On the 2nd week of July, EcoPeace held the Annual Regional Female Watershed Forum Training and I had the pleasure to take part as a “reporter”. The event gathered Jordanian, Palestinian and Israeli with theme of advancing the role for women in environmental cooperation, shared water and sanitation projects of common concern.
Bedouin Women x Water
In a presentation by Salim Al-Karmi, we were introduced to his research with the Fertile Crescent Association on the Bedouin population who are not connected to water network in Area C, Palestine. What was specifically brought about was gender role in relation to water in the Bedouin households. While women in families are clear of the actual consumption of water and know exactly what should be done, it is men, in Bedouin tradition, who make decisions. Being left out from decision-making at household level, the women, however, decided to come together and start doing smart things collectively, such as organising among themselves to store and exchange clean water, as well as reusing water. Following up the presentation was a discussion on whether the Bedouin religious way of women getting water and socialising should be replaced by technology. One thing is clear: Women should be brought to the middle of discussion so that everyone, despite their gender, can work together, make decisions and solve problems in a smart way.
6 Women x Action
Another major component of the 3-day cross-border event was the sharing of 6 women
from Jordan, Palestine and Israel on their experience and vision. “If something bothers you, don’t sit on the couch — do something!” said Sarit Oked, one of the speaker in the event. This quote to me has powerfully summarised the 6 sharings from the women of different regions who are facing and acting upon different problems and challenges.
While Kawther Al-Edwan, being the president of a Jordanian charity and the 1st woman in her community to work, introduced her organisation’s mission in improving livelihoods of Jordanian women in various difficult situations; Aseer Gawarneh, from Palestinian Rural Women Association, showed us how women in communities are equipped with skills such as making handicrafts.
Yonat Mordoch, recounted her delightful and adventurous experience of turning away from biology studies to learning from Bedouin’s traditional in medicine and passing on the wisdom through her soap-making business in Israel; whereas Manar Madanat, the southern region director of the Higher Council for the Affairs of Persons with Disabilities, spoke with us her passionate work-in-progress with fighting for the rights of disabled persons in Jordan, and encouraged an involvement of deaf and speech-impaired people and sign language interpreters in this event.
Journalist Maha Abu Ein stirred a couple of conversations on women’s roles and possibilities in Palestine, and showed us her critical documentary titled “Struggle of Palestinian Farmers”; Sarit Oked, on the other hand, shared her voluntary projects, one on founding a democratic school where children are the decision-makers of their own learning, another one on standing up against phosphate industry’s deadly emission in Arad, Israel. Fighting for the rights of the underrepresented groups, passing on the otherwise overlooked traditions with creative crafts & business, and equipping particular communities with specific skills and knowledge, are a few of the strategies and actions of empowerment that are inspiringly demonstrated by the speakers.
Site Tour x Water Infrastructure
Site-tours were conducted along the Jordan Valley, where problems of water sanitation and lack of proper infrastructure network were not merely told as distant issues but materialised in front of us as we got to the ground and walked through the rural fabric. Visits along the Jordan Valley – through the 150,000-people population Al Masharaa community, where grey water is released to canal and sewage flushed to cesspits; then to Tal Al Mantah Waste Water Treatment Plant, where water treatment work is still to be upgraded; and to Karameh Dam, where fresh water is stored but lost significantly by evaporation – have shown to us that water infrastructure, from grey
water and sewage collection network to waste water treatment and efficient storage, are urgently important yet lacking. What adds to the severity of problem in clean water access is the missing of a sound solid waste management system and awareness, causing a contamination of surface water and underground water by waste dumping.
More Dialogues & Sharing
The discussion and feedback session on the final day have inspiringly concluded the event. It is important to include all stakeholders’ voices in decision-making discussion.
If anyone is left outside, the result is that either people leave, or people’s needs stay answered. One recurring comment from different friends in the event has been on connecting people. People on different sides – from Jordan, Palestine and Israel – should get together beyond an annual event and beyond borders. Rather than point fingers at each other, we should – and could – identify and understand common problems, stand up together to raise awareness, get our voices heard – and act together.
Participants from Jordan, Palestine and Israel share their personal experiences and viewpoints on water & gender issues in their community. The Jordanian community express a concern over kids and adults suffering from kidney diseases because of unclean water; those from Palestinian community describe how women have to carry water all the way from edge of town back home and a severe contamination of upstream water by uncontrolled grey water disposal and solid waste; and some from the Israeli community points out that desalinated water lacks the mineral and nutrients for healthy crops. Furthermore, climate change is impacting all the farming communities in the region and “hit us in our face” in the past 10 years.
A picture i would like to share with you,
This article contributed by Mandy Mui, EcoPeace Middle East - Amman.