As a Zahi Khouri Fellow, I have had the opportunity to witness The Women's Group in action. At TYO, "The Women's Group was developed to expand on our support efforts for mothers; to offer them seminars on health, mental health, parenting & children's needs, education & literacy, and women's empowerment." Distinguished speakers from all over Nablus "encourage women to engage in dialogue on topics that are commonly overlooked in their community", such as gender equality, a woman's value, and women's participation in the community. According to recent medical research published in The Open Complementary Medicine Journal, "intermarriages occur and sometimes dominate in Middle-Eastern and Asian population, with rates that exceed 40% of all marriages." Since inter-family marriage is fairly prevalent in Palestine, it is one topic that is thoroughly discussed in The Women's Group seminars.
During our seminars, we discuss the importance of refraining from consanguinity, the reason behind why people engage in it, and the negative effects it could have on both, a mother and a child's health.
The Palestinian Family Planning and Protection Association led discussions about the different reasons behind why Palestinians engage in consanguinity. Reasons reviewed include strengthening family ties, inheritance, the belief that there is a decreased chance of abuse; and the fact that, for many people, family members are the few females/males they are introduced to from an early age.
I was pleased to hear that women were able to identify health risks that result from inter-family marriage. Health risks discussed included higher infant/mother mortality rates, birth defects, blindness, and skin disorders. The speaker went on to explain that parents who carry the Thalassemia trait gene, a group of inherited diseases of the blood, increase their chance of having a child with the disease to 25%, and a 50% chance of a child that carries the trait.
Furthermore, several women in The Women's Group debated that marriage through the mother's side is not considered intermarriage. Their rationalization was that children do not carry their mother's genes. As shocking as this was for me, it demonstrated their limited access to information and lack of education. Such information is crucial for building a foundation that educates women on all aspects.
Being able to listen to these incredible women has been an invaluable, educational experience. I am not only able to understand 'what' or 'how' certain doings occur, but 'why' as well. Understanding 'why' is key to resolving any issue.
Reema is a Zahi Khouri Fellow for the Fall 2013 session.