About one thousand Palestinians live in and around the ancient village of At-Tuwani, which sits in the South Hebron Hills of the West Bank.
For years, the Israeli-Palestinian conflict has made life a daily struggle, with attacks on people and their livestock commonplace in this agricultural area. Another consequence of the lack of safety and limitations to movement is that residents have few economic opportunities.
For Rasha Jawabri, a CEDPA [Centre for Development and Population Activities] alumna, accepting the status quo is not an option. She sees opportunity for peace and prosperity through an untapped resource in the area: women.
Now in her mid-twenties, Rasha grew up in the area and said she understands the feeling of anger and helplessness that many feel. But, she said that as a teenager she was privileged to have participated in a summer program to bridge the divide between young Palestinians and Israelis, sponsored by Seeds of Peace.
That experience broadened her perspective, and was a stepping stone that led Rasha to join 14 other young women from Egypt, Israel, Jordan and Palestine for CEDPA’s 2009 Women’s Leadership for Greater Economic Participation program. The program was held in partnership with Seeds of Peace, with sponsorship from the ExxonMobil Foundation’s Women’s Economic Opportunity Initiative.
CEDPA trained the emerging women leaders how to advocate and mobilize communities to overcome barriers for women to participate fully in the economic life of their societies. The participants also put their learning into practice through the design and implementation of economic empowerment projects for women.
“The CEDPA program gave me confidence and made me realize how amazing it is to work with women’s empowerment,” said Rasha. She admits that the training also taught her that, when you talk about the problem, you have to propose a solution.
Rasha’s solution was to join with several other Palestinian women in the program to start the Empowerment through an Eye of a Needle project, an embroidery cooperative in At-Tuwani.
“At the beginning of the project, we were overwhelmed by the needs of these women, and by their lives as survivors,” Rasha said. She admits that they thought about stopping the project after consulting extensively with the women and seeing all of the daily conflicts that they faced. “We carried on because we felt that we had an obligation to these women.”
Rasha and her team members decided to train the women on how to finish and style embroidery projects and make them more marketable.
With a minimum budget, Rasha’s team trained several dozen women in and around At-Tuwani. The women already had a strong cultural tradition of embroidery, so they hired a trainer to teach them how to make more marketable products. One of their successes was to develop an embroidered coffee sleeve, which is now being sold in the U.S. by the Starbucks coffee chain.
Rasha’s team included a peacebuilding component in their project as well. They brought together both Palestinian and Israeli women who embroider to discuss joint products.
“We wanted these women to focus on the project versus just the conflict … to show them that the enemy has a face and that Israeli women are doing embroidery just like Palestinian women. This helps lessen the fear and contributes to their empowerment,” Rasha said. “Women understand each other’s challenges.”
The confidence and ability to come up with solutions was the biggest lesson Rasha took away from the CEDPA workshop. It was element missing in her personal and professional life, she said. She now applies this principle to her own life and encourages other women to do the same.
“These women are great role models for others who need to trust and believe that their economic engagement can really change the quality of their lives,” said Rasha. “We need to put more focus on women and what they are doing in the country to solve problems.”