“Are there points in time when our principles become divorced from our needs?” – Rafah Anabtawi pursues Postgraduate Certificate in Conflict Resolution from the Centre for Peace and Reconciliation Studies at Coventry University.
In August, Kayan’s Coordinator of Community Work Rafah Anabtawi travelled to the UK for an intensive training course as part of the Conflict Resolution Skills postgraduate certificate program at Coventry University. The two-week training is part of a year-long course designed to advance participants’ theoretical understanding of conflict and provide these professionals with tools to incorporate conflict resolution practices in their own work. Reflecting on her experience, Rafah described the trip as a unique experience, “both personally and professionally.”
Though initially sceptical about the applicability of a course addressing such a broad audience, Rafah quickly came to realise its manifold benefits within the specific context of Arab women in Israel. “During the training,” she said, “I enhanced my self-awareness and ability to recognise my own strengths, alongside skills that require further development, such as recognizing the advantages and disadvantages of the ‘insider’ and ‘outsider’ positions.”
Rafah was particularly fond of the programme’s emphasis on the practical components of conflict resolution. This approach included in-depth discussions and role play among 25 participants from all over the world, who brought with them diverse perspectives and personal experiences. Participants analyzed case studies from a number of individual conflict regions, during which Rafah had the opportunity to present her own work to the group. She explained the situation of Arab women in Israel and the conflicts they face at the local, regional and national levels. Keen to learn from outsiders’ perspectives on Arab gender issues, Rafah found herself reconsidering long-held assumptions about efficacy and activism. A key example was her reflection on the possibility of cooperation with religious leaders despite entrenched ideological disagreement. “I asked myself whether the choice we make not to cooperate serves the interests of women,” she said. “Conversely, could this actually serve to sustain the problem? Are there points in time when our principles become divorced from our needs?”
Naturally, introducing such questions within the framework of Kayan bears the risk of opening new conflict between staff members themselves, yet this process could prove highly beneficial in efforts to establish a common approach to conflict resolution. Although Kayan has not yet defined a clear strategy for approaching ‘conflict,’ the staff have recently begun a series of internal discussions and workshops on the challenge of developing effective means to involve women in conflict prevention and resolution. Kayan’s engagement with this subject stems from an understanding that sustainable social change will require grassroots women activists to maintain their roles as leaders throughout periods of severe conflict within their communities, overcoming tendencies to withdraw from the public sphere in the face of social strife.
As a requirement of certification, Rafah hopes to write a final essay on the absence of Arab women in conflict resolution processes in Israel. She is convinced that an increased understanding of the meaning of leadership in the context of conflict will be of great benefit to her work at Kayan. Traditionally, in periods of conflict within Palestinian communities in Israel, women are compelled to disengage. Even empowered women who have taken active roles in community decision-making are generally unable to act in such situations of conflict. Rafah intends to explore why this occurs and hopes to develop practical strategies for sustainable, women-led conflict intervention.
Rafah’s participation in the programme has reinforced her belief in the potential of women as peacemakers and the unique contributions they have to make in conflict analysis and management. Having already developed a substantial foundation in conflict resolution prior to her visit to Coventry, Rafah has come to view conflict transformation as a continuous learning process. “I have learned that to work in conflict, you have to be ready, you have to be patient, you must to accept the other and put the other before yourself,” she said. “Most importantly, you must be willing to deal with your own internal conflict.”