I had the great pleasure of attending the Annual Regional Youth Girls Water Trustee Empowerment Camp this weekend from the 2nd of august until the 4th of august 2018. The camp was held in the Sharhabil Bin Hassneh Ecopark and centered around the issue of gender empowerment and environmental friendly behaviour, and was attended by Jordanian, Palestinian and Israeli men and women.
The first day started off with a dinner, where I noticed that the different nationalities were sitting clearly separated, followed by a general introduction to the daily work of EcoPeace Middle East, and some icebreaking games, where the different nationalities were mixed into smaller groups. It was here interesting to see, how the icebreaking games connected the participants across country borders, and served as a starting point for new interesting conversations.
On the second day, there were a trip to the ruin of the Ajloun Castle in northern Jordan, were we did some sightseeing while learning about Jordanian history . At first, I could not grasp the theme of the trip to castle, as it seemed to me that people were again separated into their national groups, but as we stood atop the castle the meaning became clear; on a clear day you could see as far as Jerusalem from the castle. The viewpoint atop the castle suddenly represented the three national identities, and it was obvious to the participants, how interconnected the region is from an environmental point of view.
Next we were driven to the Ajloun Oak Forest, where we did an activity I found particularly interesting. The group was divided into cross- border pairs, and then they had to direct their blindfolded partner through a rocky and thorny landscape. It was delightful to see, how some pairs overcome the language barrier between Hebrew and Arabic, and laughed as they walked along the difficult path. As we came back to the starting point, the group was asked to reflect over the activity, where some surprising observations saw its light. A young Palestinian man compared the exercise to a hand, where the different fingers symbolizes the different nationalities, which are all connected to the same hand. They were neither Palestinian, Israeli or Jordanian citizens during the exercise, but only human beings, who sought to cooperate over finding the right path.
I furthermore noticed that during the reflection session, almost no one was sitting in their national group, but chose to sit close to their partner, which showed a clear sign of the objective of the exercise as social coherence and solidarity within the group.
Afterwards, the group was asked to sit in their national groups, to discuss gender mainstreaming in each country, followed by a short presentation of their discussion. The Israeli group highlighted the gap between men and women in the educational system, and the pressure of conservative and orthodox religions on women in the public sphere. The Palestinians referred to especially the 2000 intifada (Arabic for rebellion) against the Israeli occupation, where many men died in the uprising, leaving the woman as the leader of the household. This made the woman more independent, as the Palestinian society here realized that the woman could act as the leader of the household, and deal with tasks, which were normally meant for men. Nevertheless, the Palestinian also highlighted the need for more governmental policies, as it is difficult for a woman to be a stakeholder in the Palestinian system, and furthermore, the need for a change in the belief system of women, as many women believe they cannot perform certain tasks typically associated with men. And lastly, the Jordanian group focused on the lack of possibilities for women in the educational system, as well as the daily harassment of women in the public sphere. Additionally, this group put the question of responsibility forward, and asked the different groups to reflect upon the responsibility of men and women in society, and how men could help to empower women in the societal sphere.
When we were back in the SHE EcoPark we heard three short presentations on female empowerment, with the Palestinian Amira Adnan Musallam on her peace activism and environmental work, the Israeli-Palestinian Zubaida Ezery on her project on grey water systems in Bedouin communities, and the Jordanian Derar Al-Muhasen on his volunteer experiences as a leader in his local community. The different speakers talked from their personal experiences with empowerment and peace, and the group was left thoughtful and quite solemn at the end of the different presentations.
The evening ended with a “Hafla”, Arabic for a get-together, a party, over good music and a bonfire. The group here shared traditional dancing, smoked shisha, as well as talked and laughed late into the evening. A subject of interest to all was the relatedness of the languages of Arabic and Hebrew, and as the night grew thicker, it was clear that friendships were created across borders.
The last day consisted of a short tour of the EcoPark, followed by two lectures from firstly project coordinator from the Palestinian EcoPeace, Mahmud Driaat, who gave a talk on the importance of women in sustainable water management. One of his main points were here that women were essential to include in decision-making on water issues, as they were often the ones handling the water. This presentation was followed by a presentation from the Israeli EcoPeace coordinator Dr. Shlomit Tamari, who talked about the importance of women in public spaces. She here highlighted the overall gender mainstreaming in the world, as well as the correlation between water shortage and violence, where women are the first to be harmed.
The session ended with a reflection on the regional environmental cooperation, where the group discussed gender realities in their different countries, environmental challenges and empowerment. There was here a heated discussion of the effects of either top-down or bottom-up peace initiatives that I found quite intriguing, as well as the agreement among the Palestinians that peace and co-existence is the way forward. To which an Israeli man said: “if we all take our own share of the water, without thinking about our common responsibility, there will be no future for either of us”.
On this matter, all the participants agreed. Without regional cooperation over water issues, and responsible consumption of water, their future would indeed look dark. For me, this was an intriguing new form of peacebuilding, as after all, water knows no borders.
This article contributed by Miriam Jensen, EcoPece Middle East - Amman.