Palestinian women hope to blaze a trail of innovation in science, technology

RAMALLAH (TURKISH JOURNAL) – Nishat Mirza – Gender equality can only be accomplished when males and females in a given society are equipped with the same opportunities to thrive. Women taking part in science and innovation is critically important because STEM mastery is the key to successful societal outcomes for any nation in the 21st century.

Ramallah is a beautiful Palestinian city located in the central West Bank, north of Jerusalem, with white stone houses in the midst of the mountains, covered with green olive trees.  There’s always an abundance of sunshine inspiring hope, and cool breezes to lift one’s spirits. However, the youth there struggle to have their voices heard against the Israeli occupation. Science is a vehicle through which they can excel, and research shows that it is especially important for girls to receive STEM education in order for the entire society to thrive. 

Girls at the Ramallah Science Training Center start their day early in the morning, with classes starting at 8 am followed by long laboratory hours. It is a residential program with the evening hours reserved for study. The work they may choose after graduating is bound by many restrictions. For example, to travel to Israel or around Palestine freely, they need permits. To work in Israel, they may be required to speak fluent Hebrew. Also, applying for jobs in other countries might be difficult for them due to their refugee status. Palestinian girls need assurance of a sound STEM education and opportunities to discuss their STEM education results and present their innovations and insights to an international audience. In order for them to achieve these goals, it is necessary, of course, for them to have the freedom and monetary support to travel. 

The youth of Palestine have so much potential and they are striving for opportunities to grow into this potential. I have spoken personally with a group of students between the ages of 19 to 22 named Suhad, Wafa, Rana, and Bushra. Each of these young women aspires to work within the public health sector in improving the lives of Palestinians and creating a more promising future for their country. Their academic tracks include Medicine, Nursing, Pharmacy, as well as Laboratory Medical Research. They want the voices of Palestinian women to be recognized around the world through the pathways of Technology and Innovation. Second year student, Rana wants to be Pharmacist, so that in future, she can provide free medicine to Palestinians during humanitarian crisis. 

The students here at the Ramallah Women’s Training Centre, are already familiar with the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), since their school is part of the United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees (UNRWA). They volunteer at their neighborhoods; in park cleaning activities or tutoring children, as well as volunteering at local health clinics to advocate for SDGs 4, Quality Education and SDGs 3, Health and Wellbeing. They are determined to work for the SDGs also known as the ‘Global Goals’, because they want to contribute to Agenda 2030 and be part of healing process. 

Manal Salem, a senior at Pharmacy Department started UNRWA’s outreach program on her 2nd year of college. The 2nd year students of Pharmacy, Nursing and Medical Laboratories specialization participate annually in an open “Medical Day”, organized in cooperation with Jasmine Charitable Society for children with special needs. On Medical Day, all Health Sciences students voluntarily provide free medical examinations for children with disability. Students also collaborate with Al-Bireh Women’s Arab Union Society, where students provide free medical care for elderly and the needy in society.

Life in the Refugee Camps is very difficult; many checkpoints cutting through Palestinian towns, the youth there have to wait hours in lines to travel from village to village or home to work. Their daily life activities are delayed by this situation. The Students say, “We don’t have any problems with the Jews, we have problems with the occupation”. In Palestine, Muslims, Christian and Jews live in harmony; the Israeli occupation in Palestinian land is hindering the youths and their fullest potential to thrive. The UNRWA Women’s Training Center is helping these refugee young women to get a science education to stand up on their feet independently. If it was not for UNRWA, these young women would not get the opportunity to study STEM and build their own society into better. An educated mother raises an educated family, UNRWA have been providing educational opportunities to young women and girls since the 1950s. 

Recently, a large amount of budget cut is affecting the work of UNRWA, around $500 million yearly US Aid have been discontinued for UNRWA, while the United States created UNRWA at the first place to help refuges in the 1950s.                                                                                                  

Leading to job lose for the poorest of poor in Palestine and surrounding areas such as Jordan, Lebanon, Syria and Egypt. Teachers’ Aids, Mental Health workers and many others have lost their jobs, and the amount of student enrollment at a given class is shortening. As the United Nations is build on protecting Human Rights, the UNRWA has been at the fore-front on helping the Refugees. To put an end to the work of UNRWA would not be fair without ending the Arab-Palestinian-Israeli conflict. 

Gwyn Lewis, Director of UNRWA Operations in the West Bank says that “the Right to Education should not be Political”, when UNRWA has been providing quality education to refugee children for decades. There are 46,000 children enroll at UNRWA schools every year, they are from ages 6 to 15 from grades 1 to 9. They learn Science, English, Math, Robotics, as well as Human Rights and Conflict Resolution. Girls in high school also get the opportunity to serve as a class Ambassador on various programs such as “Director for a Day” or Diplomat on a Youth Assembly. The UNRWA schools hone students’ leadership skills along with educating the future of Palestine, equipped with technology and advanced science curriculums. The girls learn same skills as boys with additional classes in scientific laborites based on interests. 

While traveling in Palestine what amazed me was that, both the Israeli and Palestinian youths have similar goals of thriving in life, traveling the world and building their country. What I saw in Tel Aviv, in Yafa, in Jerusalem, in Bethlehem and in Ramallah, the youth there have so much potential, they can live together in harmony when there are no checkpoints.  When Palestinian youths do not have to stop in lines between every village to village in a checkpoint, they will be able to focus more on their education and work. They will be able to travel from Ramallah to Tel Aviv without having to show a permit at the checkpoint, they will gain access to every part of their land with dignity. The Palestinian young women and girls are striving to speak their voices and utilize their skills to build a better world. Their efforts are waiting to be flourished. 

Photo: UNRWA
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