Together Beyond WordsEmpowering Women and Promoting Peace

The Courage to Be a Woman with a Voice

''You ask me to speak. How shall I speak when I have been taught silence since birth? I have been taught silence in my parents' house, in my own house; I have taught silence to my daughter. I have forgotten the sound of my voice. I have forgotten I have a voice.''          -- Sylvia Margia


''Please come and help me gather the women. We have to do something about the situation…'' My Druze friend Samira (not her real name) called to ask me last week.

Samira lives in a picturesque Druze village located on the slopes of the Zvul mountain in the Upper Galilee. Almost 6000 people, mostly Druze, whose ancestors came in the 16th century from what is now Lebanon, reside in the village today.

Just last week at 2AM in the morning an Israeli military ambulance passed through Hurfeish. It was carrying Syrians wounded in the fighting near the Israeli - Syrian border who sought medical help from Israel and were being transported to the Nahariyah Hospital. They were ambushed in the village because the local Druze wanted to check if the wounded Syrians were ones who had been fighting against their Druze brethren in Syria. The ambulance was stoned and managed to escape.  Luckily no one was hurt.

Fear and anger have been growing in the village because of the news about ISIS victories and their horrible deeds towards the Druze and other religious communities. This fear has led many to turn to their religion for protection. What this means for the women is that they are pressured to go back to wearing the traditional Druze garb, to cover their faces, to stop driving and stay mainly in their homes within the village. But some of the women, who are educated and have worked outside their homes and driven for several years, are trying to change the situation.

This is a challenging task because the village is a tight knit society with a great deal of family involvement in each other's lives to make sure the tradition is upheld and no one steps too far outside the social norms. If a woman rebels quite often the weapon of shunning is used to pressure her to ''behave''.

On a sunny morning in late June, we drove up the winding road to Samira's house located in the midst of an olive grove and a fruit orchard on the edge of the village. In the beautiful house we sat in one of the three living rooms with four other women Samira had invited. All professional women who years ago when the atmosphere had been more open, studied for their Bachelor's and even their Masters Degrees in a variety of professions including Art and Drama Therapy, Law and Education.
When we asked them to share a bit about themselves we were not prepared for the torrent of painful stories that flowed into the room from some hidden inner river whose dam had burst.

Waking up each day to see that another woman had become ultra religious and covered her face, the constant pressure especially from other women, to conform and return to their religion by the time they reach a certain age, the pressure not to drive outside the village or not to drive at all. Samira even shared that as a young girl of four growing up in the village she tried to pee while standing up like her five year old brother because she also wanted to be a boy. Her mother chastised her repeating the rhyme she would hear over and over throughout her childhood: ''Boys as a species are blessed while girls we should eradicate.''

Deeply empathizing with their sense of injustice, my first instinct was to tell them what I think they should do, offer solutions, but almost immediately I realized I had no idea what they could do. I had never lived in that society and even though I had passed through the village hundreds of times on my way to other parts of the Upper Galilee, I did not actually stop in all those years in the village to have a heart to heart dialogue with anyone. I was clueless.

Yet somehow they sensed they could talk with us about things they never shared anywhere else and soon I realized that this was the key, the same as it had always been. Our role was not to offer quick solutions, to try and save people from whatever they were going through. No, we had a different role. Our role was and is to support the creation of Safe Havens:  places of safety, support and caring where nothing had to be hidden, where everything could be felt and shared.  Our shame, anger, disappointment, mistrust and our longing for love, would all be welcome. Once we no longer had to stuff down all these feelings, no longer needed to expand our psychic energy hiding them, we could use that energy to strengthen our voices, speak out and change the situation.

Nitsan Joy