It’s International Women’s Day and today we are celebrating how access to books can be transformative for women and girls.
Haneen is the Programmes Coordinator at our partner Tamer Institute for Community Education, a non-profit working in the West Bank and Gaza (the Occupied Palestinian Territories) to support both formal and informal education and learning under the difficult social and economic conditions they experience.
All Palestinians’ freedom of movement is restricted by a complex system of controls, such as permits, checkpoints, roadblocks and segregation wall. 
We talked to Haneen about the difference books make for her as a young woman living in Jerusalem and how she thinks they can help other women and girls like her cope with the challenges they face and pursue their ambitions.
What are the particular challenges that women living in Palestine face?
Women in Palestine face many challenges on a daily basis. In general terms, Palestinian women suffer from a low employment rate. The poor infrastructure and almost total absence of public transit to and from Palestinian Arab villages play a central role in women’s social exclusion and have a particularly negative effect on their ability, though not on their willingness, to join the work force.
The separation wall has resulted in the permanent division of communities and restricts access to medical care, schools and workplaces. The Wall, as well as the over 500 other obstacles throughout Palestine (including checkpoints and road blocks) have greatly increased travel time and costs. These restrictions present particular risks for expectant mothers, resulting in the denial of their right to health. Furthermore, frequent body searches at checkpoints do not, as a rule, observe women’s right to privacy.
Although men are those most often imprisoned by Israeli occupation, women bear the costs of their detention: the burden of running a household and raising children, as well as interceding on behalf of prisoners, visiting and taking care of them once released – all weigh heavily on women’s shoulders
I face the wall and the checkpoints on a daily basis. My privacy is violated on a daily basis too. I often feel that my life is wasted waiting on checkpoints to cross from one city to another.
How have books helped you to overcome or cope with these challenges?
For me, books are a spiritual resource to shore myself up against challenges. They give me a reason to hope and dream, develop my identity, strengthen my confidence.
Books create a solid ground for me where I can feel stable and safe. They open a wide window to a normal life; to many other lives that I could have lived.
For me books can shorten the waiting time in front of any checkpoint and shorten the distance between imagination and reality. Books make me see what is beyond the walls and to dare to dream.
How do you think books can help other women and girls in Palestine?
Books can bring Palestine closer to those who can’t see it because of all the barriers built by the occupation. It makes you imagine the sea even if you can’t reach it, it makes you imagine the plane, the train . . .
Books make you travel, learn and most importantly reach what you are unable to reach in reality. They give strength to fight to overcome challenges and overcome barriers, both the physical and mental ones. I believe that books can help Palestinian girls and women live a better life than what they are living in reality.