As part of its “Support for women’s protection” project, MIFTAH conducted three training workshop on reproductive health rights and gender-based violence. The workshops targeted imams, female preachers and women community leaders. This was followed by a meeting in Nablus to evaluate the work of the female preachers and imams who participated in the workshops. The evaluation covered the period between their training and after they held their own awareness sessions on what they learned.
MIFTAH project coordinator Hanan Said stressed on the importance of accumulated experiences with imams and female preachers in introducing the concepts of gender and reproductive health rights as part of the religious discourse. “Based on the findings of the recent evaluation session, this experience has proven to be qualitative and innovative at the level of Waqf Ministry programs.” Said said this resulted in a commitment from the ministry to continue addressing these issues in their religious discourse and awareness programs.
Meanwhile, MIFTAH also said it would continue to provide imams, female preachers and community leaders with further information on gender-based violence and point them to institutions working in this field so that they could be connected to the national referral system. During the evaluation it became clear that several sensitive issues regarding violence are often brought before preachers and imams; therefore the national referral system (TAKAMOL) could be necessary for the relevant institutions working on these issues.
Participants in the evaluation workshop included Minister of Waqf Sheikh Yousef Ideis and UNFPA representative and head of its gender program Sana’ Asi. Also present were MIFTAH’s staff Hanan Saeed, Lamis Shuaibi and Abeer Kilani, in addition to the participants.
This evaluation workshop was organized following the series of awareness workshops conducted by groups of imams and preachers through 2015-2016, which focused on gender equality, reproductive health and protection from violence and were held in Nablus, Jenin and Tulkarm reaching out to a wide range of citizens in different locations. In all, 30 people participated in the evaluation workshop (18 females and 12 males) in addition to activists and volunteers who collaborated with local development institutions.
The speakers at the evaluation all stressed on the importance of the training, saying it provided the participants with information and special skills pertaining to reproductive health, gender equality and combating gender-based violence.
They also reiterated the important and vital role of the imams and female preachers in their communities, stressing how much they impact them. They maintained that if this sector is in possession of the right information, they could have a positive impact on the groups of people and communities they work with.
During the evaluation process, the topics addressed included: human rights, particularly the health and reproductive rights of men and women in Palestinian society; means of social networking and communication, early marriage; the rise in dowries; the feeling of loss among youths; marriage between relatives; family planning; violence; sexual harassment; child molestation; marital relationships …est.
Islam Sayrafi, a social expert and theater producer says he benefited greatly from the training and that this was reflected in his work in both fields. “From the trainings I was able to collect material for screenplays, with people and not books as references,” Sayrafi says, referencing the topic of reproductive health and the speakers’ experiences. “This made for interactive and vital theater material.”
Sayrafi says one of the positive aspects of the training was that the participants were able to exchange experiences and learn from others, especially imams and female preachers. “It left us with questions through which we sought many answers,” he says.
Female preacher Sajeda Omar Shurafa who works with the women’s department at the Waqf Ministry in Nablus, said she learned a lot about reproductive health rights and gender-based violence, subjects she was not well-informed about previously. Now, she maintains, she applies what she learns during her interactions with women and students, who in turn were also surprised about some of the information but all of whom wanted to learn more. “I also did not hesitate to bring up these subjects in my own circles – with my sister, my brother’s wife and my friends,” Shurafa says, adding that they all showed interest in participating in similar workshops. She added that part of their interest was the fact that reproductive health was not only confined to childbirth.
Imam and preacher at the Beit Iba mosque near Nablus, Subhi Saba’na pointed out that “many of the participants were unaware of the topics discussed during the workshops; that’s why it was so important to include this information in religious lessons and sermons, since it affects every person’s life.” Saba’na says he organized training workshops himself on these topics, which were widely accepted and attended by his community. “The positive response from citizens and their considerable interaction was a reflection of their desire to educate themselves and learn as much as possible,” he says.
One of the most significant recommendations from the participants in the evaluation was their demand for more training courses, especially on reproductive health, with a focus on the periods of adolescence and post-menopause and on spreading awareness on issues such as children’s and spousal rights. The participants also said they wanted courses on the usage of social media for women and teenage girls in particular. They asked that reproductive health should be one of the main topics addressed by female preachers and imams and that they should have periodic follow up and supervision to provide them with advanced intervention skills and to help the girls they work with. Another recommendation was for coordination between the Waqf and education ministries so as to have easier access to schools. They pointed to the importance of having mental health experts to give counsel to the preachers and imams and for the article on women’s post-mortem retirement to be amended with a continuation of her pension salary.
Trainer and facilitator of the evaluation Hanan Abu Ghosh was pleased with the commitment from the participants to attend, interact and discuss, but she added that there was a need to continue working with these groups. “Especially since there is a level of trust and impact on the groups they work with,” Abu Ghosh says, in reference to the preachers and imams. “This was clear from the success stories they achieved in such record time.”