Samar Al Sheikh, a member of Biddu’s town council northwest of Jerusalem, is very confident in announcing that she wants to run again in the upcoming local elections, even perhaps becoming the council’s president.
After her previous experience as council member and the achievements made for Biddu, Sheikh still says much awaits her and all those who plan to run in the upcoming local council elections slated to take place on October 8. “I am hoping to accomplish projects I did not get a chance to carry out in my last run,” she says. “That is, if I win.” She explains the unfinished projects were not because of any shortcomings on her or the council’s part, but because of obstacles from the funders, who she said would pull out at the last minute. “The banner I am raising in these next elections is definitely for women, to reaffirm their role over and over again. “
Sheikh exudes confidence, much of which comes from her previous experience as a local council member and also as a teacher, employed by the Ministry of Education. This combined role allowed her to be part of several local council committees including women, children and cultural committees where she played an integral role.
One achievement Sheikh likes to recount is how she formed a women’s shadow council in Biddu comprised of non-members. “This was like a sister council, which helped the three of us women council members to get things done,” she says. Sheikh also succeeded in forming a parents’ council that includes schools from her town and neighboring villages, the primary goal of which was to deal with problems facing these schools and their students.
Sheikh describes her experience as a triangle – that is, it helped her get out of the narrow cycle of home and work and into a much broader triangle of community activity and interaction with the public and officials. She also says her experiences enabled her to face and better handle challenges that stem from traditions and customs, especially in regards to women becoming members of a local council that is mostly consisted of men. “Eventually, people started to realize that having women in the local council was extremely important and solved a slew of issues,” Sheikh says. “Before that, this was just not possible.” Still, she credits Biddu with having three women council members, which is higher than the allotted women’s quota. “This helped encourage more women to seek out the council. We have always been supported by the council president and the members, and without this support and cooperation we would never have been able to achieve what we did.”
MIFTAH, a stepping stone to success
Sheikh says the support she received from MIFTAH was key to her election in the former local council in Biddu. She says MIFTAH played a major role in boosting her leadership personality and in her current level of interaction in the various council committees. She credits this to MIFTAH’s continuous workshops that she has attended since 2010, with a focus on strategic, structural and infrastructure planning, decision-making mechanisms and LGU rules and regulations.
Sheikh continues: “These training workshops constituted fundamental support for me in interacting with certain committees, especially those concerning women and children. This also motivated me to run in the elections again, this time from an even stronger position.” Sheikh says she would participate in any future training MIFTAH might offer, without hesitation. “In this pre-elections stage we need MIFTAH’s support so we can achieve the outcomes we want and so that women can exceed the set quota. We are capable of doing this, given how many women are candidates in these elections.”
However, the most significant lesson Sheikh learned from her experience as local council member is the need for members to be clear with their constituencies and never to deceive them by making promises they cannot keep. Hence, she acknowledges that she was able to achieve some of what she promised but not everything, including a project for a health clinic, which she says still faces obstacles not in the local council’s control.
One reason for her decision to run again, Sheikh says, is to increase the number of women council members, which she deems a priority. This, she posits, will further empower her as well and support her efforts in achieving projects for Biddu in general and for women in particular. For this, she is counting on the people of her town, women and men alike, to support her, after finally overcoming the taboos and customs that reject women’s participation.