A group of approximately 10 refugee women in Deir El Balah launched an initiative to improve the safety and security in their neighbourhood following an accident on Salah El Din Street – one of the main highways leading through Gaza - in which one of their close friends died, presumably also due to lack of street lights on the highway; the highways does not run through the Deir El Balah camp.
The initiative-committee regularly gathers at the Community-Based Organisation (CBO) Rawafed in Deir El Balah which provides them with organizational and technical advice, and the provision of space and campaign material. The Rawafed CBO is supported by the UNRWA Gender Initiative (GI) through various projects.
“When we heard that our friend had died, we immediately suggested launching an initiative, and we started to collect signatures from community members to support us,” recalls initiative-member Warda Abu Rus. “The first challenge we faced is that people said no one would support us or listen to us, especially because we are women,” added her colleague Fatima Abu Safar.
But giving up was not an option for the campaigners, and very quickly the women realized that they needed to be more organized if they wanted to be taken seriously in their efforts to increase the safety for their children and families in the community. While initially it was difficult for them to make their voices heard, over time they have gained the support from community leaders as well as from their own families. Many of their husbands who were opposed to the idea at first now also actively participate in the initiative and provide support.
Besides collecting signatures, the initiators are also sending letters to relevant ministries as well as to the Gaza Electricity Company asking for the provision of street lighting on the part of Salah El Din Street; further, officials of the Gaza Middle Area municipality are now helping them to contact the traffic police to set up speed control check points as well as to organize awareness sessions on safe street crossing for school children and beneficiaries attending CBO activities.
The female campaigners have found themselves empowered through their community work, and many are very grateful for the support they get from the CBO – not just now, but also in the past.
“Without the CBO, you would not find us here today. The CBO helped us to become stronger and gain self-confidence,” explained Amal Khatab, who also participates in the initiative. “When I heard about the accident, I wanted to do something, to act. I visit the CBO regularly; here is where I learned how to write and read. Now I participate in a grass root initiative!” commented Sahar Abu Amra, who actively participates in the GI educational forum activities provided through CBOs, proudly.
Beside the street light initiative, the women also advocate for other issues in their community, such as improving the attitude towards divorced or abandoned women.
“We launched this initiative to improve the safety in our community, but we also want to empower ourselves and other women to become decision makers and advocate for more change,” summarized campaigner Elham Abu Hamad.
UNRWA supports the development and empowerment of women through various programmes, particularly through its Gender Initiative (GI). Out of the 101 CBOs the GI works with through its various projects, 30 CBOs across Gaza provide social and recreational spaces for women – including the Rawafed CBO - , such as IT, sport, and educational forums for women. Besides these activities, the CBOs are also seen as friendly and safe spaces for women, many of whom feel empowered by doing activities outside their home, establishing networks, participating in public life and taking matters into their own hands.