Second time Sawiyeh village council member Hiba Arar Mahamdeh: Belief in my own capabilities and MIFTAH’s boundless support factored into my success
When Hiba Mahamdeh decided to run in her first local council elections in 2012 she was not yet 25 years old. Still, she went in confidently, even though at the time she lacked all the information necessary being a member of the Sawiyeh local council, a village between Nablus and Ramallah.
Today Mahamdeh is 29. After the success of her first election experience, she decided to run in the 2017 elections as well. She used her previous experience to help her on this path she had begun, this time with the support of her village, which saw her as a role model and believed she could help the village advance and improve.
Between the first and second elections, MIFTAH played a major role in helping Mahamdeh reach her goals. She did not miss one training or workshop held by MIFTAH, participating in them fully. “Thanks to MIFTAH and its support, I am now where I want to be. This has strengthened my self-confidence and my faith that women can be equally as productive as men,” she said.
Mahamdeh graduated university with a degree in finance and banking but identifies herself as a “women and youth activist….someone who likes volunteer work and is a second-time Sawiyeh village council member.” She was fourth on an electoral list with one other woman and seven male members.
In 2016, Mahamdeh established a youth council in her village comprised of a group of young male and female volunteers between the age of 22 and 29. The idea came from a lesson learned from her first stint as village council member: the only people who can elevate the village are the village people themselves, youth in particular. Ever since the council got off the ground, the village has been changing for the better through volunteer activities such as cleaning the streets, planting trees, improving the environment and making school visits.
“All of this was made possible with the support of MIFTAH,” Mahamdeh maintains, citing the organization’s support for Gender Defenders initiatives, including turning most of the village’s streets into beautiful murals,” Mahamdeh says. “Ramadan was also an opportunity for us to fulfill our social duties to the villagers. We distributed food baskets and held iftar banquets for orphaned children,” she says.
Two experiences: challenges and success
Mahamdeh still remembers what prompted her to run in the 2012 elections even though she lacked information about the nature of the council’s work and her duty as member. “Like this time, I was part of a list in the last elections. At the time I had graduated from university but I didn’t have much knowledge about the council’s work. Also, in the beginning, I was attacked by some of the members for being a woman running in the elections.” Arar says she was told things like: “You are just an extra person, nothing more” and “If you attend or don’t attend, it’s all the same.” This made her feel the tremendous challenge before her: “To be or not to be,” she alludes. She obviously chose to accept the challenge and prove herself and her abilities “in spite of everything.”
This, she maintains, is why she did not miss any of MIFTAH’s workshops. “I give MIFTAH much of the credit for having continued on this path and running in the first and then the second elections” Mahamdeh says. This time, however, she was supported by the people of Sawiyeh who even requested that she run again. Her success, Mahamdeh explains is attributed to three things: confidence in herself and her ability to assume a position in the council; support from her father and her community and support from MIFTAH.
Mahamdeh considers this her success story. “It was difficult and beautiful all at once.” Today she says she is armed with enough information and motivation to achieve even more successes in her community and make the necessary changes by involving more and more youth of both sexes in activities to develop the village.
In this context, Mahamdeh says they established a new development committee whose goal is to advance all sectors, first and foremost the youth. It is also focused on developing the infrastructure in Sawiyeh, especially its neglected roads, in addition to developing and improving education in the village.
What the future looks like
The future to Mahamdeh is about identifying and fulfilling the village’s needs. Most importantly, she does not want outside support from women’s and youth institutions that offer projects which are implemented for a time but then come to a screeching halt. “We need ongoing support and continuous contact and communication,” something she says she hopes to achieve in her capacity as council member by bringing in more tangible development projects that directly impact the people.
She also wants to see training and workshops translated into reality on the ground so that their impact can be felt by the targeted sectors. In addition, she believes it is important for women local council members from various districts to exchange experiences and learn lessons from one another.
Mahamdeh wants to overcome one other hurdle as well. She wants the village council to support women more. Nevertheless, she says she will not stop until she achieves the projects she set out to accomplish, through an initiative supported by MIFTAH and implemented by Genders Defenders . The village council placed dumpsters in the village center and in public areas. The council is still waiting for approval from the Israeli military liaison office to set up two covered public transportation stops for passengers on the main Nablus-Ramallah road adjacent to the village. Without these enclosed stops on the main road, the villagers are continuously vulnerable to dangers, first and foremost settler attacks in this area.
Mahamdeh considers her experience an ongoing process. “I have overcome many challenges and there are more still to overcome. But thanks to my family, my fellow villagers and MIFTAH, I made a change, had an impact and influence on how society views women and their roles. Today, I am fully armed with the knowledge and the experience to fulfill my role in both the village council and towards the people of Sawiyeh.”