Empowering Palestinian Community-Based Women Leaders

We are currently raising funds to support the 2020 EPWL project.
Please donate here: https://donatenow.networkforgood.org/epwl

“The famous Palestinian writer Ghassan Kanafani wrote in his novel Men in the Sun “You needed to knock on the tank.” This mean that instead of accepting a difficult situation do whatever you can to change it. This sentence became a repeatedly used proverb in the Palestinian community. Our training with Miki Kashtan on empowering Palestinian women through NVC encouraged women to knock on the tanks of their hearts and minds. It strengthened them to open the doors and move away from their crippled personal status into their personal freedom. This paved their way    towards their journey of social transformation within their communities.” Amal Hadweh, project organizer

Participants in the 2019 training


Initiated in 2018, the Empowering Palestinian Women Leaders project is designed to empower Palestinian women leaders in community-based settings to leverage their potential to create ripple effects that shift power relations within the Palestinian community along gender and class dimensions.

Initial Theory of Change

In its first two years, the project operated on the basis of the following theory of change: we will focus on empowering women through a combination of collective training sessions and ongoing coaching calls just for project participants, as well as sending a few of the women to existing training programs offered by the Nonviolent Global Liberation (NGL) community. In this way, both the skills of the individual women and their collective capacity would be enhanced.


This project began when Amal Hadweh shared her dream of empowering Palestinian women with Miki Kashtan, and the two set out to make it happen.

When we embarked on the original training, none of us knew what would happen. However, with each successive activity, we recognized the enormous leverage for change that comes from working with community-based women leaders: in Palestinian society, independently of any efforts towards dismantling the occupation and regardless of political conditions, Palestinian women are positioned to create change from within their community. It became evident that this project directly supports their efforts, seeding new relationships with themselves, which ripples to shift family dynamics, impacting their engagement in community, workplaces, and beyond. Almost from the start it became obvious that, if we want to support the women in this group well enough that they could support other women in stepping into their own power and leadership, the project needed to continue in future years. Therefore, in 2019 we continued with the same plan. We brought together most of the women from 2018, along with a few others, for two intensive training events for deepening skills, sent a new group of women to the NGL retreat in Poland, and continued with offering ongoing coaching sessions to a subset of the women, mostly the ones who went to Poland.


Both years of the project so far have had a similar structure of activities:

  • Spring (Palestine): A large group (30-40) of women from all over the West Bank and from Israel participated in a four-day training: “From Inner Transformation to Social Transformation” with Miki Kashtan. Year two saw most of the women come back with additional women joining them and with a new curriculum, still focused on themes such as inner freedom, dialogue skills, collaboration, social change, decision-making, and nonviolence.

With a smaller group of women, visiting a museum of the occupation, 2019

  • Spring (Poland): A small subgroup (5-6) of the women from the training attended a week-long retreat in Poland with people from multiple other countries: “Mobilizing for Global Nonviolent Liberation,” deepening into the themes of the training in Palestine complemented with a focus on leadership, power and privilege, and facilitation.
  • Fall (Palestine): Most of the women participating in the spring training also participated in two days of training: “From Fear to Freedom” with Arnina Kashtan focusing on transforming internalized patterns, finding authentic voice, and new paths of liberation.
  • July 2018– present: The women who went to Poland both years have been supported on a monthly basis with coaching calls focusing on topics of interest from the lived experience of the women on the calls.

Funding Update

In 2018 we began our fundraising season with an initial budget estimated at $7,500 for 20 women covering only some travel, room, and board costs for 20 women. The response to this project was so significant, that we were able to almost double the number of women who could participate, send a number of them to Poland, document the work, and offer a 2nd training in the fall.

In 2019, we began with a larger budget of $33,000 that reflected this expanded activity. Despite having an initial matching fund of $10,500, we were not able to raise the entire budget. We attended to most of the shortfall through involving some of the women themselves in fundraising through their networks; we managed to lower the venue costs in support of the project; and we got support for the project through participants at the Poland NGL retreat. Still, we finished the year with a shortfall of $2,500 which we are hoping to cover this year.

Both years, the budget did not include training costs because the trainers in these events, two Israeli sisters, donated their time and travel costs in recognition of the impact of Israeli occupation on Palestinian lives.

Over the two years we had over 80 people contributing. The smallest donation over the two years was $10. The largest donation was over $20,000.

Impact Evaluation

Before I started studying Nonviolent Communication, I used to feel that I was different from this world because of my thinking and my approach to my life, and I was in constant conflict with myself and others. When I started the training, I found myself learning that my behavior was normal and I started looking for my needs and the needs of others behind each behavior. Looking for my safety, I understood why I was a rebel and why I was looking for a family and I found my family with the other woman in the training. The training helped me build a new character, and a deep longing and sadness about all those who do not know or understand what is behind their behavior. It also helped me to overcome many problems and stand again on the hard ground to be strong. In addition, the training helped me in my work as a lawyer. I became aware of the reasons behind the actions of my clients, and this changes how I relate to them and how I am able to support them and represent them in difficult court cases within Israel.” Sabren Aby madyyeh, lawyer

With this report, we are taking the bold step of speaking primarily of what hasn’t worked in relation to our purpose and theory of change. In planning this year’s activity, we engaged in deep reflection to look at what we have accomplished over two years of deep and passionate commitment to use this project to leverage in a small way change in the lives of Palestinian women, one of the most invisible marginalized groups we are aware of in the world.

Through this reflection we reached the tragic conclusion that the project has not lived up to our dreams for it, and to a decision to change course for this year and the coming ones.

Specifically, we conclude that the majority of the women who came to the training have only benefited personally. While this was already somewhat visible to us last year, the level of personal transformation was so remarkable and deep, that we understood it as a first step towards a deeper capacity to translate the learning and liberation into increased leadership and public courage. This is what we are not seeing happening for the majority of the women.

Part of the tragedy of the situation is that this very failure is indicative of the great need. The conditions of women in Palestine are so difficult, that most of them are deeply immersed in personal and familial crises. The combination of difficult personal conditions and collective trauma from the occupation and from ongoing oppression of women results in a steep liberation curve only few women can fully cross. This is in no way to minimize the extraordinary aspects of this project. As far as we know, it’s extremely rare, if not entirely unknown, for Palestinian women to gather for this kind of training on their own. When they come to such trainings that also include men, almost all of them say nothing for the entire time of the training. Here, on the other hand, they opened up, they shared their inner selves, and they made dramatic shifts in their personal lives as a result of the work. This in itself registers with us as a huge success. It’s only in relation to our extremely ambitious purpose that we see that our theory of change didn’t carry us forward sufficiently. This is why we decided to rethink our theory of change and, therefore, also our activities.

Revised Theory of Change

Our new conception is to engage with fewer women in a more intensive way, creating enough of a web of support around each of the women that she can step into leadership with more capacity to respond to the immense inner and outer challenges they each face.

In seeing the gap between the women who attended the Poland NGL retreats and the ongoing coaching calls and those who haven’t, we are also adopting a working hypothesis that taking women outside of their usual context and into a place where they meet with people who live and work in other contexts supports them in taking a break from their conditions and supports faster movement towards liberation and empowerment. There are many factors that contribute to this phenomenon. One is that in the outside context they get to experience what living in liberatory systems, outside the heavily patriarchal, obedience-based setting of their communities would look like. In addition to respite, they also then receive significant amount of new information, meet with people who live in more freedom and can be inspired based on that. Our hope and experience is that they return more resourced and capable of committing to taking action as well as with possibilities of supportive relationships they can lean into.

2020 Plans

Plans for this year include:

  • Spring training (Palestine): this year we are offering a much smaller training designed specifically for women who have demonstrated sufficient capacity to carry it forward into their communities, beyond their own lives. We anticipate 10-15 women at most will attend this training.
  • Spring Mini-NGL retreat (in Israel, in Hebrew): One of our longer-term goals is to reach a stage, maybe in 2-4 years, where a full-on NGL retreat can take place in Palestine, led entirely by a team of locals. While this goal goes beyond the purpose of this particular project, we hope to support any of the women who speak Hebrew to attend as a beginning immersion in systems of liberation and introduction to the NGL framework. We anticipate a total of 10-12 Palestinians attending this event, of whom we aim for about 50% women.
  • Late spring NGL retreat in Poland: As with previous years, we are hoping to send a team of 5-8 women to Poland for deep immersion learning, empowerment, and connection with a global community.
  • Monthly ongoing: continued coaching calls (started in 2018) in support of liberation and empowerment for those who speak English and who are dedicated to supporting other women’s empowerment. These more intimate opportunities will follow closely the actual needs and experiences of the women who attend.
  • Fall training (Palestine): Additional training in support of deepening inner freedom from fear and shame and increasing leadership capacity, with Arnina Kashtan.

2020 Budget

The initial budget for 2020 is estimated to be $23,000, smaller than the previous two years. This includes $9,500 for 15 women to attend the 4-day training in April including travel room and board; $2,000 to support Palestinian women attending the mini-retreat in Israel in April; $8,000 to send 8 women to the Poland training including travel, room, and board; and $1,500 for the Fall training. In addition, we are hoping to still be able to raise enough funds to cover the $2,000 shortfall from last year.

As before, the budget is mostly made up of the room, board, and travel costs for women participants, as well as some contribution to the sustainability of the Palestinian organizers. As before, this budget does not include training costs because the trainers in this event, two Israeli sisters, are donating their time and travel costs in recognition of the impact of Israeli occupation on Palestinian lives.

Please donate here: https://donatenow.networkforgood.org/epwl