My name is Maysa, I am 37 and work as a social worker in the clinic here in Hebron. I first wanted to work here because I really believe in the protection of women’s sexual and reproductive health rights. What I particularly value is that we are able to reach rural marginalised areas, where the woman really need this type of care.
The impact of my work is to help women to make their own decisions, to stop violence in their homes and to respect their bodies. Women here face many difficulties. In this culture, women are viewed as inferior and there is discrimination against them. They have difficulties to express their problems, as this is not approved of by the society.
On a typical day my morning starts at 8am, I start with paperwork and then see clients after that. When I am in the field, I coordinate, do home visits and hold lectures. I see between four to eight clients per day, both married and unmarried women.
They have different issues, for example, married women ask about personal decisions between them and their husbands. Many women do not have correct knowledge on sexual issues. With unmarried women in the majority of cases, they have experienced violence and abuse, and they want to know their rights. Some ask for support with contraception but there is a great taboo about unmarried women taking contraception, so many are nervous about asking for it.
We also work with women who need abortions. Depending on the situation, we may provide different support. In the cases of woman who are really not willing to continue the pregnancy we do harm reduction counselling so that they know the risks of unsafe abortion and what safer methods could be available.
In the case when a woman gets pregnant and is not married, because of sex outside of marriage, or from rape, we work with them differently. In this society when people know that a woman is pregnant outside of marriage, even if she was sexually abused, her family might kill her. This is extremely common unless she is helped confidentially.
So to save these women’s lives, if the pregnancy is below 10 weeks we can help them through coordination with the police family protection unit, but in cases where the pregnancy is more advanced we can only refer her to the government.
In one case we had a fifteen year old girl who was brought in by her older sister as her period was delayed. The doctor checked her and she saw she was pregnant. At first she was unable to talk about it but it became clear that she had been abused by her brother-in-law.
The doctor told her sister that she had uterine cysts so that the family would not know that she was pregnant, as if they did they would have killed her. Since the pregnancy was already quite advanced, the providers helped her to hide the pregnancy and in the seventh month, they were able to refer her to the government social work department where they did a caesarean section and the baby was taken in to care. Because of the confidentiality, the girl was able to return to her family without them knowing that she had been pregnant; she was also helped to ensure that the abuse ended as well.
Another case was of a woman whose husband was in prison and she became pregnant by her husband’s brother. She came in the very early stages of pregnancy so we were able to provide the harm-reduction care, with all the relevant information about the dangers of the traditional methods of abortion and what the alternatives are. We gave her all the information and counselling so that she could make a decision.
She went away and had a safe abortion on her own and then came back for post-abortion care and counselling. After that it was clear that what we did made her feel better and relieved. She said ‘“it was a burden relieved by my shoulders, I was thinking about killing myself.”
I feel proud when we hear success stories from women that defeated violence, killing and abuse. It is really important that we work on awareness so that women know about their rights and what services are offered for different issues.