Celebrating Women Leaders - Shada Edress Mansour
March 8th, 2018
For International Women’s Day, we are celebrating women leaders at Hand in Hand. Shada Edress Mansour is the community organizer in the newest community in Kfar Saba and has been a leader in making gender equality a priority in Hand in Hand schools and communities.
I grew up in Taybe, an Arab city and went to a regular Arab school. I grew up in a community where women were taught to stay quiet and not take up space, where we existed to be there for others, but not for our own worth. My family was a bit different than that – my parents taught us to be independent, strong, educated women. In my house I always had space to speak up. Growing up, I never met Jewish people at all – there was a sense that they were “other” and that I couldn’t trust them, and that we could never really understand each other. The first time I met a Jewish person was at work when I was 19, but I still never had any friendships until I joined Hand in Hand.
Even though I grew up separately, it always felt strange to me that Jewish people lived so close to us, as neighbors, but they are still seen as an enemy. I didn’t want my daughter to grow up in that kind of negative segregated environment. I didn’t want her to be afraid.
That’s why I joined Hand in Hand. I started as a parent and then became the community organizer a year later. I didn’t really know what I was getting myself into at first. I wasn’t looking to be an activist. But afterwards I went through a transformation. I started to understand things differently. The encounter between Arabs and Jews really strengthened my Palestinian identity. I’m more politically and socially aware, and more connected to my history. And at the same time it brought me so much closer to my Jewish colleagues and built deeper understanding for my Jewish friends. I have less resistance, and more openness and understanding for the Jewish perspective. It was amazing to learn that those two things could come together. That is something that I want to help build in our community. I joined Hand in Hand for my daughter, but I was the one who went through a transformation.
I’m doing this work because I want to make a difference in my society and in my community. It empowering for me to do this work of bringing people together – especially in this region – where there is no interaction or shared society at all. We are creating something from nothing. I’m proud of our work here. My vision is to help lead us to create a full school here, and to build as broad of a shared community as possible, with a community center and other shared spaces. To make people understand that this is possible.
Within our community, it is so important to look beyond the Jewish-Arab issue. The issue of gender is so central to our lives in our communities – it touches everything that we do, like the way we plan and make decisions. As part of my community leadership it’s important for me to raise awareness of gender and feminism. As an Arab woman living in a shared community, I don’t want people to think of me as a stereotype of an oppressed woman – I am not. I am strong and educated, and I am a leader. I want to put that on the table, and at the same time acknowledge the great challenges that Palestinian women face both from our own society and from living as a minority within a Jewish society. It is also important for me to break the stereotypes that I had about Jewish women – and understand that we all live complex lives and to actually listen to people’s lived experiences of those identities within the society that we are a part of. Over this process I have also learned that as women from both sides, we are living with a lot of the same issues – we are not actually on different planets like some people believe.
I am also doing this for my daughter. I already see being in this environment is empowering for her – she is strong, she is opinionated, and curious. I don’t want her to be overwhelmed by the messages that so many girls get that their value only comes from their bodies or what they wear, or what they can do for others. I am part of creating a space where she can accept others, and can build a strong sense of self and a Palestinian girl and woman. I want her to grow up deeply knowing her worth.