Growing up in Palestine has always had its difficulties. My country has been colonized for 69 years, but that’s not the only problem. As a young woman, I am also surrounded by patriarchy. These challenges have shaped my past and continue to shape my present. As important as it is to acknowledge the restrictions, limitations and struggles that Palestinians face living under occupation, it is as crucial to recognize the cultural and social barriers imposed on women by the patriarchy rooted in my society. Young women in Palestine are victims of what I call an epidemic.
Patriarchy comes in different shapes and forms. Women can be discriminated against on many fronts. For instance, if you come from a Western country you, might believe that running is a normal practice. In Palestine, however, it is not; at least not for women! Running, in my country, is a male thing—just like with most other sports.
Personally, I have always loved running, but I have never got the courage to actually do it. I felt that I had to take into account other people’s feelings. I believed that the simple act of running could be seen as an offence or provocation. For many years, my secret passion was a private matter. However, in 2015 I joined Right to Movement running team and suddenly wearing my trainers and going for a jog became a political act.
Right to Movement started in 2012 and it’s now a growing community that helps young women like me turn their passion from private into public. Young women are now joining every day— turning what was considered unusual into normality. Thanks to my team, I now have the confidence to run in the streets without caring about what others will think.
Of course, there are still many people who disapprove. The looks, the catcalls and the way they watch every move I make as I lay one foot in front of the other screams “you do not belong here”. Despite this, I keep running.
As joining Right to Movement has helped me to break a cultural barrier through sports, being part of the YWCA has instilled in me the courage to lead and inspire other young women to overcome gender-based bias. I am not only a member of the local YWCA of Bethlehem, but also a board member of the National YWCA of Palestine. Through the YWCA sisterhood, I am becoming more and more confident that I am able to shape my own destiny.
I realize that change does not happen overnight, and running in the streets might not change the world. But it has changed mine. Sometimes, it takes one conscious act of defiance to break power structures, the first step in a life-changing leadership journey.