In October this year Nawal Slemiah embarked on a ten day whistle-stop tour of the UK. Nawal, the founder of the Women in Hebron co-operative based in Idna, Palestine, came to tell her story in universities, cafes and village halls. Women in Hebron is based on the belief “that developing Palestinian handicrafts is more than just an income-generating project. It is an act of community-strengthening, of honouring the role of women in our society, and a means to show sumud – steadfastness – in the face of the occupation of Palestine and the harm it has done to the people of Hebron.” Newal’s visit was hosted by Keira Gibson of the Strathearn Women for Independence Group. Keira blogs about the visit here.
From a single table to 150 members
We met Nawal in July 2018 and enjoyed tea
and figs with her whilst she told us the story of Women in Hebron. In 2005 Nawal took up embroidery as a way to occupy her mind and distract herself from the daily tensions of life in Hebron. She began to sell her products from a single table in the old souk (market) and soon realised that through this she could earn money, gain independence and also preserve a Palestinian tradition. Now, 13 years later, Women in Hebron has grown into a co-operative with 150 members. What’s more, it’s the only shop in the souk run by women.
Meaningful embroidery: from women, for women
The women’s traditional Palestinian embroidery is detailed and time-consuming. Embroidery, an important tradition in Palestine, is passed down from mother to daughter generation after generation. Nawal explained that each pattern holds a different meaning - for example it could represent a woman’s hometown, or contain a message of good luck or good health.
Nawal was particularly proud that Women in Hebron has recently become a member of the World Fair Trade Organization. She was hopeful that this would enable Women in Hebron to break into the UK Fair Trade market as times are hard in the old city of Hebron with fewer tourists visiting each year due to the occupation and the presence of illegal settlers. When Nawal mentioned that she was coming to the UK in October to promote Women in Hebron we immediately invited her to Scotland.
A ten-day whirlwind tour through the UK
Over the course of ten days in October Nawal travelled over 2,000km promoting Women in Hebron and their products. On 17th October, Nawal’s journey brought her to Scotland - first to Crieff, then Glasgow, where she met with the Scottish Fair Trade Forum who were able to provide some very helpful advice about the Scottish Fair Trade market. In the evening Nawal gave a talk at the Project Cafe. The event was well attended and began with a short video about Women in Hebron. Nawal explained how not only do the women of the co-operative face the challenge of living under military occupation but they also live in an extremely conservative society. The co-operative provides a way for them to earn a living and a degree of independence whilst also learning a traditional Palestinian skill. The event ended with a lively Q & A session. Afterwards Nawal sold many purses, bags, pencil cases and earrings and made useful contacts. The following morning she headed to Manchester to speak at the FiLia conference before visits to Cambridge, Brighton and back to London to complete her whirlwind tour.
Written by: Keira Gibson
More information about Women in Hebron