In 2009, SHATIL and key partners launched a unique and ambitious multi-year initiative to empower Bedouin women. Partners in the initiative included the US Department of State, Bureau of Near Eastern Affairs, Office of the Middle East Partnership Initiative (MEPI), and the Sebba Foundation.
Organized into two phases, the project aimed to create a new cadre of leadership in the Bedouin community that would impact the lives of the participants' peers, families, and communities, while maintaining respect for traditional Bedouin social norms.
And now we're already starting to see results: An increase in women's leadership and participation in public life; a change in the discourse including in the media; fissures in the glass ceiling for domains that were previously male-only. We also see other firsts: We hired and trained the first Bedouin woman lobbyist, held the first ever Bedouin Women's Spokespersons' training, and saw Negev Bedouin women organizing demonstrations against injustice for the first time.
As program participants did things they never did before, they got other women to follow, creating a ripple effect. One group of program graduates held workshops for working women about their rights and published an accompanying booklet in Arabic. Another is organizing women in the village of El Sere and helping them secure employment. Two participants initiated and planned a recognition march that attracted 200 people and media attention; one was elected to be a student council representative; another organized a pre-election candidates' panel at her college; several spoke publicly for the first time in their lives -- at a conference about the status of women in Arab society, at a public gathering about how the Bedouin can influence government policy and at demonstrations; one has become her community's spokesperson for the foreign press; one joined a protest against honor killings – something she would not have dared to consider before the training -- and seven are working on the projects developed during the program that involve additional women in their communities.
SHATIL also reached out to scores of male and female high school and college students in a Round Table Project in partnership with NIF grantee Ma'an, the Forum of Arab Women's Organizations in the Negev. In addition to raising awareness, the project encouraged the students to explore and question issues of women's rights and status. Minds were opened. Said Abdelwadud, a male college student: "At the Round Tables, I found I could say whatever I want. No one said, 'don't talk like this.' I want changes – the most basic things – to give women the right to study…"
In a fitting end to the program, the graduation ceremony was transformed into a public seminar on the role of Bedouin women in the public sphere -- one of the first times Bedouin women, and Bedouin men – including mayors, heads of religious organizations, etc. – came together to discuss these types of issues together and in an open atmosphere. "The seminar marked the end of the MEPI project, but the beginning of a new discourse in the Negev Bedouin community," summarized Project coordinator, Rina Okby. "We are making a revolution." You can see great images from the seminar on Channel I in Arabic.
A new Alternative Young Bedouin Leadership Group emerged from the program which is working, with SHATIL guidance, to lead the Negev Bedouin in new directions.
Kifah, 22 from Segev Shalom summarizes many participants' experience:
"To feel that you can – not everyone can give you this feeling. I got the message from SHATIL …that I can."