ActionAid's Grace Nicholas and Tissam Zairia, West Bank.

Women of the West Bank

ActionAid's Senior Program Coordinator, Grace Nicholas shares the story of Tissam Zairia, a 38 year old sheep farmer from the town of A’Samua in Hebron

Tissam’s household of 17 has never had money for a bank account, but now the mother of 6 is looking forward to generating an income through her new business.  Tissam has received $2,500 worth of goats, certified healthy by the Palestinian Authority’s Department of Agriculture, through ActionAid’s project supporting women’s economic empowerment in Hebron governorate. The project is supported by the Australian people and Government through the Australia NGO Cooperation Program (ANCP)

In this area, there are few opportunities to work.  The Israeli occupation pinches hard. The Separation Wall is nearby, and cuts many Palestinian farmers off from their land and jobs. Midnight house raids by Israeli forces are a common occurrence, and the Palestinian Authority struggles to provide basic services in health and education. Tissam and her family share the experience of many Palestinian families, being unable to do more than scrape by.

Tissam and her extended family live in a traditional hosh, a series of rooms around a central courtyard entered through a door from the street. Two of the rooms sleep 8: parents plus their six children, the third has a collapsed ceiling and can’t be used, the fourth is a kitchen, the fifth a room to receive guests, and an aunt sleeps in the last room. At the front of the yard is a grove of lemon trees, and at the back of the courtyard is a pen where 6 woolly lambs are snuffling at their feed. When it is cold, they can shelter in a vast cave that opens out under the ground next to their yard.

Tissam has only recently received the sheep, but she is excited about the possibilities, and dreams of a bigger future. She is beaming as she tells how she spends 90 minutes a day so far on the sheep, but, if the first sales go well, she would look to expanding the flock, and learn how to breed them herself. One of the benefits of having such a  large household is that domestic duties can be shared. She is sure she could manage a bigger business.

These hopeful aspirations are rare in a place where women are often isolated within their homes and community as a result both of traditional values which seek to ‘protect’ women at home, compounded by the military occupation which makes it dangerous to travel to reach work or markets. Women are often dependent on men for all aspects of their lives, but ActionAid’s work has focused on giving women like Tissam back the power to use their voice.

Tissam has been part of a women’s REFLECT group for the past three years, focusing on developing a vision for her household and community with the support of other women sharing the same challenges. She also received training in financial planning and management, and she and her husband worked together to develop a plan for their business. They were able to choose how to invest their $2,500. They chose sheep because it gave Tissam the chance to build on knowledge she learned in childhood , as her father was a sheep-farmer.

“This is a great chance for me. REFLECT gave me the confidence to do this. I am more confident, and know how to be a leader in my household. Before I was shy, I didn’t believe in my skills. I could never have imagined myself as a businesswoman.”

The goats give Tissam and her family the chance to realise the potential of their modest assets. They have a small plot of land about 30 minutes’ walk from the house, where they grow olives and have now planted fodder to feed the animals. Tissam or her husband will market the animals when they are grown. Tissam is aware that she has a right to control the income which she will earn. “Even if my husband will sell the sheep, I will know everything. I will be with him every step.”

For Tissam, the need for a bank account remains remote. Any money saved will kept in a box in her family’s room. She wants only enough to keep for emergencies and her children’s education. “Praise God,” she says, “I hope that my children will all study at university”.  She even dreams of one day fixing this house, or of building a new house on the plot of land.

This campaign is backed by Australia's aid & development groups

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