FAO Regional Office for Near East and North Africa

Overcoming the obstruction of gender-based violence with bravery and willpower

Beita Village, Nablus, the West Bank

Asmahan and Basma standing in front of the cooperative’s building in Beita, near Nablus, November 2020. ©FAO/Hend Younis

Asmahan Dwekat is the mother of seven children. The surrounding social and cultural circumstances have driven Asmahan to be married to her husband and start having children while he was still a student and gained almost no income; “I felt unable to help. Many days I would cry over the empty bottle of milk while my kids are still hungry”, she told us.

One of Asmahan’s children is Tahreer; a 29-year-old woman who was born with a special needs condition of short stature. She was determined on giving her daughter the opportunity to live a good life but did not know the means to actualize this goal. She met Basma, the founder of Beita’s Women Development Cooperative, and joined the cooperative as a volunteer when Tahreer was still in elementary school, where she started learning new skills like sewing and thyme production. “I became able to empower Tahreer only when I felt empowered”, Asmahan said. Like the other women who became members of the cooperative, Asmahan was exposed to violent comments and insults for being a woman leaving her house and becoming more exposed to the society; but it never stopped her.

FAO has been providing in kind support to the cooperative including six cisterns and a machine for thyme mixing as part of its project “Supporting economic growth through optimized agricultural value chains in the West Bank” funded by the Government of Canada. Several women have joined the cooperative and became part of the thyme production business including Asmahan. The cooperative did not only empower her by enabling her to gain her own income, but most importantly it has given her the chance to be an active member within her community, to make friends and colleagues who soon became her bigger family and solid support system.

After Asmahan has become active the cooperative, and became the second breadwinner in the family, she was enabled to take decisions that are more important in regards to raising Tahreer. She insisted on enrolling Tahreer in school to receive education and have the same opportunity her siblings had. Both women have achieved this despite the social pressures and verbal violence they have been largely exposed to; Tahreer would hear continuous negative insults from her surroundings and relatives asking her to stop going after education and learning how to drive because she can never have a normal social life or find a spouse. “Tahreer has always been a strong woman, and an impactful character in her surrounding, and I wanted to give her the opportunities she deserved more than anything”, Asmahan said.

Today, Tahreer has a BA degree in Education and is enrolled into a Masters programme in “educating children through drawing”. She is not only accomplished on the academic level, but is also employed in the Palestinian Handicapped Union and makes around ILS 3 000 per month. She pays for her own car loan, contributes in the family’s overall expenses, and sets an example for the young women around her in Beita.

The violence and pressure that Asmahan and Tahreer faced have pushed them into choosing a challenging path that is full of achievements and opportunities, and this is the lesson they teach women around them especially during the challenging times of COVID-19 pandemic. Like other areas in the Middle East, women in Beta are facing increased challenges when it comes to their power in decision-making and income contribution to the household due to the outbreak of the pandemic. FAO in the West Bank and Gaza Strip has taken adaptive measures to amend its interventions and make sure they serve the changing needs of hundreds of vulnerable women in the rural areas who are suffering from increased violence. This is achieved by ensuring that all female beneficiaries are equipped with the needed knowledge, capacities, and therefore confidence to make a positive impact in their surroundings.             


14/12/2020

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