Entering the Arena: Women, Politics and Peace-building (2013-2015)
“Entering the Arena: Women, Politics and Peace-building” (WPP) is a program that trains and empowers women for political and social leadership. The program aims to generate a large cadre of young, peace-committed Palestinian and Israeli women leaders, who will become the next generation of influential political leaders in the region, effecting a meaningful and enduring change vis-à-vis women’s status in government and in relation to peace negotiations specifically. The program’s goals are: a) to bridge the gaps between the two opposing sides by addressing the common concern of women’s involvement in politics and peace-negotiations; and b) to provide the participants with the training and skills required for promoting women’s increased visibility, participation and influence in politics.
The program is offered to young Israeli and Palestinian women from across diverse demographic sectors in Israel and the Palestinian Authority, who aspire toward a career in political work in some capacity, whether within the formal legislative system or civil-society activism.
The program’s implementation over two years (2013-2015), with some 160 women (in two year-long cycles), is supported by USAID. Participants meet and learn through taking part in experiential seminars, half of which unilateral and half bilateral. The seminars provide participants with the training and skills they require in order to participate meaningfully and effectively in politics, through lectures, discussions, practical workshops, educational tours, social and professional networking opportunities, and informal group activities. They focus on gender studies, women’s shared concerns, the Israeli-Palestinian Conflict and the Peace Process, through raising different and sometimes contradictory voices and narratives.
Adam’s unique method for inter-group dialogue, “Transforming the Conflict into a Dilemma”, serves as a tool used at the seminar discussions and presentations, which tackle issues such as:
- different political approaches, and feminist approaches in particular;
- the public realm vs. the private realm;
- the difference between the politics of women and that of men;
- the meaning of peace – various definitions;
- perspectives concerning the basic dilemmas of women in politics.
The lectures at the seminars are an opportunity to engage with local politicians, civil society leaders and current (or former) parliamentary body members, all female, in order to facilitate first-hand learning about the actions and experiences of women in politics and to gain insights for future action.
The workshops and discussions are adapted to take into account the multi-level varying needs of both the Palestinian and the Israeli participants. All activities are guided by professional Israeli and Palestinian facilitators, and all bilateral sessions include simultaneous translation.
In-between seminars, participants are expected to work individually and in groups, on assignments including:
- writing “homework” tasks, such as analyses, op-eds and written summaries;
- conducting interviews of influential female public figures and producing written reports of the interview process, including skills used;
- submitting future personal political activism outlines – including milestones toward success – demonstrating knowledge gained and skills acquired as a result of the program.
The first cycle of the program opened with two parallel unilateral seminars held in March 2014. The seminars introduced to the participants the concepts of gender, politics and peace and their interrelations, and facilitated them in undergoing a meaningful, experiential, emotional and intellectual process. They were asked to examine several questions, e.g.: what motivates them? Why did they choose to participate in the program? Are they aware of the possibilities of action within the political sphere, and of their responsibility for taking action? What are the factors that support or inhibit action? Can a new, genderial way of thinking be developed in a way that would transform the political language and discourse? The seminars also included workshops aimed at preparing the participants for the upcoming bilateral seminar with their peers from the “other side”, which focused on their expectations and fears. As part of the preparation for the bilateral encounter, participants learned about the Palestinian and Israeli narratives of the Conflict through lectures. Throughout the year, five more seminars were held, two pairs of parallel unilateral seminars and a joint, bilateral seminar that took place in Acre in April 2014.
Despite the violent events of the summer and the difficult times that followed, the participants of the first cohort remained motivated and committed. They created their own online group and are in contact with Adam to provide updates on their achievements and the difficulties they encounter. In addition to the political outlines and interview summaries they submitted as part of their program assignments, the participants have been socially and politically active throughout the year.
An important initiatives of program participants in this respect was the “Shlom Bayit” (Domestic Peace, in Hebrew), an ongoing project that began during the military operation in Gaza in the summer, which brings together women of diverse backgrounds and viewpoints to talk, listen, learn about and discuss the Israeli-Palestinian Conflict. Several participants have joined the Women Wage Peace group and have been active through it. Jointly, the participants have compiled a database of skills and resources each participant requires and skills and resources each participant can offer others, as a step towards forming a collaborative, supporting framework for future action.