Empowering Palestinian women in the West Bank: East Jerusalem YMCA’s Women’s Development Program

Date: 14 May 2024

East Jerusalem YMCA has been supporting women in the West Bank for over 30 years. What began as a programme to ensure that both men and women understood and acknowledged women’s social and economic rights, is now an initiative to build individual and community resilience.

“We empower communities to take the lead, placing women at the forefront”, says Mai Jarrar, Programme Manager at East Jerusalem YMCA. “We have helped to change the gender power dynamics within communities, enhancing women’s roles and bargaining abilities.”

 

“We believe that if women have access to and control over land, capital and the equipment needed for manufacturing and production, and if both men and women acknowledge women’s equal rights with laws and policies to back this up, then women will exercise their rights and fulfil their potential.”

The Programme has worked with over 45 communities, creating ’Protection Groups’ tasked with identifying community risks and needs, and collectively designing responses. The Programme then provides cash grants so that communities can implement their plans.

In 2021, nine community initiatives were successfully implemented, aligning with community priorities identified in action plans. These included expanding and equipping a village clinic, constructing a new clinic in another village, building an agricultural road, refurbishing a kindergarten’s sanitation unit, renovating a multi-purpose village meeting room, and conducting investigations into livestock mortality.

During 2022, eight community initiatives were executed. These included rehabilitating a community centre and training hall, renovating a health clinic, improving main road infrastructure, organizing community events, establishing a kindergarten and library, and conducting rehabilitation work at another kindergarten.

In 2023, six community initiatives were rolled out across three villages. These included establishing shelters and waiting areas along main village roads, upgrading community centre facilities, enhancing the electrical system of a school, repairing internal roads for better access to agricultural land, creating a multi-purpose shaded area for children and clinic visitors, and establishing a new school classroom.

The Ministry of Agriculture conducts a training on food production in Arab Al Rashayda

Kissan Protection Group preparing

“Granting women the authority and agency to drive change and improve community conditions bolsters their self-esteem, bargaining power, and counters entrenched perceptions that confines them to domestic spheres”, says Peter Nasir, National General Secretary at East Jerusalem YMCA.

 

 

Baraa, from Ifqeiqis village

“Before, I never ventured outside the village without company. Now, both individually and collectively as women, we navigate independently. We engage in tender processes, negotiate with merchants, and state our own needs with confidence.”

 

 

Waad, from Birin village

“Previously, traditional norms prevented us from interacting with men, but with the establishment of the Protection Group, this has changed.

Adapting to circumstances

One response to the escalating crisis in the West Bank is that the Programme is now supporting more humanitarian actions requested by the Protection Groups. Almost 1,800 households have received essentials such as food packages, multipurpose cash donations, and items like fire extinguishers and window shields.

Sabah is a 33-year-old woman with 3 children living in Kisan, a village of 170 households near to three Israeli settlements in the West Bank, which has been repeatedly attacked. The Programme supplied her with window protection bars, food packages and a fire extinguisher. “Thank you, East Jerusalem YMCA”, she says. “You have not just given me the means of survival – you have reminded me of the meaning of survival.”