“I didn’t think I even wanted it at first,” Jihad Zhour says, of becoming a member in Al Bireh’s municipal council. “But then I participated in MIFTAH workshops and just dove in.” Now Zhour is an innovative and active member in one of her country’s most prominent municipalities.
MIFTAH contributes in stimulating my leadership role as a local council member
Zhour attributes her previous lack of interest in participating in local councils to the fact that she had never participated in elections much less run herself. “I was always afraid of failure and not being able to continue,” she admits. But then she became involved in several courses and workshops, “the lion’s share of which were MIFTAH’s” – and now says she feels confident and capable of making the right decision in the committees she is part of and within the local council itself. Other advantages to her involvement are that she communicates with institutions within the local community and carries out initiatives in the municipality with other female council members. She is the coordinator for the Ramallah/Al Bireh network, which entails conducting joint activities between different local councils’ members from Al Bireh and Ramallah district and listening to their grievances to try and find solutions.
One such initiative she says, was in collaboration with two other colleagues. “We wrote an official letter to GIZ and MIFTAH addressing women council members’ demands and needs. At the end of 2015 we all participated in a three-day workshop on self-affirmation, on being a leader and on protocols. My motto has always been “Nothing is impossible” and “Failure will never find me, God willing.”
Today, Zhour is preparing to run in the coming new elections. “This would never have happened if it were not for support from MIFTAH and the impact it has had on me in molding my personality and self-confidence.”
A strong relationship
Zhour says MIFTAH played an important role in her development from day one and she remembers when her strong relationship with MIFTAH began. “It was the first meeting for the local councils’ members’ network at the Grand Park Hotel in 2013. After that meeting, I participated in different training workshops MIFTAH conducted at the Palestinian Red Crescent Society.”
Zhour says her continuous participation at most of MIFTAH’s workshops and trainings was what empowered her to participate more as a local council member. “I learned a lot from these trainings about empowerment and promoting the leadership role of women, about active participation and understanding local governance laws and legislations, procedures, rights and duties. I learned about means of communication within society and about civil institutions and structural planning, about how to draw up a budget and the concept of gender and also about decision-making mechanisms inside local councils and municipalities”.
Zhour says perhaps one of the most important workshops she attended and which left an impact on her was the “self-affirmation” workshop. “This course helped shape who I am today; it strengthened my abilities at work and boosted my self-confidence. I even discovered my own positive energy, which I employed in my work. I broke the barrier of fear, on the one hand, and became an active and significant member of the local council’s committees, on the other.”
Full of activities
Zhour continues that she is not only active in the women’s committee [of the local council] but is an active member in the education committee. “Through this committee I was directly in contact with schools, students and teachers. In 2014 I organized a competition for the prettiest school garden among 14 government schools and several private schools, the goal of which was to encourage the role of students in preserving the environment. Then in 2015, I organized another competition on cleaning cities, named “The cleanliness of our city is the mark of our civility” . The goal was to get institutions, school and university students, and associations involved along with the municipality in keeping the city clean. The project was fully funded by GIZ.”
The Morocco trip
Zhour says the MIFTAH-organized Morocco trip she participated in along with a group of colleagues was a ‘big leap’ for her in terms of exchanging experiences with other Arab women. “We met with women decision-makers such as Ms. Jamileh Afif, head of the regional council and parliament member, Mrs Amda Marini and Hayat Mashfou’ Amda’s deputy. They told us about their experiences and the challenges and difficulties they face whether in the elections or within the political parties,” Zhour said. “Some were unable to run in the elections the first time while others did not win several times over. But this did not stop them from trying again and again.”
The Moroccan woman who had the biggest influence on her, she says, was Hayat Mashfou’. “She inspired me to continue and to achieve my dreams,” says Zhour, explaining that Mashfou’ has a physical disability. “In spite of her disability, she never stopped confronting challenges head on. She made to university and studied law.”
Her party then proposed that she run in the elections. “But she tells me their only goal was to fill the quota”. Mashfou’ would not have it and wanted to be an effective and active member. “She worked hard, contacting institutions and banks and got student grants and financial assistance for special-needs persons,” says Zuhur.
Three years later, in spite of the stigma against the disabled, Mashfou’ was able to become Amda’s deputy.
Zuhur says Mashfou’s story tremendously impacted her. “I started to think about my ability to achieve my goals and that was when I knew that nothing was impossible if you have the will and determination.”
On another note, Zuhur said how during her trip, there was a focus on structural planning and roads. “I noticed how careful the streets were planned, how wide the sidewalks were and how public places were so clean”. She also said she learned about country’s construction licenses regulations, taking this all back to her own local council to learn from. She says all of these experiences motivated her to run in the next elections with no reservations.