Monday, December 5, 2016

When the Political is Personal

Sarah Linder (c) Catherine Richard
Sarah Linder decided to embark on a project focusing on the impact of the conflict on women in Israel and Palestine in 2015. The decision resulted in the birth of Political is Personal. Read her story here.

I grew up in a very international environment. My mother is Danish, and my father is Israeli by origin but has been Danish for a while. Since my mother worked as a diplomat, I spent my growing years in a rather global environment and had a lot of friends from all over the world. That really shaped my personality. The mindset and space that supported my upbringing was one where things like racism were not okay. These early exposures helped me shape my mind.
My brother was adopted in Romania, and seeing the children there only firmed my resolve to do something that could mend injustices. Someday, I want to do something with Romanian children, and that remains a dream for the present.

I moved to Israel when I turned 20, and have been there since. It was not a part of my plan though, although I am Jewish. A lot of people who relocate to Israel do so out of a desire to pursue Zionism, but I never had that in mind. I had lived in New York for a year, and came to Israel to visit my parents, who had moved in to Israel by then.

I have a background in government, diplomacy and strategy. I majored in conflict resolution and diplomacy. I enjoyed my classes tremendously. Women in the Middle East and Gender and Society were two subjects that I had during my Bachelor’s degree. These subjects triggered my awareness, and made me think. I began to become aware of the many issues challenging women, not only in the Middle East, but beyond, too. It made me introspect and inquire into what it meant to be a woman - whether in Denmark or in Israel, or anywhere in the world. I also learned about Islam, and came to understand how the ideas of the Western World dominate in the realm of feminism and I gathered that there is a common misconception that Muslim women are enslaved or oppressed. I also discovered that there are a lot of double standards.I wish women would begin defining themselves without society’s interference.

I worked in different fields, and also did my master's degree in Middle Eastern History. Slowly, I personally came to see that if I didn't do any work in these fields that didn't tie in with women and women's issues, there was no point in it for me. I was attracted to the domains of peace, dialogue, human rights and gender. I finished my MA in the summer of 2014. By then, I realized that I wanted to do something of my own. I had thought about a lot of different things that I could explore, but by the beginning of 2015, I began thinking about something that then led to the birth of Political is Personal(PiP). I wanted to combine some aspect of women's issues with writing. Political is Personal began in May 2015 as a Facebook page where I collected stories. I was still working in a company then. By the end of two months since then, I realized that I loved what I was doing and that it was gaining interest and readership, and quit my job to work on PiP full time.

In a nutshell, PiP is based on interviews with Palestinian women in Israel within the Green line and West Bank and Gaza, and Israeli Jewish women. I look at their stories of how conflict affects them and their lives, and a lot of different things come up. I saw a need for these voices because one rarely hears them. Many women I have interviewed so far have been politically active. I have spoken to a few women who generally aren't so regularly heard in the Political space, and want to reach out more to them – which was one of the reasons why PiP came about.

In the beginning, I wasn’t sure know what I wanted to achieve through this. The vision developed on the way. I wanted to curate a platform of unfiltered voices that were influenced by UNSCR 1325 and wanted to find ways to increase the number of women's voices in this space. A lot of times, outside, people only hear things like "5 people dead" or "Two missiles fired." There are extraordinary stories of resilience and these stories need telling. I also find that the stories are useful for researchers and academics, think tanks and policy makers. The project is aimed at adding human perspectives, faces and voices to conflict.

It has not been easy to get the women to share. Some of them tend to view me suspiciously, or wonder if I am a leftist (for the Israeli Jews) or collaborating with the IDF and trying to get information out of them (for the Palestinians), or pursuing a hidden agenda. There is a lack of trust and a fear of repercussions for speaking out.

Many times, when they tell me their stories, they do get emotional and do share their vulnerabilities without intending it. That moves me because I learn so much and their trust in me is touching. For instance, there was a woman who told me about her surviving sexual harassment. She had not told her family but told me and was willing to share it without anonymity. It was incredibly moving to hear her story, and it continues to motivate me. At the end of the day, I really like what I am doing. I get a great feeling of comfort in doing this, because some of the women have become friends and are like family to me.

Follow Political is Personal and read their stories here.