Santa Fe International Folk Art Market

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April 14, 2011
Building self-sufficiency and prosperity among Bedouin women in Israel

This is the first in a series of stories to help introduce you to some of our first-time artists coming to the Market.

Sidreh is a nonprofit organization established in 1998 to empower, represent and improve the situation of Bedouin women living in Israel.  Sidreh works in the Negev Desert where almost 180,000 Bedouins live under extremely challenging conditions, with inadequate housing and a shortage of public services. 

The organization works towards achieving gender equality, integration, and prosperity in the region for some of the most underprivileged in Israel, where education levels are alarmingly low. 

Sidreh is named after a tree that grows in the Naqab – the Arabic name for the Negev Desert.  The sidreh tree is mentioned in the Quran as a metaphor for women’s survival.

Sidreh has developed literacy training workshops as well as continuing education programs for adult women in several villages.  Programs cover topics such as health education, maternity, community life, leadership, rights and empowerment.  The organization has also developed teacher-training programs and works closely with schools and educational institutions. 

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As Bedouin women tend to be confined to their homes, Sidreh also arranges entertainment and travel opportunities for women.  Through these programs, hundreds of women have visited the sea for the first time, as well as places such as Jerusalem, Akka and Haifa.

Sidreh also helps set up and support women’s committees in villages, working with other institutions and with the local men to ensure their acceptance and collaboration.  As a result, women now appear in public spaces, participate in decision-making processes and take active roles in community activities. Women are finally gaining the tools to cope with the modern world as independent individuals. 

More than 11,000 copies of a newspaper created by Sidreh are distributed for free throughout Negev, serving as a tool to promote a positive image of women and highlighting their important role as members of the community.

Lakiya Negev Weaving

Economic empowerment is a key element in improving the situation for Bedouin women, and Sidreh promotes employment and small business development initiatives including technical training, small business exhibits, and joint tourism efforts to attract more visitors to the area. 

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In addition, Sidreh promotes generating sustainable income by transforming women’s traditional weaving skills into a professional manufacturing business, empowering women both socially and economically.  One of the main economic development projects is Lakiya Negev Weaving, which enables over 100 women to produce rugs, bags, pillow cases and wall hangings.

The women are divided into six specialized groups including spinners who use traditional spindles to create yarn, those that skein the wool and prepare the wool for dyeing, those that dye the wool, the interweavers who combine two strands of wool to spin a very strong strand on the spindles, the weavers who use the traditional Bedouin ground loom that they construct themselves, and finally those who perform the finishing process, sewing seams and binding the edges, creating hand-rolled tassels, cleaning the carpets and performing quality control.

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This craft is part of the Bedouin heritage, and ground looms have been in use for nearly 4,000 years.  When they lived in tents, the women wove the tent itself, one for winter made with goat hair, and a summer tent from camel hair.  The tradition passed from mother to daughter within families and clans.  Historically, Bedouin women also wove carpets, belts, and other items used in both public and private life.  After they moved to modern houses in the 1980s the tradition began to die out, except when women made wedding gifts of carpets and similar items.  The aim of the Lakiya Negev Weaving is to preserve this beautiful tradition, and in doing so, restore the self-esteem of the Bedouin women and to earn respect within their own communities. 

Haiger Sana

Haiger Sana is one of the artists who will be attending the Market from Sidreh. She is 58 and a mother of nine children.  She was the first Bedouin woman to go to the Quttab, the Arab school system where she learned to read and write and studied the Quran. Her family made fun of her and for a time she was embarrassed, but she continued to study, and now she appreciates the value of her studies and can read newspapers and the holy Quran. Although she was only permitted to stay in school through the fifth grade, she later learned Hebrew with assistance from the Sidreh organization.  She now works for Sidreh in the weaving project

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“When I lived in tents, I did not know there were people in the world who were not Bedouin and who lived differently,” she said.  But through her education she learned there is a different way to live in the world, and has witnessed all the changes that the Bedouin society in Israel has experienced, moving from tents to sheds and now to a modern house.  She is the first Bedouin woman who learned how to drive and with her earnings, she has supported three of her daughters’ education – one of her daughters is now a nurse, one is an accountant and one a lawyer.

You can help sponsor this first-time group at the 2011 Market and change lives of Bedouin women in Israel.

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The Santa Fe International Folk Art Market, a non-profit organization, produces the largest international folk art market in the world, and our success led to Santa Fe’s designation as a UNESCO City of Folk Art.