East Jerusalem is home to the city’s Palestinian community, which constitutes approximately 40% of the population. It functions, for the most part, as a separate entity from the Jewish communities to the west in terms of its ethnic, cultural and religious affiliations, as well as its political status, education system, quality of municipal and health services, and relationship with the establishment. The population of East Jerusalem is made up of a patchwork of distinct neighborhoods, customs and religious practice; however, traditional attitudes in Palestinian society regarding women are commonly held across East Jerusalem and they generally do not allow for freedom of choice, expression and activity with regards to sexuality and family. The level of awareness of many East Jerusalemite women regarding sexual health in terms of medical rights and family planning, as well as healthy sexuality, is significantly lower than that of most of their Jewish counterparts in West Jerusalem.
In the process of mapping the issues that have created the vacuum of knowledge and services for East Jerusalemite women, Lada’at identified three primary obstacles: a strong social-cultural taboo against discussing sexual issues and providing access to information; cultural attitudes that refute the right to medical confidentiality; and a dearth of health services – as well as awareness of the right to access those services – due to both a flawed system and a language barrier. These obstacles can be responsible for dangerous or even life-or-death situations for women. They limit women’s autonomy in regard to their health and control of their own bodies in areas such as consent and reproductive freedom, and can prevent them from accessing higher education and employment opportunities.
Lada’at’s Arabic department was established in 2021. Our Arabic-language counseling center, staffed by 8 East Jerusalemite women, provides counseling on all aspects of sexuality and sexual and reproductive health, and is available for emergency guidance and assistance 24/7, per the needs that we assessed on the ground. Our work with the women who contact us sometimes develops into taking them to emergency services to assist with the language barrier, scheduling procedures and accompanying them to provide practical and emotional support.
Our Arabic-language online presence, specifically our Instagram account, has become an important component of our work in East Jerusalem. The majority of our followers are young Jerusalemite women aged 18–34 and the informational posts reach thousands of user each month. Our Arabic-language website continues to be accessed by tens of thousands of people every year, many of whom are from East Jerusalem, and our new Facebook page and closed group are reaching new audiences.
Lada’at’s education pilot in Arabic was launched in 2022 in three East Jerusalem schools following the training of students from the Elbaschir Program for Excellence in East Jerusalem to serve as volunteer facilitators. The workshops have proven to be successful and popular, and we look forward to expanding our Arabic-language educational programming.
Another developing area of activity is a pilot for informal education for young women from East Jerusalem in the framework of women’s circles. The first women’s circle workshop for East Jerusalemite university students, facilitated by one of our Arabic-speaking volunteers, took place in early 2022. The workshop was a great success and we are currently expanding the pilot.