“We must be actively involved!” – Third meeting of the Forum of Arab Women Leaders
On 27 September, the women leaders of Kayan’s empowerment programme Jusur met in the village of Deir Hanna for their third meeting of the “Forum of Women Leaders” in 2011.
Following a short personal introduction of the 27 women from 17 different villages, Kayan’s Community Department Coordinators gave a quick update of the department’s current work with the villages of Deir Hanna, Arraba, Ein Mahel, Yaft An-Nasriyye, Nahef, Mag’har, Sulam, Ma’ale Iron and Majd al-Krum. News included that the village of Sulam had just completed the “Active Approach to Personal Economy” programme – a course that Ma’ale Iron is about to start. The department also gave a quick update on a conference about a programme that took place last June in Majd al-Krum and which dealt with Kayan’s research about Arab women’s perceptions of future economic security. Moreover, the villages of Arraba and Yaft An-Nasriyye which participate in the “Gender Equality in Local Budget” programme have completed the theoretical stage on “gender mainstreaming” of the programme in cooperation with the Adva Center, and now aim to meet with the head of departments of the local authorities in order to establish a firm dialogue with relevant decision-makers.
Kayan staff also announced new courses that will be available to the women over the next two months. One will offer its participants education on the tools of resource developing in the form of three intensive four-hour sessions in Haifa whilst another ten to twelve-sessions PC and Internet course taking place in the village of Ma’ghar will provide both beginners and advanced users an opportunity to expand their skills. Both courses are designed to meet the needs of the women leaders who, Kayan hopes, will one day be able to maintain and continue their work without its help but, in the meantime, are sufficiently equipped to access basic information online.
A lecture ensued held by Johayna Hussein, a leader of the Jusur group in Deir Hanna, who presented a summary of the activities of the Jusur steering committee which currently deals with the implementation of the “Local Councils Law” (Advisor on the Status of Women) of 2000. According to this law, every local council is obliged to appoint a female advisor for the advancement on the status of women both amongst female employees within the municipal councils as well as amongst the female residents within the municipal boundaries as a whole. The steering committee, whose members include Reem Zoabi-Abu Ishak, Rafah Anabtawi, Aziza Ama’adie, Bushra A’awad and Ahlam Hejazie, has been observing the Arab local councils’ compliance to the law from 2010 onwards and quickly discovered that they either simply do not have an advisor or significantly lack adherence to the law’s specifications on how to appoint the advisor, the advisors’ qualifications, as well as a proper pursuance of the position. Monitoring the work of the women advisors is furthermore hampered by the fact that they fail to submit annual working reports reliably – something the heads of the local councils are responsible for.
In addition to approaching the “National Committee for Local Councils” – an ongoing process – the steering committee also secured the support of Palestinian Knesset member Haneen Zoabi who helped gather more information on the subject and who supported the steering committee’s efforts to convince the “Research and Information Center of the Knesset” to conduct a survey amongst the women advisors of Arab local councils at the beginning of this year. In an effort to promote a correct implementation of the law by cooperating with relevant political bodies, Rafah and Johayna met with a member of the “Committee on the Status of Women” in Nazareth. Although often presented with a rather “rosy picture” when describing the successes and failures of the local councils, the steering committee, Johayna announced, will continue this kind of cooperation in an effort to transform the position of the women advisor from a position “on paper” to one that is “filled actively”. This endeavour includes demanding the implementation of the law to be monitored persistently and urging the councils to include female residents in the decision-making process when appointing women advisors. Johayna ended her lecture on an optimistic note, encouraging the other leaders to find out about their local council’s implementation of the law claiming that “as citizen we must be actively involved in local decision-making, especially as marginalised women who should and cannot not simply sit in silence.”
After the lecture all of the women kindly completed a questionnaire prepared by Kayan intern Kim Jezabel Zinngrebe who presently researches the perception of citizenship by Arab feminists living in Israel. Following a quick lunch, Kayan staff divided the women into two focus groups in order to discuss the subject of ‘conflict’. The discussions were part of Kayan’s wider effort to understand conflicts within Palestinian communities and the roles that women take during those conflicts. For the purpose of developing a coherent approach to the issue, Kayan currently hosts an intern from the United States, Megan Leatherman, whose project focuses on gender and conflict within the Arab community and whose research is partly based on the feedback of Kayan’s women leaders.
When asked about what kinds of conflicts they deal with, the women described openly how they face conflicts on several levels, including conflicts within the family, at work, within their community, between (religious) communities as well as with the state yet also in form of inner conflicts. The women did not hesitate to share their personal experiences of these conflicts, including stories about how they were in conflict with their husbands when announcing that they wanted to participate in Jusur, how they feel that they live in conflict with a state they do not identify with and which does not accommodate their needs, or how they have struggled to bring up their children according to their own values within overly traditional communities. Conflicts can be of an intractable nature, according to the women, whilst conflict resolution can take on a variety of forms including compromise, drastic measures or true agreement.
Discussing their own roles during conflicts, the focus groups’ participants admitted that they, as women, can take on negative roles, too. Depending on the shape and nature of the conflict, most women felt that they played a serious role within family conflicts but as conflicts get larger, their role and influence decreases. The majority of the participants agreed on the basic principle that women have the potential to become effective peacemakers, even though they might lack the tools and empowerment to do so. Suggestions on how to contribute to conflict resolution included raising awareness amongst their children in order to prevent factors such as violence and tribalism but also by focusing on wider issues relevant to all parties involved. In this regard, two individuals described how they helped bringing together two groups of women which did not speak to each other for 40 years by celebrating a common holiday, and how an activity for International Children’s Day successfully helped to reconcile two families living in the same village that had turned against each other as a result of electoral competition. At the end of what had been an intensive meeting and a long day, the women expressed their interest for more lectures and their wish to stay in touch with and update each other until the next meeting of the Forum.