I Advise Women: “Go to Work, Open up!

The Story of Moza Ghanem

Interviewed by Wafa Tiara, MAAN’s director of the “Women in Work” project in Baqa al-Gharbiyye

Moza Ghanem, 47 years old, was born in a West Bank village. She married a man from the village of Zemer in the Triangle area (bordering the West Bank from the Israeli side) and gave birth to four children. Moza joined MAAN’s “Women and Work” project in 2008. She initially worked in a packing house, and in recent years she heads a cleaner team at the Kibbutzim College of Education, Technology and the Arts.

Wafa Tiara: How did you come to MAAN?

Moza Ghanem: I worked in agriculture through contractors and suffered from exploitation and poor treatment. They did give me a payslip, but it was fake and didn’t reflect the actual hours I worked. I heard about the MAAN Workers Association from other women. I called you, Wafa, and realized that the organization you represent organizes work in accordance with the law. I hurried to reach MAAN’s office, which was then located in Kfar Qara. I didn’t believe I would find a fair employer, but decided to try. I didn’t wait long, and you sent me and 7 other women whom I recruited to a large packaging house that employed hundreds of workers. I was very pleased and loved the project. Unlike the employment bureau officials who are not interested in the employee at all, I received an attentive ear and humane treatment. You explained to me that the general goal of the “Women and Work” project is to provide women with little work experience the tools to integrate into the labor market, thus lifting their family out of poverty. You always answered me patiently and to the point.

Tiara: How did you manage as a mother of four and also as a working woman?

Ghanem: I got up every day at three in the morning and made lunch for the children. I also made them sandwiches and thermoses for school. I left for work at five in the morning, working from 6:00 a.m. for at least 8 hours, and sometimes overtime as well. It was not easy, but the financial situation at home was difficult. We had accumulated debts due to the periods when my husband could not find a job, and I had no choice. I was hoping to get a good salary.

Tiara: Tell us about your integration at work.

Ghanem: When I received my first salary (at the packing house), it was one of the happiest days of my life. For the first time ever, I received a payslip that reflected my actual working hours. You explained to me the importance of a payslip and how to check and understand it. There were often difficulties at the workplace, either because of fatigue or problems with the foreman or other employees, but I felt I was receiving support and appreciation. I held on to work despite the difficulties, to protect my source of income. Within a few months, the family’s financial situation improved, and we managed to get out of debt. Yet the work was seasonal and at season’s end I had to immediately find another job, so as not to go backwards financially. I worked at the packing house for two years.

Tiara: Did your find support from your husband in raising the children?

Ghanem: Like many men, my husband has a conservative view of labor division within the family, and all responsibility for raising the children fell on me. But he didn’t object to me going out to work, and for me this was important in and of itself. I trained my children to help me at home, the daughter took care of the little boy and the other two sons divided household tasks between them. After two years I asked you to find me another job, because I had to work overtime at the packing house and felt I was not spending enough time with the children. You offered me a job cleaning at the Kibbutzim College, which was a qualitative leap.

Tiara: Why?

Ghanem: I became responsible for a group of women workers that I brought in my family car to work in Tel Aviv, a place I didn’t know at all. I learned to speak, read and write Hebrew with the help of a course given to us by the college and conducted by women students. At first it was very difficult; I would improvise all kinds of ways to communicate with the college administration and students. Nowadays the situation is different and there are many software programs that help with translation. The college attached us, the cleaners, to the college’s student council, which treated us very well. They invited us to several student assemblies and wanted to get to know us. We introduced ourselves, they asked a lot of questions, and we asked them to help us and make sure to put the chairs on the tables at day’s end. They treated us like any other college employee and invited us on a free trip abroad with the entire staff. It was great fun, and we conducted an activity to introduce them to Palestinian food.

Tiara: What did the job give you besides a living? What did it add to your personal life?

Ghanem: I am a very active person, I like to move and do things, and work gave me the opportunity to do so. It freed me not only from financial pressures, but from social and mental ones too. In the College I became responsible for a group of women workers, I drove a car in an unfamiliar area, I learned to drive well, and all this strengthened my personality. Before I worked, I had to ask my husband for money for household expenses. I didn’t like being in this position. When I started working, I felt proud of myself that I didn’t need a man to drive for me, give me pocket money, or allow me to fulfil my responsibilities. I was now independent. The fact that I am a regular breadwinner changed my status in the family and today I am our ‘finance minister.’

On the other hand, MAAN accompanies us, stands by us when there is a workplace conflict, invites us to participate in meetings that help us organize family life after entering the workforce. We learned about division of labor in the family and received enrichment classes, such as how to organize the family budget, what are the labor laws, the relationship between the employee and employer. MAAN also supported us in fun activities such as trips, laughter yoga, workshops on climate issues and more. I am proud of my membership in MAAN and participate in all its activities. I hosted MAAN delegations from abroad in my home so they could get to know the women’s project and our culture.

Tiara: Do you feel like you have fulfilled your dream?

Ganam: Yes and no. Although I am not ashamed to be a cleaner, I dream of moving to another job and advancing. This is also natural given all the support and empowerment I received from MAAN. I have already fulfilled some of my dreams, such as obtaining a driver’s license. I wanted some land for planting and bought an agricultural plot. I plant most of our vegetables and spices myself, including sesame from which I make tahini, and sunflowers for home use. I also planted zaatar, which I sell on Saturdays and holidays, dry zaatar in the summer, and fatayer (toasted pita with fresh zaatar) in the winter. I also like to grow flowers. I learned from MAAN about the importance of protecting the environment. I became aware of the ability to generate electricity from the sun after I was in MAAN’s class on the subject. I then set up such a solar system that provides all our home electricity needs, even though it is not connected to the grid due to problems with the construction permit. I also collect rainwater in barrels and water the vegetables with it. I advise everyone to return to nature and not eat industrial food, because I believe natural food helps us to cope better with pressures. I participated in many joint events with Jews and Arabs, for example Sindyanna of Galilee’s olive harvest, when I made pita with fresh za’atar for all the volunteers. In addition, I raise a horse and ride on it, this is another dream I have fulfilled. Some criticize me, but I don’t care. Of course, I dream that my children will get married and live a good life without difficulties.

Tiara: Did you encounter problems because you are not local?

Ghanem: I grew up in the West Bank village of Seida and at first, I was treated with disdain by my Arab neighbours. They called me “Dafawiyya” (from the West Bank) as a derogatory word, and every time I wanted to take initiative, they tried to put obstacles in my way. But today my situation has changed. I think life is full of all kinds of difficulties, but we must be positive. I will give you an example: My son suffers from diabetes. I accompany him in following food regulations, encourage him, and take care of his sugar levels, as well as mine because I also suffer from diabetes. My son participates in a Jewish-Arab support group of the health insurance fund for children with diabetes. They organize trips, seminars, and help each other deal with the disease together. In my opinion, this is how the whole society should behave, and especially the women in it, helping each other deal with difficulties.

Tiara: How do you see Arab women in our society?

Ghanem: The Arab woman is active and brave, but there are still many traditions and social pressures that prevent her development. For a woman, everything is stamped with the word “forbidden” or “shameful”. She suffers from criticism and does not have the freedom to realize her dreams. Some women give up, and some pay the price of freedom.

As I mentioned, I personally received a lot of criticism, unfortunately also from women. I know women with strong personalities but since they don’t work, they are prevented from fulfilling their dream, and are unappreciated by their family. This is the unfortunate reality, and many women are ashamed to talk about it.

Tiara: What would you advise women?

Ghanem: I would say first go to work, get to know other cultures, open up, and then the way will open for you to fulfil your dreams. At the same time I would advise women to learn how to say “no,” when needed and protect themselves.

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