Kayan Feminist Organization is working to create change in Palestinian society from within. As an organization, we aim to promote social justice and gender equality, and to eliminate all forms of discrimination against women.
Much of the work of Kayan is rooted in our investment in women’s health. Furthermore, through the consolidation of women’s groups and their leadership, we support grassroots women leaders in developing projects and programmes that respond to the needs their own communities. Kayan also aims to create effective leadership on local and regional levels.
One of the projects that is key to achieving this goal is “Sustainable Leadership for Women’s Health”- which aims to improve the state of Arab women’s health from a feminist and inclusive perspective. The project is implemented through in-depth studies that seek to determine the actual state of Arab women’s health, and through the creation of programs that respond to those specific needs. Among the activities undertaken during this project, Kayan held three, day-long workshops committed to women’s health in Yafa an-Naseriyye, Sulam and Deir Hanna.
‘Your Health in the World’
The first of these health days took place in Yafa an-Naseriyye under the slogan ‘Your Health in the World’. The event was the initiative of a group of female volunteers and Kayan Feminist Organization, and was held in cooperation with the Head of the Department of Health in the local council, Hisham Bisharat. The day’s program included a health walk led by trainer Baraá Abdallah which set out from the community center and headed towards the municipal. A lecture on the importance of exercise was delivered by physical therapist Soheir Ali Salih. Nidal Kanaana, one of the volunteers, and Mona Mahajneh, Coordinator of the Department of Community Work at Kayan-Feminist Organization, each gave a brief overview of the health project, its significance and the different dimensions of work it encompasses. The day was rounded off by an aerobics lesson, with healthy food and other forms of hospitality on offer throughout the day.
Speaking about the health day, Nidal Kanaana said: “It’s a significant day for the women. The response has been wonderfully effective already. The day successfully drew women’s attention towards walking as exercise and especially to its health benefits. It made them aware of the crucial advice that walking daily guarantees better health and helps to prevent life threatening chronic diseases, which are a particular threat to women who do not engage in regular exercise.”
It’s worth noting that this is in fact the first time that an event like this has ever been put on in the area, and it was met with the approval and respect of both participants and institutions who work in relevant fields.
‘Waves’ women’s group of Deir Hanna hosts a health day with Kayan
Through the joint initiative of Kayan and the women’s group ‘Waves’, the second health day was held at Nasrine Fitness Center in Deir Hanna, under the banner ‘Women for a Safe and Healthy Society’. The program included a presentation on the group’s special health project and a lecture on healthy eating. The lecture offered dietary recommendations and substitutions and a daily health program for losing weight with Alaa Atwan, an instructor with Societies for Healthy Nutrition. A Zumba lesson was led by trainer Alaa Jbara, as well as an aerobics session with Nasreen Daghash.
Sulam Activists’ Forum participates in a Health and Environment Day in Bustan Al-Marj in collaboration with Kayan
The third of the health days was held on the 7th of May in Sulam, under the title ‘A Healthy Environment and a Healthy You’. The day was organized by the Sulam Activists Forum in association with Kayan, Sulam Primary School and the Bustan al-Marj Regional Council.
The program included a presentation on the group’s special health projects, and a lecture for parents about the importance of a clean environment, and who is responsible for its development. One of the speakers was Ali Zoubi, head of the local council’s Department of Health, who spoke about cooperating with Kayan and the activists of Sulam, noting the importance of discussing environmental issues, and praising their efforts and the partnership: “There is a joint responsibility between citizens and various agencies, and therein lies the important role played by the activists of the Sulam forum. These activists pressed the council on the need for intensive work in order to develop a ready and available structure and they committed the council to an obligation to help support the group, as it rightly should.” He stressed that: “the council will be ready to offer its support and cooperation with this group that strengthen awareness of important issues, and is built upon partnership and a dedication to crucial health and environmental initiatives.”
The health day ended with a healthy meal for the school students, and a cleaning drive on foot around the town, accompanied by the Bustan al-Marj Scout group.
Iman Zoabi, an active member of the Sulam group, said: “We’ve been working to try and implement a culture of cleanliness and to merge it into the idea of civilised society, which we must give much more consideration. In our work we have tried to prevent blame or accusations from being directed towards one specific party. It’s not the sole responsibility of the council to ensure that children and the next generation internalize this concept: it also falls upon parents to create this awareness. Our work has aimed to promote a spirit of giving and we have worked alongside all the other groups and sectors for the benefit of the whole town.”
Zoabi stressed the role that Kayan has played, from the outset, in assisting the group. The organization helped them to create change and gain influence; Kayan helped them to build up and to crystallise as a group and assisted them as they faced each challenge and difficulty, providing intensive mentoring and the support to persevere along the path towards fulfilling personal goals for the benefit of all the children of the village.
She also mentioned that Ibtihal Zoabi, principal of the primary school, took part in the planning of the Health Day and incorporated the concepts into effect in the classes.
The ‘Sustainable Leadership for Women’s Health’ Project and its Goals
Mona Mahajneh, Coordinator of the Department of Community Work at Kayan- Feminist Organization, spoke about the importance of this project: “The aim of the project is to develop female leadership to improve the state of women’s health in Arab society”. Mahajneh points to the situation that Arab women face, which is exceedingly severe and problematic in comparison to the wider population. Conditions that women particularly suffer from include: obesity, breast cancer, diabetes and heart disease, among others. As Mahajneh explains, there is a lack of access to health care services in Arab towns and villages and a number of Arab villages have no gynaecologists. Other problems include: a lack of night clinics in the villages; a shortage of medical information in Arabic; a lack of awareness amongst women as to their rights regarding healthcare and their specific health needs; and a lack of awareness as to the importance of changing habits which impact negatively on one’s health, such as a poor diet. On this subject, Mahajneh says “It is imperative that we work in this area in order to develop these health-focussed projects on a number of levels and that we put these issues onto the local and national agenda.” Mahajneh stressed the necessity of bolstering the role of women in decision making, with regards to health, from a wider perspective.
A process of support, self and communal empowerment
The health project is now in its third year and has three women’s groups to its name, each of which went through a process of support as well as self and communal empowerment. At the beginning, these groups completed a training course focussed on the field of health that was held in conjunction with The Galilee Society.
After the training course, a door to door health survey was carried out. The survey was implemented in order to examine the services available in each town and which needs and health issues require most attention. The results of the survey showed some disparity from town to town. At the same time a multi-faceted programme of work was undertaken. It aimed, firstly, to raise levels of awareness and knowledge through lectures and workshops on a number of issues, such as: breast cancer, osteoporosis, diabetes, the menopause and mental health. Secondly, it worked on behavioural and lifestyle levels by initiating healthy eating courses, walking groups and Zumba lessons. Finally the project functioned on a cooperative level, as it was used to influence institutions and the general public. Since its early stages local partners have been enlisted in each town to develop the project and to embrace its goals. Steering committees have been formed, made up of people who hold influence within their respective fields of work, whether they are local council members or directors of local governmental departments, such as the Department of Health, the Department of Sport, the Health Maintenance Organization, doctors, and activists.
The aim of the project was to take root in the heart of Arab towns and villages and to draw attention to health, not just from an exclusively female perspective. From this, the need to find other mechanisms for change quickly emerged. Amongst the proposed solutions was the procurement of gynaecologists and night clinics in Arab towns and villages, in order to ensure adequate access to healthcare for women. Kayan then proceeded to appeal to the Health Maintenance Organization, the Ministry of Health, and women on the local council in order to have some impact, be that on matters concerning the finer points of female activism, or bigger issues, such as providing better access routes in Arab towns. In the process of planning, Kayan focussed on improvement of Arab women’s health, as well as emphasising the issue of environment and public cleanliness and getting it on the agenda across Arab society.
As previously mentioned, it should be emphasised that this work was conducted on two levels: on a local level through the work with five local groups in different towns, and at a regional level through ‘Jusur Women’s Forum’. The forum consists of twenty local groups and has forty female leaders from different towns, convening four times a year. Their work puts a strong emphasis on individual action. This guarantees the active participation of the women from the initial stage of identifying the problem, and identifying the community’s needs, right through to the stage of implementing the programme and ensuring its sustainability. In addition to the role of the women, the project has been notable for the local partnerships that it has developed with health institutions and professionals, and the steering committees that have been formed in each town to develop the programmes. Above all, the project believes strongly in the need for united action: whether you are a woman or not, women’s issues are a matter which we all must work to overcome.
Original article in Arabic: http://www.panet.co.il/article/1011795