It’s not unusual to meet a Palestinian-Israeli woman leader who tells this story: “My father raised me to believe that I was equal in every way to a boy. In a society that values males, he was not disappointed that I was a girl. He was proud of me.”
These are the words of Nijmi Abbas, HMO head nurse, veteran activist in the Shatil-coordinated Citizens’ Forum for the Promotion of Health in the Galilee and newly elected member of the Shfar’am city council.
“We began working as a group of women to restore a rundown city park and we eventually formed a women’s party,” says the 52-year-old mother of four. She said she insisted that the party include Muslims, Christians and Druze, the three religions represented in her city.
“It was difficult to get women to vote because of clan affiliation…but we did it and now for the first time, a women’s party is represented on the city council.”
Nijmi’s first order of business as a councilwoman is to build a fitness trail in the renovated park and to work against violence against women, starting with a 10-sesion workshop.
Nijmi was always a leader – she was second in command of her Scouts troop as a teen – but she credits her participation in Shatil’s health forum – which she joined after a Shatil health training in Nazareth in 2015 – for equipping her with knowledge about health in Israel’s Arab sector, for connections she made, for learning to work as a team, to promote her agendas and to speak with the media. As a result of contacts in the Forum, Nijmi was able to convince Shfar’am’s mayor to create the position of a health advocate in the city, an unusual accomplishment in an Arab city, she says.
Nijmi worked to have the health forum’s annual Galilee health conference in 2016 held in Shfar’am, which brought MKs and government officials to an Arab city in the North – an unusual occurrence.
“Shatil’s amazing staff believed in us, enabled and empowered us,” says Nijmi. “Every word I said was taken into account.
“Shatil brings people into the heart of action.”