Change a Father, Change a Family, Change a Community


Ishak and his daughter Aram seek to contribute to making their community a more equal one, free of violence. Photo © Ishak Ataya.

One father’s story of transformation as he becomes a role model and leader in his community, after participating in awareness raising activities by the Sharek Youth Forum with UN Women through the HAYA Joint Programme, funded by the Government of Canada.

“Before, my role was limited to the inside of my home,” says Ishak.

Violence against women and girls is a worldwide human rights violation, with devastating immediate and long-term consequences. In the West Bank and Gaza Strip, almost 30 per cent of ever married women and 14 per cent of never married women have been subjected to physical violence by their husbands or a household member respectively. Nearly 34 per cent of men and 26 per cent of women believe there are times when a woman deserves to be beaten. The fight to eliminate violence against women and girls begins with a change in perceptions of gender roles and decision-making, violence, and concepts of masculinity and femininity.

Promoting equal and respectful relationships among all members of society is vital to this change. Towards this goal, the Sharek Youth Forum works with UN Women through the HAYA Joint Programme in schools, local organizations, and clubs in the West Bank. In partnership with the Ministry of Education, they work with students, teachers, counselors, and even parents through activities reflecting on existing gender norms, values, attitudes and behaviors, and gendered socialization and fears. In a society with differing definitions of masculinity and fathers’ roles within it, they also highlight the importance of men and boys taking a stand for gender equality and against violence against women and girls.

With four daughters and two sons, 46-year-old Ishak believes this begins at home. Ishak shares household duties with his wife, helps his children with schoolwork, and encourages his daughters to be confident and active members of their home and community. “I was keen to get my daughters out of the circles in which girls live in our society, where they are prevented from talking, expressing themselves, and even leaving the house,” Ishak says.

Not only a participant but now a volunteer in the local clubs working with Sharek, Ishak says he has realized that promoting gender equality and tackling its challenges shouldn’t be limited to one’s family. “Before, I was content with my role inside my house,” says Ishak. “But now, I am expanding this role to everywhere I find myself in, from my work to the club, and anywhere I can deliver my message that justice must be found everywhere.”

Ishak’s daughters say they now also feel more empowered to impact those around them. “The thing that encourages me the most is my father's support,” says 16-year-old Aram. “His example encourages us to prove our ability in all aspects of life.” By leading volunteer teams in their local club with Sharek, they now work with young children, including those with disabilities, and young men their age and have become confident role models for those around them.

As a professor of religion, contextualizing his message has also helped Ishak reach more members of his community. Ishak says in his religion, the responsibility of a husband and wife is not to be taken lightly and a husband is expected to serve his home, be proactive, and strive for good for all people. Ishak now believes one man can make a difference. “A negative influence, such an authoritarian father, will only result in a daughter who is also negative, lacking power, and abilities. And then this will result in a society that is chaotic and unstable.”

“Being part of the HAYA Joint Programme and participating in its activities helped enhance a lot of my positive practices and concepts, and I saw their impact on my family members and my work as a teacher,” states Ishak. “I learned a lot about how children think and how this impacts the environment around them. As parents and educators, we must pay attention to the smallest details as they will build a future generation that believes in justice, equality, and sharing of roles.”

“Preventing violence against women requires, among other things, changing behaviours and attitudes on the community level,” says HAYA Joint Programme Manager Hazam Tahbub. “This change is a gradual, complex, and lengthy process. Through collaboration with partner organizations, the HAYA Joint Programme strives to foster behavioral change to prevent violence against women and girls.”

Ishak strives to be a leader for positive change in his community and an advocate for women. “I hope that the ideas that I believe in and how I practice them will have a significant impact on society,” explains Ishak. “Maybe this journey is a starting point for me in spreading these ideas to help create a supportive environment for my sons, daughters, and all members of society.

Read in Arabic: /media/64847

Funded by the Government of Canada and jointly implemented by UN Women, UNFPA, UN-Habitat, and UNODC, the HAYA Joint Programme seeks to eliminate violence against women and girls through various outreach and awareness-raising activities, to increase access to necessary services for survivors of violence, as well as to strengthen the institutional capacity of government officials to develop and implement legal and policy frameworks promoting and protecting women’s and girls’ rights to live free from violence.