Tuesday, August 4, 2009

Palestinian women find new freedoms with art (The Melia Art Center)


Palestinian embroidery has been an artform practiced by women in the area for hundreds of years. But recently it has taken on new importance for women in villages in the West Bank- it has become the primary form of economic support for their families and has given these women new liberties that were inconceivable only a few decades ago, while supporting an isolated artform that was on the verge of dying out.

The Arab Orthodox Society is one of the oldest women's organizations in Jerusalem, and has been responsible for many services for people here, including free health care. "About twenty years ago we really began to take notice of the elaborate embroidery of the women from villages that came to the clinic," said Malo Zakarian. "We began to think that maybe we could use this to generate income for the women."

The Melia Art and Training center was established to train women in the art of native embroidery and to sell the work of these women in Jerusalem. They now have 550 women working from home with the Society from villages around the West Bank like Deir as-Sudan and cities like Hebron.

Setting up the organization had some difficulties, not least of which was the conservative Muslim culture of many of the women. In these villages it was inconceivable that women would serve as breadwinners, which was primarily a male role. "The husbands would restrict their wives. They would say that the women couldn't go out of the house, that they would take the embroidery to Jerusalem, things like that."

But Zakarian notes the changes that have occurred since the center was established. In the last few years, unemployment has skyrocketed in the West Bank as former job opportunities in Israel were closed off due to new restrictions on travel. As a result, women in villages now have the new role of being primary income earners for their families, which has come with new social liberties. "The women have gone so far forward you wouldn't believe it. Their dress, their confidence, their attitude, it's progressed so much."

But also importantly the Union has become a place where women, across economic and religious lines, can gather and talk freely about issues in their lives. "They are all very comfortable here talking with other women. There is no division between Muslim and Christian between us."

note- While this is not directly about classical music, it is about cultural development. And I couldn't pass a story like this.

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