Dr. Rania Okby, who became the female Bedouin doctor in the world upon graduating from Ben Gurion University's medical school, spoke in Winnipeg on February 9 and 10, sponsored by the Manitoba Chapter of the Canadian Associates of BGU.
Dr. Okby, was raised by a single mother, who despite tradition emboldened her to reach her full potential. She graduated from the Goldman School of Medicine at Ben Gurion University of the Negev with a thesis on The Influence of Modernization on Breastfeeding Habits Among Bedouin Women in the Negev. She later specialized in Gynaecology and Obstetrics and went on complete her post-graduate work in a variety of places: Haifa, Tel Aviv, Italy, Kenya, and Manhattan. She later returned to BGU to complete her medical residency and has been an instructor in the Faculty of Health Sciences there since 2009.
Dr. Okby began to work towards her medical career by participating in BGU’s outreach program. The project involves select academically excellent students who study for an extra day of school each week and learn English and other pre-university courses. After this Rania was selected from the group to study medicine. Her education was entirely funded by BGU, and Rania told her audience that that without this tremendous help from the university, she would never have been able to attend university. She definitely felt the pressure to succeed in her first year, for if she failed, perhaps no other Bedouin woman would have the resolution to achieve this again.
In her address in Winnipeg, Dr. Okby spoke about the struggle of the Bedouin people in Israel, specifically the women. A Bedouin person is defined as someone who was both born and raised in the desert. Dr. Okby explained that it is therefore a lifestyle, not a religion or nationality. Many Bedouins are living in unrecognized villages without electricity or proper medical care. The life expectancy there is very low and many people are in need of health care. According to Dr. Okby twelve out of every 1000 children die within their first year and most women are married by the age of eighteen. Dr. Okby said she is working towards changing these statistics, and she believes that by educating the women of this community, the situation will change.
Dr. Okby noted that due to the fact that the women are married so young and the men want many children, there is not enough time between births for a woman's body to recover after each birth. She also explained that the women in the Bedouin community are afraid to use contraception since Bedouin husbands continuously want more children. Therefore when these women come to Dr. Okby’s office, she explained that she educates them in any way she can. She is doctor, psychologist, friend and teacher to these women.
Dr. Okby said that despite the very grim statistics that are given above, the situation is beginning to change. She believes that in twenty years, the future of the Bedouin people will look very different. In her lecture Rania stated “We are in the middle of the chaos period” in which
matters are all being brought up in order to sort them out. She is of the view education for women is the key to the future.
Rania is a mother of two girls, and she successfully balances her home life as well as a busy medical career. She also has found the balance between modern life and traditional Bedouin culture. She is raising her daughters in a way that values each person as a human being, regardless of whether they are an Arab or a Jew.
Dr. Rania Okby is not only a symbol of the future and the greatest yet to come, but also inspiration to us all in her fight for education.