Palestinian Women Facing OddsReem Frainah
My professional life began on a very different track than where I am now. In university, I studied mathematics and, after graduation, I began teaching in an elementary school. After a short time, however, I felt that the routine of teaching was killing me. I wanted to do more and engage with the community in a different way. Therefore, I decided to undertake a one-year training course with the Gaza Community Mental Health Program (GCMHP), as part of their Women’s Empowerment Programme to support women survivors of violence in the Gaza Strip. This was the first time I had the opportunity to meet the late Dr. Eyad El Sarraj, the well-known beacon of human rights activism, who had founded, and was the Director of GCMHP, until his death in 2013.
Soon after meeting him, I joined forces with one of the programs within his institution. In 2009, the program began to evolve into an independent institution that was called ‘The Association for Women and Child Protection (AISHA)’, where I worked as the Programming Coordinator. In 2011, I finished my MA degree in Psychology and, in 2013, I became Executive Director of AISHA.
This year marks 23 since I began my new journey, learning from, teaching, and providing a variety of services to the most marginalized women and children who suffer in Gaza. It has been a long road of suffering for me, as a working mother of six children. During each escalation in Gaza, I have prayed to God to protect them. I have witnessed direct shelling and other violence. Each year, we hope the next one will be better, but, unfortunately a better tomorrow has not yet come to Gaza. But my hope remains.
My first, and most emotionally moving, experience working with survivors of conflict was in July 2006, during the Israeli incursion into the town of Atatra in the northern Gaza Strip. It was the first time that my trainer allowed me to speak directly with a victim. I gave her a hug to comfort her and make her feel somewhat safe. I still remember her profound pain and grief, due to the loss of her son, husband and brother. In that first session with grieving women, I found myself in tears. I shared my own feelings with women during the session. Losing my brother in 2008 was the hardest moment in my life, which made me realize the deep meaning of loss, but it also prompted me to strengthen my work to prevent violence and to alleviate the suffering of grieving women.
In the beginning, I focused my career on providing psychological support services, but over time I realized how much more comprehensive services were needed. For example, studies and reports have shown the rates of domestic violence against women have doubled as a result of the ongoing conflict. The Aisha Association for Women and Child Protection was established as an organization targeting women and providing specialized psychosocial support for women affected by conflict, after testimonies from women proved there was a gap. I recall one woman, for example, who lost a child, but did not find anyone to support her. Struggling to cope with the trauma alone, her marriage deteriorated, and she eventually divorced. Until now, I can hear her words to me: “Oh, I wish I had known you before!"
Ultimately, I believe the work we do should embody a profoundly humanitarian approach, at its very core, remaining focused on the population we serve, connecting to them, and not being driven by the interests of institutions. In spite of difficult situations, women are still the most resilient within their families during crises and must be supported. Aisha’s work contributes to improving the quality of services available to women in need in Gaza and expands the scope of work to include various sectors of humanitarian work, including economic, legal and health. Aisha is the first women's institution to receive support from the oPt Humanitarian Fund.
We believe that Palestinian women are capable of change and have the potential to change entire generations, in order to build a Palestinian state that lives in freedom, security and peace. We aspire to live the life that we deserve, just like other women and people of the world.