Agents for change

A delegation of Italian women discover the real spirit of Jerusalem.

Participants in the ‘Women as Agents for Change: Building Equality for a Fairer Society’ seminar visit the Knesset, where they met with MKs Karin Elharar and Roy Folkman (photo credit: KEREN ROSENBERG)
Participants in the ‘Women as Agents for Change: Building Equality for a Fairer Society’ seminar visit the Knesset, where they met with MKs Karin Elharar and Roy Folkman
(photo credit: KEREN ROSENBERG)
Italy arrived in Israel as a group of women from the Province of Mantua in the northern Lombardy region visited the Holy City from April 10 to 15, for a five-day international seminar on women’s empowerment.
Organized by the municipality and funded with the support of the EU’s Euromed Youth IV Program, which encourages cooperation between Mediterranean and Middle Eastern countries, the seminar was held by the municipality’s International Relations and Exchange Division together with its Italian partner, Consorzio Oltrepò Mantovano.
The “Women as Agents for Change: Building Equality for a Fairer Society” seminar brought together 12 Italian women and 16 Jerusalem women, who participated in an intensive week of workshops, panel discussions and lectures dealing with the advancement of women in society, education and the workplace. The group also visited women’s projects in the city and toured some of the capital’s sites, including the Knesset, where they met with MKs Karin Elharar and Roy Folkman.
“The idea of this seminar was to enable the Italian delegation to discover our city through the eyes of women who contribute to society,” said Francoise Cafri, the director of the International Relations and Exchange Division.
“We wanted to show the diversity of this city and the different opportunities that women have here,” she told In Jerusalem.
“I believe it is important to create a network of solidarity between women from different corners of the world,” added Cafri, who is originally from Switzerland and has been living in Israel for more than 40 years.
“This seminar served as the platform for that.”
She noted that among the Jerusalem women, there were both Arab and Jewish participants, which included a mix of religious, secular and haredi women. The seminar participants were in their 20s to 60s, and spanned a wide range of professions – as politicians, journalists, college professors, teachers, nurses and university students, who are all active in women’s empowerment.
Each day of the seminar followed a different theme. During the “Shattering the Glass Ceiling” day, the women had the chance to hear from Adv. Talila Shalal Rosenfeld of the Israel Civil Service Commission and her work in advancing equal pay for women in the government. They also toured a women’s environmental and recycling project at the Mahaneh Yehuda market and heard lectures on influential women, such as former prime minister Golda Meir and Matilda of Canossa (1046- 1115), who was a powerful feudal ruler and military campaigner in northern Italy.
“Women in the Workforce” day featured Naava Shafner, the founder and executive director of Ima Kadima, the Jerusalem nonprofit organization for career-minded young mothers. The group also had the opportunity to observe the entrepreneurship skills of young women from the Sur Bahir community center, including Hoolood Abu Kaff, who designs purses with traditional embroidery.
“Formal and Non-Formal Education” day highlighted the capital’s Azrieli College of Engineering, where they met with women studying engineering and the sciences.
On the last day, the women took part in a Yemenite cultural workshop in the Ein Kerem home of Mazal Mutel, who has a home business running a cultural heritage program for tourists about Yemenite cultural traditions – featuring a workshop on traditional foods, dress and music.
“It was beautiful meeting the many different faces of Jerusalem,” Italian participant Donatella Jager Bedogni told In Jerusalem.
“It’s been so interesting to learn how women here meet challenges that are common to all of us. One part of the program that I enjoyed was meeting the girls who are studying engineering at the Azrieli College, and seeing how women are taking on the sciences here.
“If you follow Italian media coverage of Israel, you would think that life is a disaster here, but it’s not,” Bedogni explains. “The media doesn’t give you the real idea of life in Jerusalem, and this trip has made me see the real spirit of the city.
“When I was young in the 1960s, I always wanted to visit Israel and volunteer on a kibbutz, but that never worked out,” said Bedogni, who has been a teacher of German history at an Italian high school for more than 20 years.
“I want my students to learn more about Israel. I hope that maybe we can do a student exchange following this visit. You have to come to Jerusalem to see the real version of life here – and not just the sensational headlines back home.”
Francesca Zaltieri, vice president of the Province of Mantua and superior councilor of public education, helped to organize the Israel visit. She had previously collaborated with the Jerusalem Municipality on an international youth education project.
“We are here to learn and to make new friends,” she told In Jerusalem.
I found this seminar very enlightening.
In my province of Mantua, we are working on integrating refugees from the Middle East. I’ve learned a lot on this trip about how to conduct dialogue among people of different cultures and beliefs. I think that through women, dialogue can be achieved.
It is important to create a policy of dialogue rather than a policy of reaction.”
Zaltieri was struck by how Arabs and Jews work and study together in the city, as well as by the many volunteer projects and initiatives taking place here. She had visited Israel previously and said that she wasn’t afraid to come again despite the security situation.
“Israel doesn’t fit European stereotypes.
Israel is not a country of war, but one that works to create a road to peace,” she said.
“It was amazing to see how inspired the Italian women were by this visit. They got many new ideas from the seminar, such as how women can contribute to the workplace alongside raising a large family, and seeing another side to Jerusalem that isn’t covered by Italian media. The Israeli women were just as inspired by this cultural exchange,” commented Cafri, who has brought other groups from Europe to Jerusalem and organized training courses, seminars and projects that promote international cooperation including international youth and artist exchanges.
As the coordinating body for international encounters between Jerusalem high-school students as well as professionals in the social and education fields, Jerusalem’s International Exchange Division has been promoting friendship and dialogue between people from different countries and culture for more than 30 years.
For Irit Sorek, who works as a nurse and teaches at the Hebrew University Hadassah School of Nursing, the women taking part in the seminar were truly able to connect, which in itself was a significant experience.
“We were complete strangers at first, but we found so much common ground as wives, mothers, professionals, and of course as women dealing with everyday challenges, like balancing time.”
“Each of the participants is doing something to promote change in her world – in her home, her family, her workplace. This was a great opportunity to really get to know each other on a face-to-face level and learn from one another.”