This week, WATC launched a book entitled “Northern Sanabel” (سنابل شمالية). The word “sanabel” refers to the wheat kernels and is the name of WATC’s project to empower rural women, by providing training in areas such as leadership skills, advocacy, gender analysis, conflict resolution, networking and self-confidence in order that they can claim their rights for themselves, for example by starting awareness-raising campaigns and lobbying for legal reforms. The book outlines the history of the project and includes profiles of twelve women who have benefited from it and worked to continue spreading its benefits to others by delivering training themselves. One of the women, Nadia, sadly passed away before the book could be published, however it is fortunate that her story could be recorded in this way before she died, and her family were present, along with the eleven other women. The launch of the book was marked by a celebration in Jenin (جنين), attended by WATC director Rose Shomali, Sanabel project co-ordinator Eman Azzal, the General Director Abdullah Barakat of Jenin governate, Representative of the Municipality of Jenin Layla Shareem, members of the national press, as well as many Sanabel women and their families. The project operates in the most deprived areas, which is why Jenin governate was chosen as the starting point for the project.
You can read an article about the book launch in Arabic from national newspaper Al Ayyam here. (An English translation will follow later).
WATC launched the Sanabel project in 1997, however Jenin is best known for the siege of Jenin refugee camp in 2002, in which approximately 150 buildings were destroyed and many more were damaged. It was shortly after this that WATC set up a Sanabel group in the camp to respond to the community’s growing needs resulting from this disaster. Exactly what occurred in those ten days has been and still is a subject of fierce dispute and perhaps always will be, not least because the UN report was in many respects inconclusive, suffering from a lack of access to Jenin camp and reliance on publicly available information. What is certain is that these events have had a severe impact on the people of Jenin camp, and while UNRWA has rebuilt all but one of the demolished houses, many of the women with whom I spoke still harbour painful memories of losing their homes, possessions and family members and fearing for their lives, and many still suffer from mental illness as a result. The community and its economy suffered a huge blow as a result of injury and ill health; deaths and arrests of husbands and fathers, the breadwinners for their families; lack of access to food and medical treatment; and damage to property, schools and other infrastructure. Jenin’s Sanabel groups were part of the leading Emergency Committee established after the siege to assess the needs of the community in the camp.
These are some of the problems facing the women who Sanabel seeks to help. Women trained under the project have now formed their own independent groups to organise events, campaigns and training in their local areas. While WATC trains the Sanabel committee, which is elected by the local groups, the groups are trained by the committee and go on to train others and organise events in the community themselves, often networking with other local and international organisations. For example, volunteers have held summer camps for hundreds of children who would otherwise have had little to do. The groups have collaborated with the Palestinian Red Crescent Society to give workshops on health awareness, including mental health which is a particular problem in some areas, especially among refugees. Women have been given training in literacy, first aid and handicrafts, which has helped them to earn a living, reduce their financial dependence on men and bring new services to their communities. Other groups have met with decision-makers to discuss issues relating to Palestinian detainees in Israeli prisons. Last year, Sanabel women organised demonstrations to compaign for unity among the Palestinian people and an end to factional violence. In the run up to elections, Sanabel women have gone door to door in their communities to convince women to vote, or to nominate themselves as candidates. Thus, the project aims not just to improve the situation of individual women but also to improve women’s status in society. In some cases the Sanabel groups have been the first civil society institutions to be established in their villages, such as in the village of Fahma (فحمه) where they met with UNDP and obtained grants to construct buildings to host the village council, a health clinic and a women’s centre.
These are just some examples of how Sanabel groups have brought positive changes to their communities. As the groups go on to train more women in the skills they have learned, the project achieves a multiplier effect which will enable these positive impacts to continue growing and spreading across Jenin and the West Bank. In the long term, WATC hopes that Sanabel go beyond raising the confidence and skills of particular women, to change the way women are perceived and society and bring them closer to achieving genuine equality.
Posted By Hannah Wright
Posted Jun 25th, 2008