Empowering Arab women during the Coronavirus crisis

Throughout the difficult period of Covid-19, the Women’s Empowerment group in Baqa al-Gharbia has continued its activities, led by its moderator, Hana Taufik. During the first lockdown, which lasted from […]

Throughout the difficult period of Covid-19, the Women’s Empowerment group in Baqa al-Gharbia has continued its activities, led by its moderator, Hana Taufik. During the first lockdown, which lasted from mid-March to the end of May, Taufik held shorter meetings than usual through video links three times a week. Since June, ordinary meetings have resumed in the office or outdoors.

Taufik’s work to empower women in their mental and social wellbeing became especially important during the lockdown as women experienced stress due to economic hardship and uncertainty. Some families could not provide their children with the computers they needed for remote learning and were unable to help them with their schoolwork. Against the background of long-standing budgetary discrimination and under-funding of education, the crisis was especially severe in the Arab society.

A special issue was the reluctance by some group members to disclose Covid-19 infections in their homes for fear of being shamed or even ostracized by their community. It seemed that this attitude was common. Consequently, when a family member became ill, the need for secrecy caused distress and anxiety. Another difficulty arose when one of the women had to go to the hospital for cancer treatment but feared to do so because of the virus.

Taufik supported the group members amid all these pressures and uncertainties. She encouraged candid discussion and solidarity, helping them realize they were not alone. These conversations also had the effect of reducing the shame associated with Covid infection, enabling the women to share their experiences openly.

At the economic level, Taufik encouraged the women to open small-scale businesses, selling products they had earlier done as hobbies. These included crafts such as weaving and sewing, traditional cooking, and natural cosmetics. One group member reopened her massage and creams business for the first time since her marriage years before. Another started selling food cooked in a tabun, a traditional wood-fired oven, and was so successful that her business continues after the lockdown. The group members were invited to taste the food and see the craft products. They supported each other’s initiatives by buying from one another and publishing posts on social media.

During the lockdown, the members started a health promotion program adopting a healthier diet, for example water instead of sweet drinks, more vegetables, less fat and sugar. The women were encouraged to have blood tests for sugar and fat levels, see their gynecologists after years of neglect, and monitor their weight. When the lockdown was over, they would go for joint walks by the sea.

Those who participated in the program reported weight loss, better health and mood, better family relationships, and improved self-confidence. Some even became „addicted“ to walks in nature, which continued after July. Another consequence was a rise in the group’s popularity, with 20 new members joining during that time.

אודות Wac-Maan