Sawsan al-Safadi from Palestine
Name: Sawsan al-Safadi
Age: 49 years
Status: Single mother of a 21 year old son
Lives in: occupied East Jerusalem, Palestine
Occupation: Head of Public and International Relations and Media in the Ministry of Education and the Islamic Waqf in East Jerusalem
What is important for you as a woman?
To live in a safe society that respects my femininity and existence as a woman, and at the same time appreciates and reinforces my intellectual, cultural and scientific capacities. Also, to live in a society that allows me to achieve my ambitions and be an active player in building a brighter future for the next generation, a future without violence or discrimination.
How would you describe the situation for women in Palestinian society?
Palestinian women have made great efforts toward achieving equality in rights and duties, and promoting the gender concept in all life aspects. But we are aware that there is a long path still ahead of us to achieve the political, economical and social justice
Can you tell us your story?
I was divorced when my son was just over a month. I defended my rights to live in dignity and to have custody to raise my son. I worked hard to establish my economic independence, although I faced many challenges. Some people in my society did not believe that I had the right to success. But I did succeed.
I was always eager to have a higher education. In 1987, I got a full scholarship to study English in the University of Jordan in Amman. When I came back, I started working as a teacher which I continued for 15 years and then became a principal of a school for another 5 years. Today I work as a Head of Public and International Relations and Media in the Ministry of Education and the Islamic Waqf in Jerusalem. Part of my job requires that I build education media plans to highlight many education issues, especially the educational challenges imposed by the Israeli occupation on the educational sector in East Jerusalem. Some of the Israeli policies disrupting Palestinian education in East Jerusalem include: targeting and breaking in the schools, arresting students, and issuing demolition orders against parts of school sand the distortion of the Palestinian curriculum. These challenges have never stopped me from working hard to achieve better education for East Jerusalem students.
Today, I play an active role in changing misperceptions in Palestinian society about women in general and divorced ones in particular. I have always been proud of my career as a teacher through which I taught and raised thousands of students who occupy many important positions in the society. Moreover, I am also so proud of myself as a single mother who raised a very smart young man, currently studying history and political science at Bir Zeit University.
How do women contribute to Palestinian society?
The Palestinian people have gone through a lot of changes since 1948, when we became refugees. We have undergone many wars that fragmented the economic and social nature of Palestinian society. As a result women’s roles have expanded becoming more active in new areas. The Palestinian woman is the mother that protects and helps, the teacher that is creating a well-educated generation, the hard laborer helping the man in farming or in the factory, and the political activist who becomes a strong politician.
What is the experience of a Palestinian woman living in occupied East Jerusalem, under Israeli control?
In East Jerusalem where I live, women face many challenges and difficulties. Living in an occupied city, Palestinian women are exposed to the risk of arrest, house demolitions, crossing checkpoints, child arrest, revocation of residency and the Israeli separation Wall that was built to isolate us from the rest of the Palestinian territory. All of this creates tragedy and suffering; feelings of safety and security are nonexistent. Most places turn into a sort of battlefield instead of being safe zones where our kids can be raised in a way that ensures their safety and well being.
What is unique about Palestinian women?
What is unique about Palestinian women is that many are well –educated and enlightened. Palestinian women highly appreciate the value of education and higher education. We see the majority of Palestinian girls complete their higher education, and many of them hold academic jobs. They do this in addition to facing all the challenges and risks imposed on them by the traditions, customs of the society and the Israeli occupation.
What do they have in common with the rest of women?
Palestinian women love life, peace, freedom, stability and desire to have full rights despite that we live in a world dominated by the masculine and negative perceptions that halt women’s creativity and power, and diminish her role in the society. Palestinian women strive to change the way people look at women not as a a body and/or a babysitter while ignoring her creativity, thought and mind.
What is your message to other women in the world?
My message to the women in the world is that there is no magical stick that can make changes; each one of us has to work hard to achieve the change. We must believe in ourselves and in our ability to make change. Never give up your dreams and ambitions. Always remember that you are half of the society and you are raising the other half.
Photo: NRC/ Palestine