Um Al Jimal society empowers women, protects heritage sites

22-01-2014 01:55 PM

Ammon News - Jordan Times - A stone’s throw away from the war-torn Syrian border, a group of Jordanian women has come together to preserve a 700-year-old archaeological site by transforming it into a popular tourist attraction while winning economic independence.

About 80 kilometres north of Amman, the village of Um Al Jimal — Arabic for “Mother of Camels” — is home to a community of 10,000 with its ruins from the Nabataean, Roman and Umayyad periods waiting to be included on the World Heritage List by the UNESCO World Heritage Committee.

“The purpose of our cooperative society, established in 2010, is to work on human development within the community of Um Al Jimal to develop the capacity of young women,” a representative of Um Al Jimal women’s cooperative told reporters while presenting the project earlier this week.

“We are focusing on producing handicrafts mirroring the local traditional heritage which would help develop our village and bring more tourists,” she added while highlighting UNESCO and UN Women’s support, which focuses in turn on gender equality and the empowerment of women.

Culture is a vector for sustainable development, Anna Paolini, director of UNESCO Jordan, said at the launch of the support project, adding that it was one of the priorities of UNESCO to include more and more culture into the developing agenda of UN agencies.

“This programme will support the women of Um Al Jimal to improve their lives,” Paolini said.

“The women of the cooperative will be trained to produce products reflecting Um Al Jimal’s local heritage, to know the history and the archaeology of the site,” she added.

Affected by the massive influx of Syrians fleeing the almost three-year-old civil war in their country, Mafraq Governorate, some 80km northeast of Amman, hosts the largest concentration of refugees in the Kingdom due to its proximity to the Syrian border.

About 600,000 Syrians have sought refuge in the Kingdom since the onset of the conflict in 2011.

“Um Al Jimal is located next to Zataari... the world’s second largest refugee camp — and despite being affected by the ongoing humanitarian crisis, it is at the same time very rich due to this stunning archaeological site, with a team of experts having been working on it over the past 40 years,” Paolini said.

“We would like to train the women, making them guides and employing them on the site. We would like also to target the production of handicrafts, as well as of natural products to offer to the tourists when they visit the site,” she added.

UN Women representative Giuseppe Belsito said it was fundamental to establish a link between the cultural heritage and the human factor, which would eventually lead to income-generating opportunities not only for the women in Um Al Jimal and Mafraq but for the entire community.

“I hope that such efforts would take place in all Jordan and to expand the benefits to wider areas across the country. Jordan is a country blessed with a magnificent cultural heritage which could be turned into a gold mine for local communities like the one in Um Al Jimal,” he added.

On the wave of the second donors’ conference held earlier this month in Kuwait, in which the UN secured pledges for $2.5 billion in funds to provide urgent humanitarian aid to a forecast 4 million Syrians driven from their homes and over 6 million internally displaced this year, UN Resident Coordinator Costanza Farina said the project tackles one of the basic problems in the area.

At the conference, Planning Minister Ibrahim Saif launched the National Resilience Plan — a strategic document identifying the means to address the impact of the large influx of Syrian refugees especially in the northern region, Farina told The Jordan Times.

“One of the main issues is unemployment, and this project is a concrete response on how to tackle unemployment and especially with a women-specific touch, that is the cultural heritage field.”

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