Israel: Aida Touma-Suliman

The majority of women feminists in our society are aware of the repression against them and reject it silently. But very few of them take the initiative to change the situation.

— Aida Touma-Suliman

13 years ago in Nazareth, Aida Touma Suliman - a Palestinian with Israeli citizenship - and six other women founded Women Against Violence (WAV), an organization that advocates Palestinian women’s rights. In 1993, WAV founded the first shelters and crisis centers for battered women in the Arab world. The group also established a halfway house for women trying to rebuild their lives after leaving abusive husbands. Touma has been active in the international arena defending the rights of Palestinian society and Palestinian women, as well as promoting Israeli-Palestinian peace.

In 1992, when Women Against Violence (WAV) was established, the issue of gender-based violence was a total taboo that no one among the Palestinian community wanted to deal with. The society did not want to reveal the problem and it was not acceptable to bring the issue into the public arena or persuade women to seek refuge outside their families. Only very few women had visions of analyzing society's perceptions of the role of women. Among these women is Aida Touma Suliman. She says, "We were feminists: psychologists, social workers and lawyers. We faced many situations where we were either witnessing violence, or our clients were victims of violence. And what shocked us was that everyone accepted this. It happened, it was normal, and nobody wanted to speak about it. That drove us from the beginning. We decided we had to act." In her work Touma faces the opposition of the most conservative and religious forces in the community. She has become famous for dealing with the most difficult cases of gender-based violence and is sometimes the target of violent anger, directed by men whose wives and daughters are using the discourse and services of the WAV. Leading the lobbying and advocacy activities for justice and against the Israeli government's discrimination of Palestinian women led to Touma's nonacceptance by the decision makers in the various governmental agencies. Touma indicates, "The fact that we are part of the Palestinian people also makes it difficult for us, because whenever we as women want to talk about our problems, the public discourse is, ‘It is not the time to deal with these issues. We have more important things.’ But this is not an excuse at all for ignoring women's rights."

Women Against Violence (WAV)