Raja Shahwan. Photo: UN Women/Ezz Zannoun
I insisted on completing my Bachelors’ degree while I was already married and had three children. When I started looking for a job, even my best friend said I should focus on caring for my children and husband. My cousin said. ‘Why would someone choose you when many more are out there looking for a job,’ she said.
The biggest barrier to women’s participation in Palestinian society and in politics is that women are not even aware of the rights that they have. Making them aware is the first step. Another barrier is the attitude of the society, of families and of men. They say women cannot take hard or rational decisions because of their ‘soft hearts’.
For four years now, I have been working as a health educator with the Islamic Relief Organization. I am also a member of the ‘Women Local Committee’ in Gaza. I volunteer there two-three times a week, conducting awareness raising and training sessions for women to build their knowledge and leadership skills. We support them in resolving all kinds of problems—from recovering their inheritance to accessing services when they experience violence.
My advice to women—you cannot afford to wait for anyone to give you rights. Women have to take the initiative and claim their rights.
I plan to participate in the next municipal elections. I believe that I have the expertise, the willingness and also the strength to change our society for the better.”
Raja Shahwan, 40, participated in the “Spring Forward for Women” regional programme funded by the European Union and UN Women to promote the access and effective participation of marginalized women in economic and public life. Today Ms. Shahwan is employed full-time and an active member of the Women Local Committees in Gaza, Palestine, which help women participate in local governance and community activities. Her work contributes to Sustainable Development Goal 5 on gender equality and its target to ensure full and effective participation of women and equal opportunities for leadership at all levels of decision-making in political, economic and public life.
Read more stories in the “From where I stand...” editorial series.