Sabira 23, from the Ramallah-area village of Rantis, is full of ambition, largely, she says, is thanks to MIFTAH.
Sabira says she was introduced to MIFTAH through a university colleague and participated in one of its workshops. This was the start of her journey, she says. This was when she decided to participate in a month-long training course with a partner association in the AMAL project. “Before this training, my ambition was basically to gain work experience. I didn’t have very many personal acquaintances, which was something I wanted to improve,” Sabira says. “At first I wanted to become a member of my village council and to establish a shadow council comprised of women who could help in running affairs.”
She ran with her dreams after completing the one-month course, volunteering in the Rantis village council before becoming a member. She says the local council members were receptive, but resistance came from her mother. “I finally convinced her that you don’t have to be a man to be in the council and that there were already two women members,” Sabira recalls. “I always asked myself why I could not be like them.”
She says the head of the council played a big role in convincing her mother, telling her that the council needed input from the younger generation. She also says he supported her by involving her in meetings and symposiums and inviting her to participate in projects being carried out in the town.
After this, Sabira worked towards establishing a shadow council, basically to support women’s participation and integrate them in the council’s work. At its start, the shadow council included five or six women.
Sabira says the AMAL trainings were a big part of why she decided to work towards her goals. “Before participating in the AMAL training, I had no role in the council or in my own town. All of my activities were in Ramallah or at least outside of Rantis.” The training turned all that around. “It dawned on me that the council’s duties are not only limited to its president. I too should have a role in my community and have an impact in making changes.” Sabira says she invited the young women she knew to participate and get involved in the shadow council and also the village council so that other young women from the village could be encouraged to join too. “I wanted them to realize how important their role is in their community”. Sabira cites her own growth throughout the process as well. “I learned that I did not have to work in Ramallah, far from my own community and from prying eyes as long as I was convinced of what I was doing,” she says.
“Before the training, I was not convinced that women could participate in village council elections,” tells Sabira. “But throughout our training, I realized how much effort was put into involving women in elections and in village councils. That is when I decided to also play a role in local and village councils and to encourage other young women to work with me.” She says the training honed her abilities and opportunities to get more involved in other fields. “For example, I moved from being a field activist with the Palestinian workers’ union to working with the agricultural union. I wanted to work, not just with women but also with male factory workers.” She says her work allowed her to participate in training workshops with factory workers so she could help raise their awareness about the union and motivate factory owners to join. One example is when she held a one-week course for workers and factory owners in the village of Shuqba aimed at raising their awareness about the Palestinian labor law and about job-related safety and health. “I was accepted and created changes I never expected,” she says proudly, adding that women and girls should never accept to remain marginalized, “on the sidelines of society”. She adds, “they have the ability to make changes and create something new.
Change in conventional thinking
Sabira also says she was able to create change in the mindsets of her own environment. “In the conservative climate of my village, there is no acceptance for women to move from place to place or mingle with men at the workplace,” she maintains. Still, she says she was able to convince her family that travelling and participating in various activities increased a young woman’s experience and strengthened her personality and knowledge through dealing with people. She also shared these thoughts and experiences with other young women, showing them that they could be part of changes as well.
One of her biggest opponents was her 21-year old brother. “He objected to me working in a mixed male-female environment. He wanted me only to work with women,” she says. “But I finally changed his viewpoint too,” she boasts.
Sabira realized how important it was to make changes in her own environment. “Community participation should not be monopolized by males,” she contents. “There is a role for women too. They have the capabilities and the ambition; all they need is for someone to support and guide them.”
The changes she was part of were so tangible, Sabira now that in a place where it used to be taboo for women to work alongside men, it is now widely accepted. “Women’s acceptance in community service side by side with men is commonplace now.”
Sabira says she has one more ambition. Eventually, she wants to be head of Rantis’ village council.