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Golda Meir Mount Carmel International Training Center is a Laboratory of Gender Equality Development

Often enough, the most wondrous things are hiding in plain sight. Such is the case with the Golda Meir Mount Carmel International Training Center (MCTC), facing a busy street just off a main avenue; one may pass it dozens of times without stopping to ponder what the nature of this welcoming building is.

MCTC was established in 1961 by MASHAV—Israel's Agency for International Development Cooperation at Israel's Ministry of Foreign Affairs—to assist in the training of women engaged in community work, in the newly emerging states in Africa and Asia. It trains professionals in areas such as social & economic development; providing women from the developing world with proper tools to enhance management and leadership skills; providing an appropriate solution to the essential needs of youth groups lacking educational and occupational frameworks; preventing violence against women and children, human trafficking, communication for social change, etc. In addition, it holds workshops in cooperation with international organizations and special agencies of the United Nations.

Ms. Hava Karrie, Director: "We started operating in '61, but the building exists since the 1930s, as a guesthouse named Carmel Palace. They say Ben Gurion used to visit here, as well as British officers, and after that, all of the nation's greats would come here for rest, recover, and converse. It was a renowned place, owned by the Dresner family, which eventually sold equal parts to the municipality and the Ministry of Foreign Affairs.

"Golda Meir, who was Foreign Minister at the time, began this project of aiding developing countries. She went to Africa and saw that women have no promotion possibilities, no places to learn, that they have no access to decision-making systems. She decided to take action."

Gill Haskel, Deputy Director General, MFA, and Head of MASHAV: "It was a decision based largely on conscience, but the final decision, which had financial ramifications on the budget of a small poor state with few resources, was Ben Gurion's, and was very political. Ben Gurion predicted that those countries will have independence within a few years, and that helping them will build a cadre of countries that will support Israel as a new State in the international arena. Therefore, I would say it was a combination of social conscience on the part of Golda, along with pragmatism and vision on Ben Gurion's part.

"We have worked with nearly 150 countries, the mainstay of whose relations with Israel until today is the aid. There are no rich economic relations with them. These are small, distant, poor countries, with no significant Israeli business activity that can sustain the relationship. Doubtlessly, if not for the establishment of MASHAV, Israel's imprint in the world would have been much paler than it is today. Because we are a small country with limited resources and limited capacity to reach out to the world, the most effective proper way for us to do that is by MASHAV's aid. There were also crises, in the 1970s, for political reasons, but after we have outgrown the years of detachment we returned to maintain very stable relations with the developing world, except for, I would say, the Arab-Muslim world. To this day, the decision whether, how and how much to expand our aid, is a mix of conscience and political considerations. Therefore, it is also very natural that this body called MASHAV exists within the Ministry of foreign Affairs, as part of Israel's diplomatic toolbox.

"Now, the issue of women's empowerment is a process. It has to start from the school system, textbooks, and of course, in a decision from above to establish institutions dedicated to this issue. I would say there is no comparison between the state of affairs in the developing world and worldwide today, regarding women empowerment and gender equality, in relation to what it was like some fifty years ago. Back then, many of the countries in the world— including glorious European countries—did not grant voting rights to women. Nowadays, there is hardly a country that does not allow women to vote. In Africa, it is apparent: men and women que to vote; there are men and women in the governments. In Rwanda, women have 50 percent representation in parliament. To measure exactly the contribution of MCTC within this global process is impossible, but the Center is the first in the world that was all about female empowerment, and gets a lot of credit for it."

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Karrie: "Every year we research the currently important issues, what is being discussed in the UN, receive information from people who participated in courses here in the past, and according to this we plan the annual program and send it to be approved by MASHAV, from whence out budget comes. Once approved, we issue online brochures, trying to connect with UN organizations or other large enterprises that are our partners, who also advertise our courses and introduce us to people who work in the field, good people who work on important projects. Of course, our issues also include the core subjects that Golda and Mina Ben-Zvi—the first Director—decided on, but we branched out in all kinds of more up to date directions, such as innovation and entrepreneurship, Hi-tech and accelerators."

Shachar Re'em, Deputy: "Today, it is rare to see a country that has no Ministry for the advancement of women and family affairs; it is something that governments and international organizations promote. What we contribute is experience of decades of a training center that promotes socio-economic development, how to incorporate women and promote them to decision-making roles in these processes. So now, we are part of a global effort, but also a sort of a benchmark, a model to refer to."

Haskel: "One must understand that Israel is virtually a laboratory for development. One of the characteristics of the development in Israel was that it occurred in parallel with almost definite gender equality. When one looks at the kibbutzim, at Golda, who was the third woman Prime Minister in the world, in fragile little Israel, of all places, these things make us are a role model. People come here to learn and see how we did it."

Rana Nahhas Suidan, Training Development: "There is another topic that we have been developing for years; regional courses that we are quieter about. We have long-term collaboration with Jordan and the Palestinians; we are trying to develop a relationship with the area, although it bears no immediate profit. We bring Israeli and Palestinian women who work in early childhood education, communication, and so forth, for three days over the weekend; they meet and just talk and realize that we are all the same and we all want the same thing."

Haskel: "Generally speaking, MASHAV ignores political restrictions. We express willingness to host in our training centers people from any country in the world, including those that do not have diplomatic relations with us. Whether they come or not, it's their own business, but our offer still stands. We had people from Morocco, Saudi Arabia, Palestinians, Jordanians, Kurdish. Unfortunately, the Egyptians stopped coming. There were years when we had seven-hundred Egyptian students annually, now we have none. It stopped with the Arab Spring, and never renewed."

Liron Maskit, Training Development: "We now have an entrepreneurship course for Spanish speakers. We plan each course according to the needs of the specific group. The participants are very diverse: they can be government officials, NGOs, from the public sector, and this creates very interesting dynamics, a very important and very powerful dialogue, and strong relations within the groups."

Haskel: "Appreciation to Israel lingers over the years. For example, Honduras President who took a course on developing young leadership in Latin America with MASHAV in the 1990s says it opened his eyes to many new directions; that he could not have gotten this knowledge in Honduras and other countries in Latin America at the time. It helped him shape the character of his leadership."