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Honouring Mahfoutha Shtayyeh

6 December 2007
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by Afaf Jabiri

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On November 28th Mahfoutha Shtayyeh, a 65 year old woman from Palestine was awarded the Sindiyanat el-Karama Award by V-Day Karama in Jordan. Honoring Mahfoutha was recognition of the Palestinian women's struggle. We wanted to recognize the efforts of unknown women who influence the world by their actions, without being known or appreciated. It is also in gratitude to all the Arab women who fight to preserve their dignity.

Also on openDemocracy: listen to Afaf Jabiri takes on the Jordanian government

This Award is our way of honouring women across the Arab world who have struggled throughout their lives to achieve justice and preserve dignity in a prejudiced and dangerous world. These extraordinary women, like the sindiyana (oak tree) that gives its name to this award, are symbols of strength and resilience, struggle and endurance, life and loyalty. They are role models for women young and old across our region and around the world.

Afaf Jabiri is regional director of Karama middle east & north Africa

Mahfoutha inspired us when she stood up to Israeli soldiers and settlers in 2004 when they were uprooting hundreds of olive trees in her village-the source of her community's livelihood. Alone and defenceless, she clung to one of the few trees left standing. Her action spoke out powerfully against the wanton destruction and its disastrous effects for an already suffering people.

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Through our work with the Karama groups across the region, we have encountered many remarkable women who, like Mahfoutha, are standing up in large and small ways against oppression, discrimination, violence, and injustice. These women are the unsung heroes we want to celebrate, and therefore we have created this award to honour woman who have inspired us.

When Mahfoutha was photographed, it shocked us that no one from the media or the people who used the picture knew who she was or where she lives, but all knew who took the picture. For us, it became even more important to find her, and recognize what she did and to honour her in a very respectable way. It was not just about Mahfoutha, she is a symbol for other women, who usually do whatever it will take to protect their family, nation, and lands without waiting for anything in return. It is about women who have the power inside them and when they use it - they show the world that women are very influential and have strengths that can move the whole world.

Each year we will give out this award in one of the Arab countries on the international day for combating all forms of violence against women. Each year different women from the region will be awarded. These women do not have to be well known in their community. They do not have to be activists or politicians, celebrities or professionals-although they might be any or all of these things. They might also be ordinary grandmothers or housewives, teachers or farmers, refugees or widows.
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