#METOO: “Your stories make us stronger”

The #metoo message is heard around the world. But in many countries, like Palestine, women must stay silent.
– Women in Palestine could risk their lives if they shared stories of sexual abuse, says Mariam Ikermawi, gender coordinator at We Effect in Palestine.

The past weeks, the #metoo campaign have supported women from all over the world to get the courage to share their experiences of sexual abuse and harassments. Many men have been exposed, and are facing jail sentences. But not in Palestine.

– A lot of women have shared the hashtag in Palestine. But on my Facebook I have not seen a single Palestinian woman sharing a personal story, even though everybody could.

Telling could put a Palestinian woman at danger, making her stigmatized, victimized and vulnerable to more harassments and abuse, Mariam means. But the campaign is showing people that something is going on.

– It is a reminder to believe that women need and can support other women. That we are not alone. It makes us stronger.

Mariam is passionate about women’s rights, and driven by individual experiences. At 15, she lost her father. Making her uncles in charge of her future.

– They sat on the porch and decided if I should go to university or not. I did not have a say. That made me so mad.

But Mariam managed to get a scholarship and embarked on an independent path to the future. Now she is a long-time activist for human rights, gender equality and women´s rights. Earlier this year, a job listing as gender coordinator for We Effect sparked her interest.

–  My friend found the job and said that We Effect was looking for me. I had never heard of We Effect, but I knew instantly that we would match when I read the listing, “if poverty only had one face, it would be the face of a woman”.

In her new job, Mariam travels around to meet We Effect’s local partners in Palestine. Together they work on the best ways of empowering women, and making gender equality an integral part of the organizations missions.
– I want to send the message that yes, women can take care of kids, but we can be presidents too. A lot of people still think that gender is only about women. But gender equality is everything. It includes men, women, boys and girls. It is the structure, the roles and lack of opportunities.

We Effect support women to become entrepreneurs and be financially independent.

– Women groups and cooperatives can make all the difference for a woman in Palestine. It can give you a job, and provide a safe space. A security net. Women that work together look after one another.

Israel´s occupation is making life extremely tough for Palestinians. Women are hit the hardest. According to new data from SCB, Sweden´s statistics agency, only 1 out of 5 Palestinian women, in the ages of 15-29, have a job.

– Women and children are living in an occupation within the occupation. Men´s violence against women is often excused with unemployment caused by the occupation. Women sleep in their veils, scared of military raids at night. They want to make sure they are prepared to flee in case of home demolition or eviction. A lot of girls, that come home late at night from school because of road blocks, the separation wall and the bypass roads, have to quit school. Their parents do not want to put them at risk. And rather let them marry young.

Palestinian women are hit the hardest by the occupation.

When the peace agreement was signed between Israel and Palestine in Oslo in 1993, almost no women were part of the negotiations. Even though they had fought on the frontlines of the liberation in the first intifada. They were the hidden soldiers.

– Women were not invited to the discussion table. They stayed in the lobby, and are still there. And that is part of the problem. If women are invited to the room, to the discussion, the conflict would be different.

Mariam says she would like to be in a room with both Benjamin Netanyahu and Mahmoud Abbas.

– The occupation is one of the root causes for everything bad that is happening in Palestine. But it is also strengthening the patriarchy, giving it legitimacy in some sense. I would make them stay in the room until they find a solution that is fair and just for everyone.

Mariam hopes that the #metoo campaign will keep its momentum. That it will be a permanent part of the discussion of women’s rights and gender equality.

– I call out to everybody that can: keep on posting and sharing. The #metoo campaign is giving us power and hope.

Text and photo: Marcus Lundstedt

Read more about We Effect in Palestine here. Listen to Mariam at our Facebook page.