Grassroots International: Palestine
The Women's Empowerment Project
In the West Bank villages of Bil’in and Nil’in, just outside of Ramallah, 30 women have used the power of honey to keep their communities – and their livelihoods – cohesive and resolute.
Informally known as the Palestine beekeeping project, women from across the West Bank raise bees and cultivate honey, then gather it, use it, sell it and help support their families in the face of the Israeli Occupation. This innovative program was instituted by Grassroots International’s Women’s Empowerment Project, which is partnered with the Union of Agricultural Work Committees (UAWC)-Palestine and funded by United Methodist Women.
Since the second intifada began in 2000 – and the Israeli Separation Wall was erected shortly after – Palestinian women have faced especially precarious economic, social, cultural and political conditions. As violence intensifies, dies down and escalates again, Palestinian women must increasingly enter the work force, and have, in many cases, become the main source of income for their families. The Separation Wall has intensified the upheaval; poverty and unemployment has increased to nearly 40 percent for men and 85 percent for women over the last three years, due to further closure along its borders. To impose greater hardship, limited water in such areas as the Hebron district impedes women from developing sustainable agricultural projects – at least 25 Palestinian wells and 32 Palestinian cisterns were demolished in 2011 by Israeli forces, according to local reports.
There could not have been a better time for the beekeeping project, as well as the other initiatives under Grassroots International’s Women’s Empowerment Project in Palestine as well as its Palestinian Agricultural Relief Committees (PARC). This support helps low-income Palestinian women develop small-scale enterprises and form teams of agricultural cooperatives – systems in which farmers voluntarily join together to grow, harvest and market agricultural products United Methodist Women has consistently funded these cooperatives for the past eight years. Types of other small-scale endeavors in the purview of the Palestine Women’s Empowerment Project are:
- Poultry pens for egg production.
- Fruit and vegetable gardens.
- Sheep farms for wool and meat.
- Cattle breeding grounds.
In all projects, the cooperative model increases family nutrition and food security, creates economic opportunities for women, fosters leadership and raises women’s status in Palestinian society. It also helps prevent the further fragmentation of Palestinian communities and ensures farms are communal and firmly rooted in the women’s daily realities.
Those realities are harsh. The Hebron district is the largest and most populous area in the West Bank. The land is arid, rocky and heavily militarized by both Palestinian and Israeli authorities. Political, economic and social tensions are exacerbated by the constant expansion of Israeli settlements into the area. Parts of the Hebron District in the West Bank are home to between 30,000, and 140,000 Palestinians, yet Israel has full military and administrative control over the zones, according to Temporary International Presence in the City of Hebron (TIPH).
Hebron is also the location in which the majority of Jewish settlements – illegal under international law – are built. The construction of several border closures and the Separation Wall have also blocked the flow of goods and services necessary for human health, wellbeing and economic life.
What makes all of these projects possible, especially the beekeeping? The UWAC is extraordinarily thorough in its vetting for these types of agricultural projects, including the four women’s beekeeping cooperatives in the Tubas district in the West Bank. Together with UAWC, the women’s committees target rural communities to assess family and community needs and to identify women who could benefit from small-scale enterprises.
Women are then selected to form cooperatives based on their knowledge, previous experience in target areas, leadership skills and volunteer involvement. Once beneficiaries are selected, a comprehensive training plan is developed in consultation with the women’s committees. The new women farmers formulate the type of small-scale enterprise project that best fits their needs and circumstances – UAWC then provides agricultural resources, vocational training and technical assistance throughout the entire project. Staff even helps the women to market their new products and provide them with packaging and quality control advice.
All of this progress can be seen through the 24 beehives distributed to the hard-working and dedicated women in Bil’in and Nil’in – as well as they honey they have produced.
The UAWC chose beekeeping for these women because honey and pollen are high-priced and popular products in the area, making them strong income-generators for the beneficiary families. Secondly, the area in which the project is located has vegetation conducive to the production of the nectar honey-producing bees seek. Finally, these UAWC workers organized themselves as the recommended collectives, keeping all of the hives together in one place, and distributing responsibility for taking care of the hives.
This process prioritizes the importance of good communication and sharing knowledge, as well as, experience in achieving better outcomes for the whole. These UAWC women proudly shared the fact that they have seen their number of hives and production of honey increase more than their neighbors’, who chose an individual approach to farming..
The spillover of the UWAC projects – and the rural female members of the four Women’s Agricultural Work Committees – floods their gender communities with goodwill and positive change, part of UAWC’s objective. The Women’s Empowerment Project in Palestine, according to Grassroots International, marks the first time the village has had a real collective group, and for many of the women it is also the first time they have had their own source of income.
Strengthening the women’s leadership and employment skills through the cooperative experience also empowers women more than emergency or relief projects, according to Grassroots. And enhancing women’s roles in society can bring them closer to attaining social and political rights. Beekeeping also maintains plant biodiversity, a benefit for the women’s environment. Through the collection of pollen, honeybees accelerate the fertilization of flowers, which increases the quantity of fruit produced by fruit trees by an estimated 25 to 30 percent. This fruit can be eaten by families or sold in market.
Despite the very difficulties of starting and running any project in a militarized zone and without freedom of movement across checkpoints, the projects are increasingly successful and generating more income and hope for women.. The UAWC, as well as United Methodist Women, are committed to the long-term sustainability of these projects. Project staff continues to support the women and their families by helping them to address problems, obtain materials and supplies, build relationships between participant families, and transfer their knowledge to other members of their families and communities.