You are here

“I was able to change the direction of my life” - How a safe space for women provided compassion and hope

My husband started physically and verbally abusing me the day we got married. I discovered a week after our wedding day that he was a drug user. 

So says Huda, a 30-year-old woman living with her three children in Anata refugee camp in Jerusalem, close to the Israeli separation wall. The camp lacks adequate infrastructure and services, and residents suffer from neglect, overcrowding, and high levels of poverty. 

Huda was always a top student, but despite her desire to continue her studies, her husband did not allow it, leaving her feeling sad and oppressed. Instead of pursuing her own further education, she immersed herself in furthering the education of her children.  

A Safe Space

At a women’s center in the refugee camp, Huda was told about a safe space for women in the Old City of Jerusalem, operated by the Red Crescent Society and supported by UNFPA. Safe spaces like this one are informal centers where women and girls can feel physically and emotionally safe and supported. Here, they can enjoy the freedom to express themselves without fear of judgment or harm. The safe spaces also provide an ‘essential package of services’ for women and girls facing violence. These services include mental health support, psychosocial services, legal counseling, and economic empowerment. 

The safe space Huda attends in Jerusalem is one of nine safe spaces in Palestine. UNFPA supported the establishment of these safe spaces in coordination with local organizations and provided them with materials, technical support, and development of the essential package of services. Today, there are three safe spaces in the Gaza Strip, four in the West Bank, and three in Jerusalem. A fourth safe space will open soon in Gaza.  

A distressingly common situation

Huda is one of many Palestinian women who face GBV. A survey by the Palestinian Central Bureau of Statistics in 2019 showed that nearly one in three women has reported at least one form of violence (psychological, physical, sexual, social, or economic) by their husbands in the preceding 12 months. 

“Women here also face legal and political violence, says Khawla Abu Ghazaleh, the psychosocial counselor at the safe space. “In Jerusalem, Palestinian women facing GBV often do not report to the Israeli police as they do not perceive this will be helpful, and they fear they might be separated from their children. This is why we work with a protection network of Palestinian organizations in Jerusalem, which collaborate to provide GBV cases with the needed support”. 

The only true support that I received in my life

As part of the economic empowerment program at the safe space, Khawla supported Huda to pursue her higher education. In July of this year, Huda completed a one-year diploma course in accounting and office management at the Young Women’s Christian Association (YWCA). 

“At first, my husband was against my enrollment in this course. But I insisted on going and worked hard to complete the diploma and the three-month training. I was one of the top students in this course and I am very grateful that I was given this opportunity. I benefitted “greatly from the life-skills courses that were part of this diploma” Huda says. 

Huda describes how the legal team helped her to understand her rights and provided her with legal advice. “The legal team is helping me to get a divorce from my husband. He received a restraining order two months ago, according to which he is not allowed to come near the house where I am staying with my children”.
 


Open day organized by Jabalia safe space. 2019 ©UNFPA

Khawla noticed the change in Huda’s personality over the course of two years, “The first time I saw her, she was very depressed and had thoughts of self-harm. Now, she is much happier and stronger. I believe that it is important to continue supporting safe spaces in Palestine in order to help as many girls and women as possible.”

Huda is now looking for a job and is optimistic about the coming days. She says “I feel like a different person now. I am much more confident and I feel powerful. Thanks to Khawla and everyone at the safe space, I was able to change the direction of my life. The safe space has been the only true support that I received in my life”.