Empowering Women in Times of Crisis — A Happy Story in Israel.

Like most events in recent weeks, International Women’s Day was overshadowed by the threat of the Novel Coronavirus (COVID-19).  The threat of this global pandemic has destroyed the confidence of everyone, from macho men to world leaders.

So why should I talk about women’s empowerment?  And why now during such a crisis when everyone is expected to be sheltering-in-place in the safety and security of their home?  Because many women and girls do not feel safe.

It is a well-documented fact that gender-based violence increases during humanitarian emergencies and conflicts.  Reports from China suggest that the Coronavirus has already caused a significant spike in domestic violence there.  Local police stations saw a threefold increase in cases reported in February compared with the previous year, according to Wan Fei, the founder of an anti-domestic violence NGO.

This is precisely why the issue of empowering girls and women in our society must never be overlooked, especially not during this global pandemic.

The #metoo movement and the success of women’s sports teams in promoting equality in and off the field have created a new paradigm on the issue of women empowerment in western society.

Israel is a country with an image of empowered women from female combat soldiers to fighter pilots and politicians to business leaders.  But do they really reflect all women in Israel?  What about women from Arab and Ultra-orthodox Jewish communities whose numbers now represent near 50% of the female population?  Do these women feel empowered?  In what context do they celebrate International Women’s Day?

The theme for International Women in 2020 is “ I am Generation Equality: Realizing Women’s Rights.” How much do the women from the (not so) minority communities feel that they have equal rights?

Last month, a special event occurred that was a defining moment of empowerment for a group of young Bedouin girls from a small town in Galilee.

A Happy Story in Israel

On March 9th, without much fanfare, at a Darca School in an Arab village in the Galilee, I was pleased to see a class of 30 Bedouin teenage girls being honored for their training in self-defense and fitness.

Photo credit: Jordan Polevoy

It was part of an innovative training program introduced by Budo for Peace that promotes tolerance, women’s empowerment and coexistence.

What made the event even more significant was that the instructor, Shadya, is the first Israeli Arab woman to win a gold medal for  Israel at a world Karate competition.  Shadya is considered a role model for women’s empowerment in the Arab sector.  In 2005, a film about her life won the best documentary of the year in Israel and PBS produced an educational program on women empowerment around her story. The film, “Shadya,” showcased a teenage Arab girl and the conflict between her ambition and tradition.

Now 33 and the mother of 2, Shadya, fit as ever, was ceremoniously giving the karate suits to her new class of teenage Bedouin girls.

Was that a defining moment in these young girl’s lives? Was this a historic social turning point for the girls in their village and beyond?

History, like memory, is based on peak defining moments in one’s life.  In the book The Power of Moments by Chip and Dan Heath, they discuss why our most cherished memories are clustered into a brief period during our youth.

That small event at the Darca High School in Shibli demonstrated that positive change in civil society is happening in Israel. Slowly, but surely.

While the Coronavirus will define 2020 as a pivotal moment in Israel and world history, we should not miss or underestimate other defining moments that our younger generation is experiencing in this era of social change.




About the Author
Danny Hakim OAM is a 2 times world karate silver medalist and holds a 7th-degree black belt from Japan. He is the founder of Budo for Peace and chairman of Sport for Social Change. He is a board member of The Azrieli foundation, MWU ( Maccabi World Union), ALLMEP (the Alliance of Middle East peace), and Kids Kicking Cancer. In 2017 he was inducted into the Australian Maccabi Hall of Fame, and in 2019 was the recipient of the Bonei Zion award for Culture, Art, and Sport. In January 2022, he was awarded the Order of Australia Medal for service to the international community.