FAO supports civil society to improve the livelihoods of women in the West Bank
Three years ago, the Sebastiya Women’s Society joined hands with FAO to build sustainable means to generate supplementary income and improve their livelihoods.
The Sebastiya Women’s Society hosts a group of seven women’s cooperatives – many of which are composed of women from difficult economic backgrounds from Jenin, Arraba and Ya’bad – providing a centralized point of sale where they have access to a more predictable and constant marketplace to sell their wares.
Sebastya is a village of roughly 4 500 residents, located 12 km northwest of Nablus, West Bank, Palestine.
The village is home to renowned archaeological sites which host ruins dating to the Roman and Byzantine empires, which draw many tourists, thus giving Sebastyia a resource from which to capitalize upon.
In 2010, under the Spanish-funded project “MDG-F Joint Programme for Culture and Development in the oPt”, 140 members of the seven associations were trained in food processing, in quality and hygienic standards, product packaging and marketing, and accounting. The project also contributed to outfit each cooperative’s kitchen with food processing machinery, facilitating food preparation and distribution for sale in nearby communities – including Sebastiya, where the most well known restaurant in the village now sells their goods.
The Junior Farmer Field Schools method (JFFS), to train and empower women to produce vegetables and nutritious food in their gardens, has been added to this model by FAO. Women are now using home gardens to produce and cook food to be marketed.
Thanks to the model promoted by the project, the women’s cooperatives were able to grow their business, providing catering to the Palestinian Authority’s local governing offices, An Najah University in Nablus and other NGOs and private companies throughout the northern West Bank.
The Sebastiya Women’s Society is located in Qasr Al Kayed, a renovated Ottoman-era fortress which hosts the different women’s associations, a computer lab and an adjoining guesthouse. Anaya Al Kayed runs the Sebastiya Women’s Society and the building has been in her family for generations. “The organization got its start during the second Intifada, as the social and economic situation quickly deteriorated here”, said Al Kayed, while sipping tea in the fortress’s sunlit courtyard. “The idea for the women’s group came from the community itself. We began working in 2002, but were formally registered with the local authorities in 2007 and started working with FAO in 2010.”
Currently, the society account for 150 members, with many men also volunteering and benefiting from the centre’s activities and resources. It is known throughout the community as a safe place and enjoys a good reputation because of its long record of positive work and community involvement. According to Al Kayed, the Women’s Society has also boosted the involvement of women in local civil affairs, with two of their members now holding seats on Sebastiya’s municipal board.
Sebastiya Women’s Society is currently planning to reach self-sufficieny and sustainability by 2015, through the development of a vertically integrated business model.