Fighting for women in the ‘dark heaven’ of Gaza strip
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Andalib Adwan Shehada has lived all but two of her 47 years here in the Gaza Strip, yet the neighbours along the alley where she and her family built a three-storey home in 1998 have taken to calling them "the foreigners."
Maybe it is because her 13-year-old son attends the American International School. Maybe it is because drummers escorted a mixed-gender crowd into the courtyard for her daughter's recent wedding celebration. Maybe it is because Adwan, a Muslim who fasts on Ramzan but rarely enters a mosque, does not cover her dark shoulder-length hair.
Or maybe it is because she has spent her life speaking boldly about the plight of women in this male-dominated society, challenging its attitudes toward rape and honour killing and divorce, spotlighting the abuse of women in a community that traditionally keeps it locked inside families and homes.
"I think life in Gaza is not suitable for a human - now it's worse than yesterday," she said in a recent interview, describing a "psychological siege" imposed by a combination of Israeli restrictions on travel and trade and the hegemony of the militant Hamas faction over local government and society. "If I accept that I deserve this kind of life, I will be losing the hope. I believe I deserve a better life than this, so I'll still fight."
Adwan, who goes by her original last name — which when combined with her first name means "aggressive nightingale" — lost a personal battle last month when Israel's Supreme Court rejected a petition by her and three other women to study in the West Bank. Adwan began a master's degree in gender studies at Birzeit University in 1999 but was blocked from attending classes after two semesters because of the second intifada.
Her larger crusade, though, continues here in Gaza, where she established the Community Media Centre in 2007 to train Palestinians in using documentary films and other techniques to expose the difficulties of daily life. The centre, whose $200,000 annual budget comes from Western organizations including Catholic Relief Services and the United States Agency for International Development, is the latest in a series of groups that Adwan has helped start or run since 1991.