On International Women’s Day – a day set aside by the United Nations to raise awareness and commemorate the advances women made in their societies – a new initiative takes hold in Palestinian communities looking to do the same.
Led by OneVoice Palestine’s Malaka Samara, the new Women of Influence (WOI) project aims to emphasize the importance of Palestinian women and their essential social, economic, and political role in community-building to end occupation and the conflict.
Clearly, one cannot build peace by leaving half of a society out, and women have been sidelined in peace building for too long. Only 2.5% of signatories to peace agreements since 1992 have been women. Since 2000, 16 peace processes had minimal involvement of women, and in five cases, no women were involved at all.
The WOI project seeks to train, empower, inspire, and energize Palestinian women to be active, to contribute to the improvement of their communities, and to ensure that women are involved in Palestinian state building, and the peace process, at all levels.
The UN has acknowledged the vital importance of women’s involvement. Women’s participation in conflict resolution and building peace is called for in Security Council Resolutions 1325 (2000) and 1820 (2008), but its real impact is yet to be felt by women in conflict zones such as Palestine.
“We are living under occupation, having daily challenges in our life at all levels,” said Malaka. “Women are mothers, wives, sisters, and daughters, so it is very important that they raise their voices and be part of the development of their communities and help end the occupation by delivering their messages to national and international decision makers.”
The WOI is the brainchild of Malaka’s prolonged efforts and interest in Palestinian women’s issues and her time spent volunteering with OneVoice Palestine as a youth leader. The project has several phases, the first of which concluded last month. Six introductory meetings in Bethlehem, Jenin, Qalqilya, Hebron, and Jericho – the WOI target cities – occurred with women leaders and heads of local organizations. These meetings sought to introduce the project and establish a network of partners for future women’s initiatives through the WOI project.
Upcoming phases, spread out over the year, include introducing the project to small groups and discussing the challenges of Palestinian women in positions of influence, with emphasis on women in political life. Women from each target city will receive six months of training before implementing the project. Prominent and influential female leaders from across Palestinian society will serve as guest speakers in public meetings, sharing their personal stories and advice on topics such as family, community, traditions, religion, and politics.
Malaka envisions that each candidate will have the desire to make a change in life, believing that women have a vital role in changing their communities, and can be critically important actors in ending occupation and building a Palestinian state that values the role of women.
Malaka also hopes to be able to channel the young leaders in the program toward opportunities in partner organizations and in the private sector.
“Ultimately, we want these women’s experiences to be transferable – from theoretical to practical,” Malaka explained. “This way, they can be part of the change in themselves and their communities.”