The community faces a number of challenges, not least the restrictions imposed by Israel’s occupation – now in its 50th year - which impact all aspects of daily life and hamper social and economic development.
Women and girls in the community are additionally constrained; traditional cultural norms limit their education and employment opportunities as well as their broader self-development.
In collaboration with local community-based organisations and with support from ActionAid under its Child Sponsorship programme, which facilitates community development initiatives in communities across the southern West Bank and Gaza, the women’s group has raised the profile of women, increased their confidence and enabled them to become more financially independent.
Hanan Hawadeh, a member of the group, tells her story.
“When I first joined the women’s group and started to have periodic meetings, it was very difficult to leave the house by myself for such meetings. I got mocked, laughed at and scrutinized for leaving my house and children to waste my time on something ‘useless’. My neighbours and family looked at me as if I was doing something wrong, and I was too shy to defend myself at that time.
“After joining the group, I got to know many women. We exchanged experiences, talked and learned from each other. I became so attached to the group that I couldn’t wait for the next meeting! I organize my time and finish all my house chores so I can attend the meetings and learn new things every time.
When we first started to conduct our weekly meetings in the municipality, I felt shy and it was awkward for me, especially that there was no representation of women at that time in the municipality, and we were the only women going there regularly.
“This group has had a tremendous impact on my personality. I have grown more self-confident than ever - I am not afraid or shy to speak up in public platforms. My children and husband are also feeling that change. They respect the work that I do more after seeing that those meetings weren’t as useless as they thought! They now understand that I am committed to the group and have even started to support me.
“We think of ourselves now as representatives of women in As Samou’. We want to become the first destination in town for addressing any issue concerning women. We are using the knowledge we gained from the group and making sure to transfer that knowledge to benefit as many women as possible.
Women should be more aware of their rights and should be more involved and productive in their communities. We constitute half of the population, and we raise the other half! This is why it is crucial for us to take up more productive and leadership roles.
“[In the women’s group] we started identifying issues affecting our community. After several sessions, we decided to work on the issue of cyber security. Our children have been introduced to the internet but they are not fully aware of how to use it safely; this can lead to serious consequences. We are networking with relevant stakeholders to start a campaign on the issue and raise awareness among young men and women around this issue and how to address it.
“To ensure sustainability of the group, we started thinking of ways to utilize our skills in certain areas and work collectively to enhance our financial situation. This is when we decided to establish a food processing unit and do something we all love to do - cooking and baking.
“ActionAid has linked us with the South Hebron Chamber of Commerce; we were registered in the ‘Gender Unit’ there. This Unit supports women with a certain skill or trade to become entrepreneurs and introduces them to the market by providing free training courses and opportunities to participate in national exhibitions and fairs. So far we have received two very important trainings on finishing our products, packaging, labelling, pricing and introducing our food products to the market.
“In March this year, four of us were invited to attend a four-day national exhibition in Ramallah under the auspices of the Ministry of National Economy where many big corporates and organizations were present. This was a big opportunity for us to introduce our work to the Palestinian market, on a national level. We got to know many people and organizations; we also networked for potential future cooperation.
"This was the first time we attended a national exhibition. It was a great experience - we now know which products to focus on during exhibitions, quantities, pricing and other important matters to develop our products and compete better in the market. I was one of the women who attended this exhibition and I felt proud that I was part of it.
My dream is for women to have more representation in the public domain; for us women all over to work collectively and unify our efforts towards building a better future for us and our communities.
“If it weren’t for this group, I wouldn’t have been able to achieve what I have today, which is why I believe that collectively we are stronger, and we are able to challenge any situation that prevents us from prospering.”