NA'AM: Yes We Can!
Na’am, the acronym for Arab Women in the Center in Arabic, also means “yes we can.” That is not just a nice coincidence, it is the spirit of Na’am. Women helping women helping women to internalize that simple truth: Yes we can. Yes we can stand up to the convention, discrimination and racism that try to keep us down. Yes we can stand our ground when it comes to the freedom to decide our own futures. Yes we can raise our voices against all forms of gender-based aggression. Yes we can reach out a hand to our brothers, husbands and sons, and invite them to share our vision. Yes we can raise our daughters to be strong, independent, aware women. Yes we can continue, even in the face of fear, to fight injustice wherever we see it, to help our sisters stand up whenever one of us is knocked down. Yes we can dare to imagine a future in which what we wear is less important than what we say and do, in which women and men accept one another as equals and as partners, in which our voices will always be heard and our lives will always matter.
Na’am was founded in 2009 by Samah Salaime, a social worker who wanted to fight the phenomenon of femicide. It serves the women of Lod, Ramla and Yaffo – mixed Arab-Jewish cities that present their own unique challenges, often including economic ones, to the women living there. Among other things, half of the murders of women in the past decade in Israel were in the Arab sector, and half of those were in Lod and Ramla. But fully 80% of those murderers walked free; most did not even stand trial.
The work of Na’am-AWC is mostly carried out by volunteers. On a shoestring budget and a tiny office in Lod, the organization serves hundreds of women. Women come to learn about their rights or to get help in escaping violence or threats. They come when they need special assistance for their children or for obtaining permits for spouses. On top of individual assistance, some of it through its women’s rights center, Na’am-AWC offers support groups and groups for girls, gender education in schools, training for those who provide various services to the Arab sector, legal advice and legal aid, in addition to building networks with other human and women’s rights organizations in Israel and the PA to end early marriage and polygamy, to help women gain financial independence, and to lead country-wide and participate in international efforts to put an end to violence against women.
These efforts reach the popular media – in Hebrew and English as well as Arabic – and even the Knesset.
Discriminated against as members of a minority and because we are women, struggling to define new identities for the modern world, to break out of molds and stereotypes, to refuse to bend to expectations – members of Na’am-AWC face an uphill battle. That is why it is so crucial for us to remind ourselves, every day: Yes we can!