How can craft making empower women in Palestine? On the occasion of International Women’s Day, we’d like to share stories from our partner artisan groups about how craft work has brought changes to their lives.
Ending financial dependence
A group of women in a tiny Bedouin community of Al-Mehtwish near Jerusalem make a collection of adorable wool-felt camels and donkeys that are very popular at the Sunbula shop.
Prior to 2017, when Sunbula came to work with the community, the women used to have no opportunities to earn income due to the isolated location of their village.
Starting with a series of trainings on processing sheep wool into fleece, needle-felting techniques, product design, and basic bookkeeping, the women began earning regular income by making and selling their crafts through Sunbula by the end of the year and aptly named their newly-formed group Tahhadi, Arabic for defiance.
“I used to ask my husband or my grown-up sons each time I needed money. Now, I earn on my own and am free to spend on food or things for children,’ says Um Suleiman, the leader of Tahhadi. 'I don’t sit idly in my spare time anymore. I work to bring income, and it makes me happy that I am being useful and productive.’
Breaking down gender barriers
The women from Lakiya Negev Bedouin Weaving income-generation project, established in the Negev in 1991, are certainly pioneers in challenging gender barriers in Palestine. Not only were they the first in the community to obtain a driver's license so they could reach the weavers across the desert (on 4WDs noless),they were also the first to learn accounting and computer skills in order to run this income-generation project. While their breaking out of the social norms and gender expectations was met with resistance and obstacles, it set a precedent for other women in the community to follow. Today, the project not only provides an income source for the weavers that preserve the traditional Bedouin heritage, it also serves as a center that provides a wide range of social and educational programs for the Bedouin women in the Negev.
Opening opportunities for future generations
When women have obtained economic means and play a more active role both at home and in the community the impact of their empowerment can be passed onto future generations. One such example is at Idna Ladies Association, established in 1998 in the southern West Bank, where hard working village women have put their daughters through college with their earnings from embroidery and sewing work.
'I was pulled out of school against my will at a young age to financially help my family,’ says Naima, a founding member of the Association. 'So I wanted to make sure that my daughters would be educated as they wished.’ Today, Naima and her colleagues cannot be more proud of their accomplishments that their daughters are better educated than their sons - a situation that would have been unimaginable a generation ago. Moshera, one of their daughters who became a college-graduate, now helps the Association’s administrative work with her computer, accounting, and English language skills.
Behind each handmade item at Sunbula lie the stories of fearless women who created change for themselves, their families, and local communities. This Women’s Day, come celebrate their empowerment by supporting their artisanal work.