This year’s Shatil Stories is dedicated to women leading change. The New Israel Fund campaign Women should be Seen & Heard together with strategies such as the Shatil-led coalition working for the equal representation of women in the public sphere, are countering the worrisome trends to segregate and silence women. The women presented within highlight the power and hope embedded in social activism.
Israel’s historic summer protest transformed Viki from a homeless single mother into an informed activist, a public speaker who has addressed audiences of thousands and a sophisticated movement leader. Viki spent her summer in the “No Choice” tent encampment in Jerusalem because she didn’t want her three-year-old daughter to be the fourth generation to grow up without opportunities. “The protest opened my eyes. It changed me. It freed my spirit and gave me the strength to fight,” she says. “Today I know I need to work for policy change so working people can pay rent, buy food, and give their children the opportunity to succeed.” With Shatil at her side, she led protesters in strategy meetings and held dialogues with the mayor and a government minister. She recruited protesting students to her struggle, intuitively understanding the importance of collaboration and solidarity. While she grew up in a right-wing home, today Viki stands by Bedouin whose villages are being demolished. “Shatil has amazing people who see the big picture. They showed me how to promote our struggle, to get into the Knesset, how to trust myself to speak in public. They opened my eyes to things I didn’t know as an ordinary citizen. I bless Shatil and NIF for their existence.”
For years, Jerusalem City Councilwoman Rachel Azaria has been fighting to ensure that the needs of young families are taken into account and that women participate fully in the public arena. These issues are now at the top of Israel’s agenda and Rachel is partnering with Shatil in both struggles. She cut her activist teeth inGreen Course, where Shatil taught her how to lobby, to run effective campaigns and to think strategically. It was there she and other activists concluded that one could and should exert influence from the inside. Shatilalso guided Rachel’s development as the very young director of Mavoi Satum, an organization that advocates for the rights of women whose husbands have denied them a religious divorce. “Shatil freely shares its accumulated knowledge and wisdom. Shatil knows who was in the campaign a few years ago, it knows the organizations, knows the playing field. It provides something very strong and deep that enables every activist, group and campaign to act from a basis of knowledge and tools — and that is very, very important.”
Debbie Gild-Hayo and Idit Menashe: “There are powerful forces working to change the nature of this country.”
Fighting to preserve the independence and legitimacy of the media, the courts, civil society organizations and the rights of minorities, two advocates from Shatiland the Association for Civil Rights in Israel are on the front lines, making a difference. Their weapons: brains, talent, strong organizational support, connections and a passionate conviction that Israel must be a democratic, just society. From the moment the agenda for the weekly government ministers’ meeting is published, Idit and Debbie move into high gear, speaking to MKs, the media and the public about the political ramifications of proposed bills and holding the government to its democratic responsibilities including: transparency, public participation in decisions and upholding the rights of minorities. Together with other organizations, they initiated a broad coalition of civil society organizations and opposition MKs that prevented the establishment of Knesset investigative committees aimed at silencing progressive non-profits. The coalition also succeeded in showing the public that this tyranny of the majority is a trend that must be resisted. Idit and Debbie bring the expertise and experience of their respective organizations to the partnership. “It is an exceptionally fruitful and important collaboration,” says Debbie. Idit: “The guidance and connections of the New Israel Fund and Shatil’s Center for Policy Change give me the opportunity to work for real social change.”
Naifeh Sarrissi says that once she and her colleagues have their way, Muslim women in Israel will benefit from the rights and status that the progressive spirit of the Koran intended for them. Women and Horizons, which she directs, works to promote the rights and status of women within a religious framework. Members of the organization expose a wider audience to the religious Muslim exegesis that supports the status and rights of women. “There are commentaries that support women’s rights but the patriarchal society in which we live uses social norms to suppress them. We insist: These rights are from the Koran. No one may ignore them,” she says. Women and Horizons seeks to reform the implementation of Shari’a laws such as those permitting polygamy and defining the legal marital age. The organization’s committee of academics, religious authorities, judges and lawyers composes research-based position papers and its activists raise awareness amongst the general population. “Muslim countries like Morocco have liberalized their polygamy laws and so can we,” says Naifeh. “Shatil’s serious, intensive guidance has been an important backdrop to this work,” she adds. “With great patience, Shatil consultants taught me how to examine our target audience, evaluate a project, manage a budget, and develop a strategic work plan. Everything I know about running an organization, I learned step-by-step from Shatil.”
After passionately longing for Israel her entire life, Inbal trekked through the scorching Ethiopian desert with her baby on her back, headed for the land of her ancestors’ dreams. When bandits ran off with all of her group’s provisions – including her baby formula – some of the women around her lost consciousness from lack of food and water. Twenty years later, the strength she gained by struggling to survive enables this natural leader to face just about anything. A nurse by profession, Inbal was persuaded to run for the Ramle City Council and she won. As a participant in a Shatil-facilitated group of local Ethiopian Israeli activists, she helps monitor the government’s promised Five-Year-Plan to strengthen the Ethiopian community. With Shatil, Inbal organized a conference to address the housing rights of young Ethiopian Israelis; recruited Ethiopian and other activists to demonstrate during the summer protest and organized round table discussions about the changes needed in Israeli society. Inbal is grateful to Shatil for “showing us how to strategize for maximum influence. We count the days till our meetings with Shatil. We even change work shifts so we can be there. Shatilmakes us aware of our power, our strength. I thank Shatil for nurturing activist groups that contribute so much to Israeli society.”