Women’s stories about education
Contributed by Arab Educational Institute on 25.10.2013:
The following are a series of stories of women from the Bethlehem countryside (villages and camp). Made for a project
about women’s rights in 2012, they give a idea of the social situation of many Palestinian women. The focus here is on the field of education.
Leaving school early
I am Wafa’, 44 years old, from Artas. I’m a married woman with four sons and two daughters. I didn’t complete my school education; I only finished the 5th grade due to my parent’s concerns about people’s gossips. It wasn’t common for girls to go out to school. After a couple of years, I got engaged at the age of 13; then we were separated. Afterwards he got engaged to another girl for a while, then left her due to problems and returned to propose me again. I accepted due to family pressure as my brother got married to his sister.
My husband was a Palestinian activist. He was imprisoned by the Israeli occupation forces for a long time. I therefore suffered much and in many aspects of my life, including the social and economic side. At the same time I faced difficulties in raising my children. I couldn’t help them academically because I am not educated, and I couldn’t afford to give them a private tutor. As a result they left school and were forced to work hard in order to improve our financial situation.
Secretly going to school
My name is Ahlam from Al-Khader. I am now 42 years old. When I was in the fourth grade, my father forced me to stop going to school while he allowed my brothers to continue theirs. His reason was fear that the occupation army would harass me while going to school. I tried to convince him that I wanted to continue my education but with no hope. I went to talk to my uncle as he could convince my father. However, he to the contrary encouraged him and told him that taking me from school was the best solution to avoid the harassment of the Israeli occupation army. As for my mother, she was not in a position to convince my father.
My father was a farmer and he used to go to the fields early. I was worried and thought of a way to go to school. Despite the strong opposition from the family, I decided to go to school. I used to wear my clothes in the early morning and put my school luggage in a plastic bag and went to school, but I was forced to leave early before my father’s arrival home. Unfortunately, he discovered my departure from home after two weeks, and he beat me and prevented me from going out of the house. After that day, I lost my dream of completing my education.
Parents complain against beating at school
My name is Safa’, 38 years, from Artas. I am a married woman with three daughters and two sons. Once my seventh-grade daughter started to refuse going to school as well as some of her classmates. After some days of discussion, we discovered that the school principal used to beat the students and insult them using bad words which hurt psychologically. As a result, we as parents complained at the Ministry of Education district office in Bethlehem. Fortunately, they gave a quick and positive response. Their interference resulted in transferring the school’s principal to another school. She was also kept under close observation for a probation period. Without the parents’ and students’ involvement, there wouldn’t have been such quick action.
Not accepting beating at school
My name is Suad Daragmeh from Dheisheh camp. I am married and have three daughters and two sons. One day, my 11-year-old daughter, who studies at the Dheisheh UNRWA School, came back home crying and complaining about her teacher who beat and humiliated her and used verbal abuse against her in the classroom. Next day I went with my daughter to her school, and presented my complaints to the school principal. Unfortunately I did not receive any response or regret. Instead, she started justifying the school and what the teacher had done. I directly went to the main UNRWA office to submit a complaint against the school and asked them to start an investigation.
I faced people around me who asked me to give up the complaint. Although they practiced much pressure on me, I insisted to go on in order to defend my daughter and protect other girls from beating and humiliation. Within 24 hours, a committee was formed to investigate the complaint. The school teacher was dismissed from her position as teacher due to malpractices in the classrooms, as the committee discovered that this teacher used to beat students and used violence against them.
This was a good example for other teachers. They should know how to treat students in the classroom respectfully and with appreciation.
Accepting a woman in the military field
My name is Fatima, 35 years old, from al-Walajeh. I’m a divorced woman. I finished my high school before getting married. After my divorce, I decided to complete my education and chose to join a military field (my dream since childhood). At the beginning, I was faced with rejection because such a field is considered not desirable for girls in Palestinian society. It was even more rejected in the small community of al-Walajeh. After struggling for a long time to get the agreement of my father and brothers, they eventually supported me and accepted the idea. I am very happy to have this chance. It gave me self-confidence because I achieved what I wanted.
I deprived my daughter from studying what she wanted
I am Amal from Dheisheh refugee camp. I am 50 years old and have 3 daughters and 3 sons. One of my daughters graduated from high school and decided to study journalism and media in one of the local universities. Unfortunately, this particular university was far away from our camp, and she had to change transportation twice. Due to our concern for the situation in the Palestinian territories – the behavior of occupation soldiers and the military checkpoints – and the risks students face when going to their universities, I and my husband decided not to allow her joining this university. We obliged her to apply for a university closer to home to study Arabic language.
In the year afterwards, my son graduated from high school and chose the same university subject chosen by my daughter. However, we didn’t prevent him; on the contrary, we encouraged him to study what he desired and gave him the freedom to choose any subject. After some years, my daughter finished her education and got a BA degree in Arabic, but she was not satisfied with what she had achieved and decided not to work with this degree.
Now I feel sad and guilty because I deprived my daughter from choosing what she desired while allowing her brother to choose what he wanted. I had convinced myself by putting obstacles which in fact could have been overcome.
People didn’t accept a female engineer
I am Amira from Bethlehem. I finished my high school and got a high grade for my tawjihi. I decided to travel to a Jordanian university to study architectural engineering .I studied hard to go back to my country having a certificate in this field in 1994. After a while, I opened my private engineering office. However, I faced difficulties to get clients because the people didn’t accept the idea of having a female engineer/architect. I was forced to apply for a public school to teach physics.
I will hang my diploma in the kitchen
I am Arwa from al-Khader, I finished my tawjihi with a 92% grade and decided to take a secretary degree which usually takes one year to complete. Once, a teacher at the college where I decided to study asked me about the reason to choose secretarial studies while I had the opportunity to get a BA in various subjects. I answered: “Why to get higher education while at the end I’m going to hang it [the diploma] on the kitchen wall?”
Stopped caring for gossips
A woman from Bethlehem told the story of her daughter: “I just want to tell you about what happened with my daughter after she finished her tawjihi. She applied to one of the universities in Europe to get her BA education and received an acceptance letter. We, as her family, much encouraged her but we were confronted by many complaints and objections from people around us. One of the complaints: “How can you allow your daughter to live and study alone in Europe where there is no safety – are you insane?” However, despite all the pressure, my daughter travelled and proceeded with her education. In the second year, a man here proposed to my daughter but she refused and insisted to go back to Europe to continue her studying. We just stopped caring for people’s complaints and gossips and now my daughter got her BA degree and is very happy in her life.
From the US to Berlin to Birzeit
When my daughter finished her high school, she wanted to study her BA at Birzeit University. Few girls used to join that university because of the long distance on one hand, and the Israeli checkpoints on the other hand. At that time I supported my daughter’s decision and stood beside her as she completed her BA at that university. After that, her ambition was to study an MA in the United States. Due to my support as well she traveled and came back with a PhD degree. Then she decided to travel to Berlin to take her professorial degree. Now she is a teacher at Birzeit University.
After my daughter’s experience many of my family members, such as cousins and brothers-in-law, started to accept the idea of giving a chance to their daughters to go and study away or abroad.
Certificates lost in Kuwait
My name is Intisar from al-Walajeh, 40 years old. I spent my childhood in Kuwait but did not complete my education although since childhood my dream was completing my education. After the Gulf War, I was in the ninth grade. We left Kuwait out of fear for the consequences of the war, and I didn’t bring my certificates. My father went to the Ministry of Education to register me at a school. However, they asked him for my certificate as proof that I finished my 9th grade, but we didn’t have any document. Unfortunately, the Ministry of Education did not cooperate and we weren’t able to get any of our documents from Kuwait because of the war. Therefore, I lost my chance to complete my education and I blame the Palestinian Ministry of Education for not cooperating and depriving me of having a good education.