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“We women have realised our value and our men are also beginning to do so”; says Fidaa Rashid, one of the co-operative participants.

The work in the co-operative takes time but Fidaa Rashid also wants to begin studying English and computers. She has three children and is expecting a fourth, and thinks it is important that her children learn about computers.

“But first I want to be able to surf the Internet myself, otherwise I won’t know what they are looking at on the computer””

The women in the room nod in agreement. Computers are good, they think, but as parents they want to keep a bit of an eye on what the young people are getting up to.

We meet at the youth centre in the centre of Doma, which was build with support from Unga Örnar. The building is simple, but there is a relatively large meeting room, a children’s room with soft toys and a computer room with ten computers. Here, the village’s youth can meet up and go on different courses.   The women in the co-operative also usually have meetings and courses in the building.

That they or their children would be able to use a computer was unthinkable only a few years ago, likewise that they would build a co-operative, start the production of cheese, soap and hand cream, as well as studying subjects such as English, democracy and leadership. Just meeting other women was a revolution for most of them.

“Before, we almost never went outside the house,” say the women, “We had learned that we should stay at home. Now we meet at the co-operative almost daily and discuss everything from finances and studies to child rearing and social life. It means an enormous lot!”

Doma is located approximately 12 kilometres outside Nablus and consists of simple white houses surrounded by dusty, dry olive groves and stony hills. The lack of water is a major problem in the area. Several small children play in a vacant demolition site and an older man with a cane and traditional long white shirt plods along on the main street. Donkeys bray here and there, thin cats slink among the stone piles. It is clear that time has stood still here for a long time.

Roughly 2,500 inhabitants live in the village and approximately one-third of them are children under the age of 18.  Unemployment is sky high at 65 percent and the majority of the inhabitants are poor or very poor.

But now life in Doma is changing, with the support of LO Gotland and Unga Örnar and the Palestinian co-operative organisations AL-Mortaga Foundation and Youth Center Doma, respectively.

Through the women’s project started in 2007, a first group of 15 women have been educated in how to start and run a co-operative. Now the products produced by the women are sold in, among others, Nablus, Ramallah and Gotland. The hand cream and the soap with olive oil from the village as a base smells lovely.

The co-operative also owns seven black and white cows which live in a small stall in the village. The cows produce approximately 200 litres of milk per day for the cheese the women produce and sell. The idea is for the first group of women co-operative participants to inspire more women in the village to start manufacturing in a co-operative form.

The project means an income for the women and thereby reduced poverty,but also increased self-esteem and belief in the future.

“We have really learned to understand the importance of education,” say the women. ”Now we want to educate ourselves and support our daughters in getting a good occupation and we feel like participants in the village’s development and future. We didn’t do that before!”

“In the beginning it was difficult for the men in the village to digest that the women began to compete on their terms. But now they have realised that they also benefit by the women becoming stronger,” says Ebtihal Naser, one of the co-operative women and Fidaa Rashid nods her head in agreement.

“First my husband was hesitant for me to participate in the project, but now he supports me wholeheartedly. I earn income for the family and our village is developed.”

The village has had several visits from LO Gotland that the women express great appreciation over their Swedish co-operative partner.

“They have opened our eyes and shown that we can change our lives. We feel that they are friends who care about us. It means an enormous lot!”

Tradition and the occupation are the most significant reasons for poverty in the Palestinian countryside, thinks Shereen Nammari from the women project’s co-operative organisation, the AL-Mortaga Foundation. She is 29 years old, a mother of two and one of the founders of the organisation. She is a driving force who is convinced that it is possible to reduce poverty by supporting women and young people.

“Especially in the villages the men decide and refuse to allow the women. This means that the villages do not develop. To this is the occupation with roadblocks, settlements and the wall that stops or makes trade and transport more difficult.
Women and young people have so much energy and creativity. I usually say to the women in Doma that they can change the world, but they can begin with Doma.”

Published: 2009-10-10

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