Fordham’s Women’s Empowerment Club Raises Money with Students for Justice in Palestine

Fordham Womens Empowerment Club and SJP partner to raise money for a Palestinian family in need (Photo Courtesy of J Post).

Fordham Women’s Empowerment Club and SJP partner to raise money for a Palestinian family in need (Photo Courtesy of J Post).

Fordham Women’s Empowerment recently partnered with Students for Justice in Palestine (SJP) to raise money for a Palestinian family facing eviction. The joint effort was a part of SJP’s ongoing mutual aid project to support individuals and families grappling with poverty in Gaza.

The collaboration came about thanks to Abdual Yousef, FCLC ’24, who has been organizing SJP’s mutual aid collections. A Palestinian himself, he describes the work as “helping [his] people.” Yousef works with the unofficial organization Gazan Mutual Aid, which involves SJP clubs at various colleges and universities. He estimates that the group has raised $160,000 for 40 individuals and families since August.

Natalie Ortof, GSB ’22, is a member of the executive board of the Women’s Empowerment club. She said that Yousef brought the fundraising to the board’s attention and proposed the two clubs work together. “He mentioned a woman named Um Mahmoud,” said Ortof. “Her and her family would be evicted and could not make ends meet if the money wasn’t raised.”

“They were having an e-board meeting, and I thought, ‘This is a great opportunity to collaborate,’” Yousef recalled. He decided to mention Um Mahmoud, who the Women’s Empowerment ultimately helped support.

Um Mahmoud is a Gazan mother whose husband is ill and cannot work.“There’s a huge issue with [the] lack of women’s employment in Palestine,” Yousef added. Because Um Mahmoud has few opportunities to provide for her family, her husband’s unemployment means they struggle to pay rent.

The group’s executive board members agreed to help Um Mahmoud and her family by donating the proceeds from a bake sale. “[Um Mahmoud’s] struggles are emblematic of issues women, and especially mothers, face across the globe,” Ortof explained. “That’s why we knew we needed to help.” With the bake sale’s help, SJP reached its goal of $2,500, which will allow Um Mahmoud to pay her family’s rent.

Unfortunately, Um Mahmoud and her family are among millions of Palestinians who cannot afford basic necessities. In Gaza, the unemployment rate is 45%, according to a recent report from the World Bank. Many families in the Gaza Strip depend on social assistance to cover basic living expenses.

“That’s the only way most families survive,” said Yousef.

These dire economic conditions directly result from Israel’s actions in the region; in 2016, the United Nations reported that Palestine is losing $3.4 billion of yearly GDP due to Israeli occupation.

Widespread poverty also means that many Palestinians fall into debt that they cannot pay off without assistance. Mohammed, another individual who is being supported by Gazan Mutual Aid, had $2,000 in debt from medical expenses related to deformities in his ear and hand. Yousef recounted that Mohammed might have gone to prison if he had not paid the debt. Luckily, Gazan Mutual Aid raised the necessary funds with a day to spare, and they are currently gathering money to help Mohammed purchase a hearing aid.

These stories, despite ending successfully, reinforce SJP’s belief that providing mutual aid is a crucial way to support Palestinians.

“[Mutual aid] is one of the most important things to our club,” Yousef said, noting that Fordham SJP is currently running 13 fundraisers with Gazan Mutual Aid.

SJP is also fighting to be granted official club status at Fordham, which would likely help with their mutual aid efforts. The group lost its most recent legal battle with the university to receive official club status at the Lincoln Center campus. “They say we’re polarizing. How polarizing is it to support Palestinian families?” Yousef asked.

SJP said it will continue to meet and raise money for struggling Palestinians. Yousef recommended that those who would like to help can contact @fordhamsjp on Instagram, and emphasized that no donation is too small. “Most of our donations for the Mohammed campaign were $15. Everything helps.”