A Morning of Voice, Agency, and Empowering Women

Our Summer 2014 session hasn't started just yet for The Women's Group, but last Sunday, TYO was still filled with plenty of voices discussing women's rights and gender equity in Nablus. As part of the quarterly Speaker Appreciation Breakfast, over 20 representatives from TYO's local partners gathered to be recognized for their contributions as volunteer lecturers in The Women's Group- and discuss key challenges facing female empowerment in Palestine. TYO Psychosocial Program Manager Suhad and Women's Empowerment Program Assistant Inas take a moment with two representatives from Nablus Police Department, who discussed protection of women.

The Speaker Breakfast is TYO's way to honor the experts, advocates, and activists that make The Women's Group possible each session by lending their time and knowledge to lead seminars on various topics related to parenting, health, communication, and confidence. On Sunday, partners in attendance ranged from governmental agencies- such as the Ministry of Education, Ministry of Health and Nablus Police Department- to advocacy groups, like Defense for Children International and Women's Studies Center. Led by TYO's Psychosocial Program Manager, guests talked about the progress they've witnessed amongst women in their seminars, while also sharing challenges they're encountering in the community that TYO can continue to address in The Women's Group classrooms. Speakers expressed that they were experiencing a rising number of internet safety issues with children- such as harassment, social media bullying, and more. Further, they discussed the increased need for education about the dangers of shishaa smoking, ensuring women understand the link between cancer and this kind of hookah smoking.

Ms. Aroob Jumleh of the Multi-Purpose Resource Center shares important guidance on her experiences educating young girls about gender equality.

Each aspect of the morning was centered, however, on the need for increased agency and empowerment of women- emphasizing that change won't come to Palestine until women gain increased confidence and a comfort level with using their voices publicly. And while talk was limited to the local issues inherent to Nablus, it echoed international themes, like those recently cited in the World Bank's excellent new report, Voice & Agency: Empowering Women and Girls for Shared Prosperity. Below, read on for some of the report's most revenant findings- and how we're working with our local partners to see voice, agency, and empowerment realized in Palestine.

  • The report cites that the West Bank ranks high in terms of restrictions on married women's agency, including an inability to pass citizenship to her child, difficulties traveling outside the home without a man's permission, and difficulties obtaining work outside the home without a husband's permission. At the Speaker's Breakfast, guests discussed how the process to break these restrictions is both political- in terms of changing laws- but also personal, encouraging women to take strategic steps in their homes and families to move forward independently.
  • The report explains that girls are increasingly completing school and university, but their work choices remain restricted, by laws and/or social norms that dictate whether and what work is appropriate. In terms of productivity and income, the loss can be huge. Here in Nablus, we witness this often- despite over half of university enrolled students being female, an extremely low female labor force participation rate still exists. We work to combat this by equipping women with the knowledge of their own worth outside of the home- and by constantly bringing in female role models, including many of our speakers, to inspire women and their daughters.
  • The report cites that 18 million girls and women in the Middle East/North Africa region are disenfranchised from internet and computer technology- not receiving the same opportunities for access to, and education in, the IT sector. In Palestine, our local partners have joined alongside TYO to help advance women's skills in the technology area- promoting internet safety and education through seminars, and incorporating technology into their presentations.

This landmark World Bank report acknowledges that until women's agency and voice is increased, there will be no real change. We know the same applies to Palestine- and as we prepare for our upcoming session, we look forward to continued success and progress alongside our local partners.

- Cayce, Women's Empowerment Program Coordinator