As part of the Global Fund’s Middle East and North Africa Initiative, an international delegation of 28 Global Fund board members, staff, and supporters traveled to nine countries in the region, meeting with nearly 200 women’s groups to learn about the most pressing issues facing the region's women.
From April 26 - May 8, 2005, 28 Global Fund board members, staff, and supporters traveled to nine countries in the Middle East. We met with nearly 200 rural and urban women's organizations to learn about the most pressing issues facing the region's women. Below are snapshots from each of the five teams.
I returned to Turkey for the Global Fund with Board Chair, Jacqueline Pitanguy, who brought her wise and extensive experience using popular organizing strategies in Brazil. We visited with groups in Istanbul and Diyarbakir. Located on the Tigris River, Diyarbakir is a 4,000 year old city. In 2003, we only met with five women's groups there, and this time we met with 26! They work on a wide range of issues since women in this post-conflict region face many challenges, including forced migration from rural villages to urban areas, domestic violence, and honor killings. In fact, every single group we met addressed honor killings, when a male family member kills a woman who is suspected of sexual indiscretion. One of the boldest groups we have supported is KA-MER, a well-known Kurdish women's group that just launched a national campaign against honor killings with the slogan, "Don't be blind to murder done in the name of honor."
by Annie Hillar
We were so excited to meet with many of the women activists, who, for 30 years, have played a key role in advocating and significantly changing several laws that discriminated against women: the Penal Code and a labor law in 2003, and the Family Code in 2004. One of the 34 very dedicated women's rights groups we met with is led by young women in a poor area of Marrakech. Association El Amane provides legal and psychological assistance to illiterate and semi-literate women, undocumented women and abuse survivors as well as girls vulnerable to trafficking, such as maids. The association trains women in the rural and urban areas around the city to understand their rights under the revised Family Code.
by Nicky McIntyre
Palestine and Israel
During our meetings with more than 50 women's organizations, we heard over and over that "conflict affects women first and women worst." Women in Israel expressed concern about the effects of living and raising families in a militarized society, and the shifting values and policies that impact their lives. Jewish women are organizing in new ways to address the consequences of globalization, unemployment and poverty. Palestinian women in Israel are developing independent and joint initiatives that challenge both religious and cultural restrictions in their own community, as well as the historic power and resource imbalance between Jews and Arabs in Israel. Women in Palestine have been promoting legislation that will adopt a quota to guarantee women positions in the Palestinian parliament. Yet most of their energies are devoted to extending and expanding services to accommodate the consequences of living under occupation.
by Terry Greenblatt
Our team had the unique opportunity to visit one of the poorest countries in the region, Yemen. Since 1994, women's role and status in society has diminished with the dominance of a conservative and authoritarian government and the rise of fundamentalist interpretations of religious texts. Once judges and lawyers, today, women in Yemen endure high rates of unemployment and illiteracy. One example of the 17 wonderful organizations we met with is the Women's Forum for Research and Training, which is advocating for women's rights on the policy level, while working diligently at the grassroots to empower local women and women's organizations.
by Zeina Zaatari
In beautiful, mountainous Northern Lebanon, we visited three women's cooperatives. One of them was the Fourzal Cooperative. The 13 members of Fourzal work from May to November, if there is enough production. The women buy produce from local farmers, which they process into preserved pumpkin and oranges, pickled vegetables and eggplant jam. In their village of 4,000 people, this small rural cooperative allows a few families additional income for part of the year, money that might be used for a doctor's visit for a mother or infant. In a region with less than 13% permanent employment, every contribution is vital. After processing the fruit, the cooperative members sell the jams and pickled vegetables locally and in Beirut. Marketing is the greatest challenge to all three of the cooperatives we visited. Finding distributors requires skills, funds, and time, none of which are as abundant as the produce.
by Leanne Grossman