On the Front Lines in the Protest Against Violence Against Women

Participants in this year’s Heschel Sustainability Fellowship (19th cohort), Lena Chiyadari and Anat Nir, tell of their involvement in the nationwide protest against violence against women that shook the country this past month:

“On Tuesday, the 4th of December, at 5 p.m., we stood in the city square, a small group of women, with signs opposing violence,” reports Lena Chiyadari (second from the left in the picture), an expert in promoting low-paying workers in the Israeli Arab public, mediator and facilitator. “Manal Abu Raya, the advisor for improving the status of women and gender equality in Sakhnin, and I very much wanted to go to Tel Aviv and participate in the demonstration there, but we were unable to travel that day.

We began thinking about what sort of initiative would have an impact and influence people in our society. We realized that there was about to be a huge soccer match between Maccabi Haifa and Bnei Sakhnin at the Doha Stadium in Sakhnin. We immediately contacted the head of the ” Violence-Free City” project at the Sakhnin municipality, Hatem Tarabieh, and informed him that we were going to come to the game, to stand on the field with signs against violence against women.

He encouraged the move, and helped us organize. We arrived a half-hour before the beginning of the game. We stood in the middle of the pitch, and spread out towards the crowds in the stands. Everyone stood and cheered us! The mayor arrived, and spoke about his strong opposition to violence of any type, but in particular against women. Also with us on the field, were Wafa Nasaar, from the “Our Right to Live” group,  Adv. Hanan Hatib, director of the Gafra leadership project, of the NGO El-Amar, and the Society for Education in Israel, and also two men who identified with the initiative. The game was broadcast live and huge numbers of people saw us, all over the country.”

“This protest was a historic success in connecting all segments of the society, cutting across sectors, classes, ethnic and national origins,” relates Anat Nir, political and social activist, CEO of Feminancy, coordinator of the Red Flag Coalition, initiators of the protest and one of the main speakers at the central demonstration. “We are seeing a protest of rage that broke out at over 120 places across the country, from Dir Hanna to Beer Sheva, from Nazareth to Jerusalem. It was a demonstration of human power, and solidarity with the pain and suffering that women experience. Chanukah is holiday of light, and the civil society in Israel powerfully radiated its light.”

“I’m very proud of the activity that we started,” says Lena. “The simple fact that we stood there in the middle of the soccer field, with signs, and we looked directly out at the nearly all-male crowd, took courage and is a source of pride. I think that we are on the way to making a real change, but the road is long and full of challenges. In the instance, we organized really quickly. The topic was hot, the motivation and proactive energies were sky-high, and the faith in our abilities enabled us to go the distance, and fulfill the vision that we had.

My participation in the Heschel Fellows program helps me look critically at my environment and my community. I feel that I want to plan, and implement, a lot of things that will help promote sustainability in a place with so much to do.”