Angelika Madi – Afnan Al Galil, Arraba (06.02.13)
Angelika lives in Arraba. She is the director of Afnan al Galil, a non-profit organization that promotes women’s leadership education and empowerment. We talked about women, freedom and traditional Palestinian embroidery. (scroll down for the interview)
What does women’s empowerment mean to you?
It means that men and women have the same opportunities in life – maybe they want to be housewives and mothers, but maybe they want to go out and make a career, and that should be up to the woman to decide. It also means that women express themselves: they have a lot of wishes and needs, but sometimes they are too afraid or too shy to express them. I’d like them to fight for their own needs, but it has to be done step by step, especially, in the Arab society. People have to get used to these things; it must be done together with men. Another part that’s important to me is freedom – freedom of choice, of decisions, of the body. The society is organized around families. There are relationships inside the family, but not between women in general. Women should organize themselves outside the family.
The Afnan Al Galil center was opened 5 years ago. Do you feel there has been a change already?
Yes, I think there has. At the beginning people were very suspicious about what we do here. We said we want to do something for women, so some people understood that it’s automatically against men. But, of course, that’s not the issue. To come to our meetings to discuss things that are important for the community – that was not easy; very few women came. But today it’s natural and more women come.
How are the young women influenced by the center’s activities?
We have a youth group; they also work on empowerment and community involvement. For example, they would like to bring more awareness to the influences of an early marriage. We work on a small magazine that addresses local issues, like exceptional women from the village and what they do. We work on reviving and restoring old Palestinian heritage. This is even more important for the younger generation that they’re aware of their own heritage and value it, because it’s part of their identity and where they came from. They are interested in technology like all young people, but they shouldn’t forget their heritage. They see it here – in the building and handcrafts that have become fashionable again. Seeing older women that can still make changes in their lives also means a lot for the younger generation.
How many women come here regularly?
Women come here for different occasions – some to the embroidery class, some to the women’s club or the weekly meeting of the magazine, some only for trips. All together around 80 take part in the activities, while the inner circle amounts to about 20.
Women’s circles offer mutual support and assistance. How do you think the circle here differs from the one they have in their families?
I think for some women it’s easier to talk to someone they’re not very close to. We agreed that our conversations remain here, so they feel safe to talk. Also, we address deeper issues, not small talk. We’d like to motivate them – they’re not used to talking about their real feelings and needs. Sometimes they think they don’t have the right to talk or they’re not important enough.
Do you think your different background and education from Germany help you to promote this project?
Yes. I’m a social pedagogue. My education is practical; I worked with mothers and children in Germany. I’m not a feminist, but I was always occupied with women’s issues. I belong to the generation of students’ revolts in Europe. Women’s emancipation and liberation were big issues, and I was influenced by that. When I came to Arraba (16 years ago) there was nothing like that here. The roles in society were still very strict. Arab society is part of the Israeli society, and they saw that women go out to work, and there was also a need for more money. Young girls now have a totally different life from their mothers and grandmothers; sometimes there are worlds between them. The society used to be very agrarian and simple, and the change is big. I see the development as a positive thing. It has become normal for women to work, but it’s still not normal for men to participate in “typical” women’s work, like house work or children’s education; they do some things but not enough.
One of the projects in Afnan al Galil is preservation of traditional Palestinian embroidery. Lamia, the embroidery teacher, joined our conversation.
Is there an embroidery style or pattern that’s specific to Arraba?
Angelika: I don’t think so. In the past there were regional differences, and you could recognize where the wearer comes from by the pattern, colors and style. Now it’s a mixture of patterns. Arraba was famous for its lace. There is only one woman that can still do that, so that technique is going to die out because young women don’t use it anymore.
Lamia: We take our patterns from pattern books of traditional cross-stitch embroidery; sometimes we change them creating our own original pattern. It used to be red thread on black fabric. Recently I’ve seen different fabric colors in Ramallah and other places, but here we embroider geometrical patterns mainly on black cotton fabrics.
Do women here still wear traditional dresses? Are there any other embroidered articles that people use?
Angelika: Mostly elderly women wear traditional dresses, few of them are hand embroidered. You can see embroidery on a lot of things, even more than clothes. Many have wall hangings, cushions, small bags.
Lamia: I have a dress I embroidered that I wear for special occasions, shawls, a cover for Quran, wallets, cellphone case, mirror frame and trays. Many people buy cushions here.
In the past girls started learning embroidery at the age of six to prepare the trousseau. Do girls come here to learn embroidery?
Angelika: Some women bring their daughters. And some girls come to learn; it’s a hobby for them.
Lamia: We encourage girls to learn by paying for their work, which we sell at the shop. Girls also like the embroidered hair clips and cellphone cases.
Traditional dresses have a language: from the choice of the fabric, colors and decorative motifs one could learn about the social and financial status of the wearer. Do people still understand the language of the dress?
Angelika: I think the language has changed. Today when women choose to wear them it’s an expression of their identity, their belonging to the ethnic group, maybe to show that they are Palestinian. A dress like that has a wow effect. It’s an art – wearing art makes one feel special. We don’t expand on the meaning of patterns and colors. I think we should stress that more.
Angelika, what are your plans for the future of Afnan al Galil?
We have a lot of ideas; the question is how to realize them. I would like to develop tourism more, but I can’t do that alone. There has to be an effort from the municipality as well, but there isn’t much going on in that direction. Tourism is not a real project in the municipality. I feel that it’s kind of neglected – there is a potential here, old buildings that should be renovated, traditions and so on. The municipality has other problems; it is very limited in financial resources, so tourism is not a first priority. We try to do things on our own – participate in events, markets, in the olive festival in the Galilee.
There is cooperation with Misgav women’s group; I would like to see this Arab-Jewish women’s group grow. There is much need in the Galilee of people coming together and communicating. We live side by side, but people don’t know each other. Sometimes we live like on different planets even when there are 2 -3 km between us. If you leave politics aside, there are normal people for whom it’s much easier to come together.
How would you like to see the women of Arraba in 10 years?
In general I’d like to see all women happy and satisfied with their lives and have economical security. I’d like young people to have visions and opportunities in their lives, to study, to work. I would like to see men and women as partners that support each other.