“Strengthening the role of women in decision-making and conflict resolution”
On Wednesday, November 21st Kayan-Feminist Organization facilitated the Third Annual Conference of the Jusur Forum of Arab Women Leaders. The conference, entitled “Strengthening the role of women in decision-making and conflict resolution,” was held in cooperation with the community-based women’s group Atiaf in the village of Arabeh. Nearly 250 women activists for social change participated in the conference, representing 22 Arab localities in the Galilee and Triangle regions.
In the first Annual Conference of the Jusur Forum of Arab Women Leaders, held in 2009 in the village of Maghar, attendees articulated a goal shared by Kayan and the Jusur Forum to develop and institutionalize the grassroots Arab women’s movement throughout the country. The Third Conference sends a clear and resounding call to all segments of the Arab society to redouble cooperation at the grassroots for the strengthening of a society in which women enjoy equal status and opportunities, free of gender-based discrimination.
The day’s program was moderated by Mrs. Suheir Hussein, Forum member and seasoned activist in the women’s group Amwaj in the village of Deir Hanna. Suheir opened the event with a greeting to the attendees, recognizing the contributions of all who are working to raise the status of women. She emphasized the critical role of Kayan’s Department of Community Work in the development of the Jusur Forum and in strengthening women’s activism at the local level. The Forum, she said, is playing a vital role in rooting the women’s movement in the Arab community.
Joining the celebration was the head of the Arabeh local council, Mr. Omar Nassar, who has provided significant moral and material support to promote the activities of the women’s group in Arabeh. Nassar praised the group for its efforts and stressed the importance of cooperation among all parties in order to succeed.
In addition, Arabeh women’s group leader Ms. Tammam Shalash presented the most important achievements of the group since its foundation, touching upon the various challenges they have faced. “We live in a patriarchal society that imposes a lot of barriers upon those who seek to bring about social change for women,” she said. She enumerated some of the difficulties in building effective partnerships with local authorities and other institutional stakeholders. Shalash stressed the importance of open communication between women’s groups in order to facilitate the exchange of practical experience and urged greater participation in Jusur and the Forum of Arab Women Leaders.
Forum member Ms. Aziza Madi, women’s group leader and environmental activist in the village of Maghar, then presented the various grassroots projects of Jusur. She emphasized the importance of a holistic approach in order to deepen the work and reach all segments of society.
The conference program also included a lecture by featured presenter Mr. Khalil Maree entitled, “Gender conflict as a struggle of identity.” Maree, a specialist in conflict transformation, touched upon several issues, including different definitions of conflict, distinct manifestations of conflict as a phenomenon, and peaceful mechanisms for conflict resolution. Maree also stressed the importance of women’s leadership in peaceful conflict resolution, which would also serve to enhance the status of women throughout society.
Organizational consultant Mr. Orwa Switat then discussed methods of influencing municipal decision-making, stressing women have a right to “the public sphere, the city and the land.” “Rights in the public sphere,” he said, “are the cornerstone of human rights and forge a future for the coming generation.” Women have a right, Switat said, “to an equitable distribution of resources as individuals and as a group. They have a right to adequate housing, a clean environment, sustainable development, access to services, opportunities and infrastructure.” Women’s rights in the public sphere, he continued, include rights to “culture and inheritance, employment and property, vitality and security, belonging and self-realization.”
Switat highlighted the “sharp gap between words and deeds on stage and behind the scenes. The core motive of many decision-makers who affect our lives,” he said, “is the struggle for political survival.” An official decision might be taken according to any number of political, social, local or personal considerations at the expense of… inclusive planning for the collective social, economic and cultural well-being of the community.
Switat concluded, “We have to ask ourselves how we build public space and a city in partnership with women? How we can strengthen their rights… in order to achieve safety and belonging, opportunities and equality?” Switat encouraged challenges to social axioms and radical transformation of social definitions, concepts and values through community organizing, lobbying, and direct dialogue with decision-makers.
Conference attendees then split into focus groups to further explore the issues raised by the speakers. Participants reiterated the importance of the work being done by grassroots women’s rights activists through the various initiatives of the Jusur Forum to raise awareness and increase the participation of women as decision-makers in the public sphere.
Reflecting on the day, Ms. Mona Ataba, representing a new grassroots women’s group in Jadeid Al-Maker, commented, “I was struck by something I heard from one of the speakers when she said, ‘Start with what’s possible until the impossible softens.’ I felt today that nothing is impossible. As women, we have significant capabilities. Together with Kayan and these activists, we can change our society for the better.”