Until We Meet Again: Last Week of The Women's Group

Last week, The Women's Group at TYO marked the final few days of the Summer 2014 session with certificates for outstanding commitment, an intensive seminar on the dangers of withholding food from children during the current season of Ramadan, and an exciting field trip to the local swimming pool. In these last bits of celebration, over 100 women wrapped up what's been an eventful, awareness-raising five weeks as we've covered topics such as protecting one's self after violence, preventing women's cancers, and the problematic consequences of the past-time of shisha smoking. And we know that it wasn't just an information overload without implementation- TYO's monitoring and evaluation assessments demonstrated an over 90% increase of knowledge on key empowerment issues within participants, and we're planning follow up throughout the summer to check-in about how various parenting tips or health best practices are working for women at home. TYO Computer class student Riham smiles with her hard-earned certificate

Yet despite the enthusiasm and accomplishment of this session, we know that it's far from our final step to success for women's rights in Palestine. Recent publications like the United Nations Secretary-General Annual Report on Children and Armed Conflict provide data for the sort of dangers that mothers face daily in Nablus and surrounding areas. The report outlines some of the key challenges and barriers for raising families in Palestine, such as highly limited movement, children witnessing traumatic events, extreme difficulties accessing proper healthcare, and heightened volatility for intra-personal violence. Further, the document cites Palestine as one of 50 countries around the world where children face extreme exposure to armed conflict- so while we wished mothers a few months of summer fun until we start the next session, we know our work to support Palestinian women doesn't cool off.

Women smile with their certificates and excitement at the end of the Summer 2014 session.

Throughout the upcoming weeks, here's a few ways we're working to continuing our women's empowerment efforts and offering a strong network to mothers:

  • Follow Up on Children's Sleeping: During this session, we spent a special seminar discussing the severe dangers of a lack of sleeping in children- particularly during the Ramadan month, when community norms shift and it's typical to see kids playing outside until dawn. We know this is harmful for both immediate and long-term health outcomes, ranging from both cognitive development issues to exposure to armed violence, and we utilized speakers from the Ministry of Health and UNRWA to educate moms about the risks, as well as how to best encourage improved sleep in their kids and teens. Over the course of the summer, we'll be checking in with moms to gage if they're implementing what they learned during session in terms of bedtimes- but also offering additional support if they're struggling in this, and encourage their feedback about what would be most helpful in the next session if we speak about this topic again.
  • Checking in Stopping Shisha: Shisha- also known as argilah or hookah- is one of the most dangerous forms of tobacco, with just one puff causing the same damage as smoking an entire cigarette. This session, over 95% of women learned this for the first time, after assuming that shisha was a safer form of smoking, or that it didn't come with harmful effects. After hearing from the Nablus Police Department as well as the Ministry of Health about the fatal consequences of shisha, multiple women made pacts to permanently quit the practice. However, smoking isn't an easy habit to knock- so we'll be following up with women who committed to quitting to check in on their progress, and offer additional supports from the Ministry of Health- such as smoking cessation literature and twelve-step processes- to make sure women feel supported and strengthened in their endeavor.
  • New Partnership Development: Within The Women's Group, not all of our work is directly accomplished with beneficiaries- in fact, a key aspect of our women's empowerment programs are to connect with local institutions and civil society organizations that equally aim to empower women. Through these partnerships, we recruit speakers for The Women's Group, but also create a stronger support network for women in Palestine. While we work with over 40 local organizations currently, the down time between sessions is one of our busiest times for forging new relationships, as we look to bring more innovative approaches and organizations to our participants.

As referenced in recent UN reports, it's clear that summer months in a place like Palestine can be shadowed by the ongoing, highly-challenging situation- but we remain confident in the progress achieved by mothers in the past session, and look forward to remaining a constant, holistic support until we meet again in the Fall.

- Cayce, WEP Coordinator