beneficiary” is blurred, as the women who work here are themselves a part of the grassroots movement.
As part of an oral history project I have conducted during my time in Israel, I have interviewed Kayan’s lawyers and social workers, recording and documenting their life history stories. I am incredibly inspired by these stories of personal growth, the emergence of feminist and minority consciousness, and the will and self-confidence that have pushed these women to act.
Over the past six months, I have also experienced a tremendous amount of personal growth. I chose to begin interning at Kayan after graduating from university, with the expectation to learn more about the unique struggle of Arab women in Israel. As a Jewish-American, I have grown up ignorant of the experiences of minority communities in Israel, specifically the situation of Palestinian women. I hope to raise awareness within my own community about the work of Kayan, so that the voices of Palestinian women in Israel can be heard.
In September, I will pursue an MA in Human Rights Law from the School of Oriental and African Studies at London University. I will be sad to leave the family of Kayan, where I have felt like a full and accepted member. The women here have inspired me to pursue my interests with a passion to make a difference in the lives of others. I have realized my ability to define my own identity and my own feminism. I have learned the power and potential to translate words into meaningful action. My tenure here at Kayan is over, but something deep within me knows I will be back.
Shimrit Lee holds an interdisciplinary B.A. in “Gender in Genocide and Transitional Justice” from New York University. She plans to pursue her Master’s Degree in Human Rights Law at the School of Oriental and African Studies, London University. She is particularly interested in feminist legal theory, and the relationship between gender, nation, and power.