TYO Women's Group Fitness Classes exceed expectations and lay the groundwork for far-reaching benefits

Jubilant goal celebrations from the Women's Group fitness during a highly successful soccer class  

An integral part of TYO's Women's Empowerment Program since 2008, The Women's Group provides holistic support for mothers from local communities.  In consonance with other TYO programs, the Women’s Group fitness classes embody broader notions of psychosocial support.  However, in contrast to other classes led by the international interns, they are more directly concerned with issues of physical and emotional health.  Palestinian society is traditionally patriarchal, and women continue to experience myriad gender-related inequalities and subsequent vulnerability throughout their lives.  Women are disproportionately affected, both directly and indirectly, by socioeconomic stressors.  Their physical and psychological well-being is not adequately supported, nor do they receive sufficient health-related education.  These issues were all explicitly acknowledged in the Cross-Sectoral National Gender Strategy 2011-2013 produced by the Palestinian National Authority Ministry of Women's Affairs and UN WOMEN, which included amongst its strategic objectives, the need to protect women's health.

Given these all-encompassing limitations on women's day-to-day lives, the fitness classes represent a vital source of health information, not to mention a prime opportunity for women to enjoy one another's company, and simultaneously spend time focusing on themselves.  Our foremost challenge as the session commenced involved finding, and adapting, activities in order to engage a broad spectrum of physical ability.  Each of the eight groups comprises individuals aged between their late teens and their mid-sixties, with equally diverse levels of strength, stamina, flexibility, coordination, dietary and lifestyle preferences, health concerns and personal fitness objectives.  Early sessions were somewhat experimental in nature, as we sought to familiarize ourselves with each group.  Five weeks later, a combination of aerobics, zumba, kickboxing and yoga has captured the women's imaginations, providing inspiration for at-home exercises that women are increasingly readily embracing.  A sense of pride is evident when women share how they have accepted our weekly exercise or nutrition challenges.  Exercise in the home is drawing participation from other members of women's families in some cases, which has certainly exceeded our expectations in terms of women's motivation.  We tentatively speculate that this may perhaps bring additional benefits for family cohesion.  The idea that a fitness class could potentially achieve such a thing is incredibly exciting.  

Last week, interns decided to take advantage of TYO’s outdoor recreation area by facilitating a series of soccer games in the spring sunshine.  We were overwhelmed at the level of engagement this generated, regardless of age or ability.  Vivid personalities emerged and lively repartees were exchanged, making  the physical demands of the class almost incidental to sheer enjoyment.  The value of these classes as a social support mechanism was unmistakable.  As the session moves into its final three weeks, one of our priorities is to emulate the success of the soccer classes through further team activities, since we have clearly seen that women thrive on physical activity when it incorporates a strong social element.

-TYO Interns, Laura, Mariella, and Katherine