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From Polygamy and Mental Health to Reclaiming Culture: Young Bedouin Women Launch Social Change Projects

Over the past several days, students and other young people trained by SHATIL have been launching projects close to their hearts throughout the Negev. For young Bedouin women walking the tightrope between tradition and modernity to immigrant students from the former Soviet Union, SHATIL serves as an incubator for dozens of social change projects.

After a half a year of theoretical and experiential learning about social change, women’s and human rights and several sessions devoted to project planning, 13 participants in SHATIL’s Bedouin Women for our Rights course last week formally presented their dream projects, which they will carry out with SHATIL’s help during the internship part of the course. In a moving ceremony, Yarona Ben Shalom and Sultan Abu Abed, co-directors of SHATIL Be’er Sheva, along with Safa Shehada, director of Ma’an, the Forum of Arab Women’s Organizations in the Negev and SHATIL’s partner in this course, sent the young women off into the world, wished them well and reminded them they have a supportive home with backing and guidance in SHATIL and Ma’an. Each student will implement her project in the context of a Bedouin women’s organization that is a member of Ma’an.

It was clear from the presentations that the women had internalized SHATIL’s experiential way of working. Hind Alsana, whose project “Culture and Context” aims to help young Bedouins reclaim their vanishing culture, asked each participant to close her eyes, imagine herself with a camera, and to take pictures of a place she loves, a place she wants to change, and something in her village that connects her with culture. When asked to share their experiences, one of the young women, who was moved to tears, described a youth club she used to attend in Laqia when she was a teenager that no longer exists – in fact there is no activity for youth there today. “It’s where I grew up and I miss it very much,” she said through her tears. “I long for that time and for the activities in that club.”

Hind then threw out a series of questions that led to a brainstorming session on Bedouin culture including: Has our culture turned into mere folklore? How can we as individuals preserve our living culture? Has our culture turned into a product aimed at tourists and other outsiders and if so, how can we reclaim it? What obstacles stand between the people who preserve our culture and the young people who live in it and in the modern world?

Hind said her pilot project would focus on a mixed group of young Bedouin men and women in the village of Hura under the auspices of the NGO Bint Alabadia (Daughter of the Desert) and will include: Strengthening reading skills among young Negev Bedouin and searching with them for books on Bedouin culture; fostering pride by working on greening their village; and working on a yearly strategic cultural plan ensuring continuous cultural activity rather than having one performance a year, as is currently the case.

Other projects include: Round Tables for young Bedouin women and men to explore the changing status of Bedouin women; early marriage; feminism in word and image; women agricultural workers’ rights; inter-generational meetings between mothers, daughters and grandmothers and more.


$250 million to Israeli social change groups since 1979.