Sheffield women show solidarity with Palestinian women

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A group of Sheffield women have continued to support young Palestinian women throughout the pandemic, helping them to pursue their studies despite some living under occupation and siege conditions.

Sheffield Palestine Women’s Scholarship Fund was a charity set up in 2007 following an International Women’s Day Conference in 2006, to enable young Palestinian women on the Gaza Strip and the West Bank to progress into higher education.

Donations and fundraising go towards paying for the women's university fees, of which, 56 students in Gaza and three students in the West Bank are currently being supported through the scheme.

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Sara Gowen, a founder of the Scholarship Fund and the secretary, said: “On International Women’s Day, it is good to recognise the links that women in Sheffield have made across the world. The Scholarship Fund is an example of how, by working together, we can support women’s right to education at every level.

The Scholarship Fund’s organising group.The Scholarship Fund’s organising group.
The Scholarship Fund’s organising group.

“The Scholarship Fund students are active members of their community, giving back in volunteer time as a way of thanks for their scholarship. Their lives are not easy but we can learn from their commitment and determination.”

She told how young Palestinian women often receive limited funding, as it goes to the sons in the family instead.

Sara believes the Scholarship Fund is one way that people within communities in Sheffield can help support the women in what is a basic right to education.

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She added: “It is an important act of non political solidarity to support people living in very difficult situations.”

Sara Gowen, secretary and a founder of the Scholarship Fund.Sara Gowen, secretary and a founder of the Scholarship Fund.
Sara Gowen, secretary and a founder of the Scholarship Fund.

In July 2020, £31,000 covered 58 scholarships in Gaza and £8,000 covered three scholarships in the West Bank.

Wafaa El-Derawi, who volunteers with the Scholarship Fund in Gaza and works with the students, described how Covid-19 has added to the already difficult situation.

She said: “The situation here has its own peculiarity because here we are already living under a strict siege as a result of the Israeli military occupation. Another form of siege is the internal political fractures and the horrible state of poverty that is overwhelming the Gaza Strip. On top of all of this, we now have Covid-19 to deal with.”

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With the country likely to be in lockdown for a much longer period than other countries, the Scholarship Fund offers some optimism, as it seeks to support the most vulnerable students.

Eman El-Atawna, a pharmacy student in Gaza.Eman El-Atawna, a pharmacy student in Gaza.
Eman El-Atawna, a pharmacy student in Gaza.

Waffa added: “It is these students who need to feel and to know that they have not been forgotten, whilst the whole world is preoccupied with fighting the coronavirus pandemic. We give them hope for a better future and this is what we need right now: HOPE.”

Iba’a Yosif Hamoda, an engineering student in Gaza, said: “I have been suffering terribly from the cold as I need to stay up and study at night and the exams take place at night. The electricity is often cut off. I was able recently to purchase a small battery to run my laptop and sometimes I use the light on my phone to study and take exams. Not going to university is bothering me as I need to communicate with my colleagues and tutors, but my fear of being infected with coronavirus has forced me to stay home all the time. I hope to be successful in my studies and to meet the expectations of my loved ones, especially my mother who is struggling to provide for all my needs whilst I finish my studies.”

Pharmacy student, Eman El-Atawna, said: “The College of Pharmacy is a practical college and some of our courses need to take place inside laboratories. E-learning just cannot give us this practical, hands-on experience. We also have constant interruptions to our internet connection and the applications used by the university for e-learning are not always the best.”

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Fatma Nidal Radwan Abbas, an economics student in the West Bank, added: “To keep up I have no choice but to work at my studies. We have also had Covid-19 in the Amari refugee camp where I live and we’ve had other difficulties too. My uncles got arrested during a confrontation when Israeli forces came into the camp. I am determined to go on with my studies. I get the strength from myself. I am really motivated. Continuing my education is a given. I am the first sibling in my family to go to university.”

Iba’a Yosif Hamoda, an engineering student in Gaza.Iba’a Yosif Hamoda, an engineering student in Gaza.
Iba’a Yosif Hamoda, an engineering student in Gaza.

Such scholarships are valuable to Palestinian women as they already face barriers when trying to further their education and career prospects.

Last year, three young female students were detained, presumably for attending a legitimate university student group.

Palestinian women have also been criticised both online and offline for challenging male dominated roles, however, some women are determined to change the narrative.

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Mother of five, Naela Abu Jibba was unable to find a job despite studying social science at university, so she decided to become Gaza’s first female taxi driver.

Similarly, Salma al-Najjar became the first female petrol station attendant and believes ‘a woman should have a freedom of choice’.

The Scholarship Fund is managed in Sheffield by a small group of women working in partnership with the Sheffield Palestine Solidarity Campaign, and in Gaza by a panel from the Board of Directors of the Red Crescent Society and the Union of Health Work Committees.

Fatma Nidal Radwan Abbas, an economics student in the West Bank.Fatma Nidal Radwan Abbas, an economics student in the West Bank.
Fatma Nidal Radwan Abbas, an economics student in the West Bank.

Satellite groups in Rotherham, Saddleworth and Bolton, the Palestine Education Network at Sheffield Hallam University and the University of Sheffield Palestine Society are some groups that have taken part in fundraising for the Scholarship Fund.

For more information, see here.

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To donate, email: [email protected] or write to: SPWSF, 124 Cliffefield Road, Sheffield S8 9DN.

In these confusing and worrying times, local journalism is more vital than ever. Thanks to everyone who helps us ask the questions that matter by taking out a digital subscription or buying a paper. We stand together. Nancy Fielder, editor.

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