International Women’s Day on March 8th is about celebrating women, but also raising awareness against bias and challenging the attitudes and systems that lead to inequality.
The theme of International Women’s Day this year is #choosetochallenge, which we feel is a powerful reminder that tackling women’s inequality and disadvantage worldwide is very often a choice to fight against the status quo.
One place that this is abundantly apparent is in Gaza, in the Occupied Palestinian Territories, where our partner, Ahli Arab Hospital (AAH), works with women to raise health awareness and offer support for breast cancer diagnosis and recovery. Despite the worsening COVID-19 situation, AAH continues to deliver these health services to the most vulnerable through our Women’s Health and Wellbeing program. To read more about how AAH have implemented COVID-19 precautions and are working through the pandemic, click here.
Since July 2020, another 550 women have received mammography screenings, Breast Cancer Awareness and Breast Self-Examination Training. A further 2,168 women and 428 men have received the same training through Community Based Organisations (CBOs) that the hospital partners with. The training through the CBOs aim to build a strong community-based network with an understanding of the need to screen for breast cancer, the challenges of a breast cancer diagnosis, and how to support women with the disease. The inclusion of men in these community training sessions is vital in challenging the perception many men have towards breast cancer. Breast cancer is still a taboo subject and women face much stigma, ostracised sometimes by their own families.
However, with more awareness in the community, more women are seeking out the hospital’s mammography services. One such woman is Amal, a 38-year-old mother of two small children who lives in a marginalised camp for internally displaced people. She was recommended to AAH by a relative after Amal had felt a lump in her breast in October. Her biopsy revealed it was cancer. Despite the challenges ahead for her, she maintains a positive attitude, appreciating the professionalism and timely support she has received from the program. She is very thankful that the program wasn’t shut down through COVID-19. Her story highlights the success of the Women’s Health and Wellbeing program in reaching the public and encouraging women to seek health advice and support others in the process.
Women like Amal also have access to Mind and Body sessions that are run by specially trained social workers and psychologists. These sessions are designed to provide holistic support throughout cancer treatment, helping women deal with the psychological stress of living with breast cancer, while also increasing their resilience. 40 women are taken through the Mind and Body program, offered twice a year, where they participate in 10 sessions that run for two hours. The women engage in sharing their stories, art therapy, and learning from a nutrition specialist about healthy nutrition and lifestyle changes to help their recovery.
The Mind and Body participants deeply appreciate what they learn and say that the training brings a sense of comfort and allows change in how they see themselves, their health and how they interact with others.
One participant, Shadia, said that the Mind and Body program brought her back to life, giving her a renewed sense of self, similar to before she was diagnosed with cancer. It gave her new ways of thinking and behaving. Before undertaking the program, she marginalised herself, but now she is back doing the things that she used to do. She is sleeping better, her energy and love of life has returned, her thinking is wider, and she once again has hope.
Part of the process involves participants drawing to express how they feel about their situation. Shadia said that during the first drawing at the start of the program she felt depressed and had no hope in life, however when she drew her image at the end of the program, she felt full of energy and creative, excited about life. She reports that not only has her perspective on herself and her own life changed, but her relationship with her children has improved and become stronger.
What a testament of change and a great example of what it means to #choosetochallenge – challenging society’s perspective of illness and supporting those around them, and women challenging themselves to rise above their circumstances.
Thank you Amal and Shadia for sharing your stories and inspiring us all to #choosetochallenge.
Our work with ‘Women’s Health and Wellbeing’ program in Gaza is supported by the Australian Government and donations from the Australian public through the Australian NGO Cooperation Program (ANCP). We are proud to partner with the Australian Government in delivering this inspirational program.
To support this program select ’12. Palestine – Al Ahli Arab Hospital’ from the drop-down menu on our donate page.