In 1977, the UN General Assembly voted to adopt a resolution proclaiming a
United Nations Day for Women’s Rights and International Peace.
then, the UN recognized, rightfully, the link between the morals of peace and
the rights of women, and the connection between the struggle for womens’ rights
and the struggle for freedom and justice. If we were to adopt the UN decision to
the reality here, we would reach the same conclusion.
Feminism is not a
women’s movement, it is a movement of morals. From a moral, political, and
practical standpoint we cannot allow ourselves to identify with women’s rights
while other women are being oppressed elsewhere. We can’t call ourselves
feminists if we occupy other women, demolish their homes, force them to live
under a blockade, support settlement expansion, and then come home and talk
about women’s rights.
It shouldn’t matter if a government that chooses to
settle matters through force, and rejects my nationality or my rights, includes
four women or 14. And it shouldn’t matter how many pilots who operated
during Operation Cast Lead were female. These are certainly not the point of a
The motto of the women’s movement which the UN has
adopted is “women’s rights are human rights” and whoever demands rights for
women cannot infringe upon the rights of other people. And by no means can they
trample on the rights of other women.
In this country, Jews are,
rightfully, convinced that in the Arab community, it is difficult to talk about
At the same time, they speak with an often condescending
tone of the “suffering” of miserable Arab women within society. They are
incapable of grasping how difficult it is to wage a feminist struggle within a
militaristic society, and how difficult it is even for a Jewish woman to
assimilate into the moral framework in which the army is not only a central
institution, but also the body of utmost value. Feminism is indeed warped within
Arab female employment stands at only 19 percent – less
than a third of the rate among Jewish women, which stands at 65%.
50% of women in Israel work, and the state, which is the largest employer of
women in the country, doesn’t employ enough women: only 3% of all female state
employees are Arab women. They make up only 1.8% of all state
The authority for the advancement of women in the Prime
Minister’s Office has stated that the Arab community is a traditional community
in which the partriarchal family is of utmost importance. This social structure
keeps the Arab woman within a traditional framework, which encourages her to
pursue a role within the house.
But this view is pure Orientalism. It is
also irresponsible. It’s not the tradition or the culture which keeps
Arab women from working. There is no culture that rules that its people must
live in poverty and lack dignity. How do we reconcile blaming Arab women for
their low participation in the workforce with the fact that within Arab society,
women pursue higher education degrees at a higher rate than men? Or that this
society allows women to work far from home in mixed cities? Rest assured,
education is of utmost importance in this traditional society.
of the push for higher education and the encouragement to work, only 57% of Arab
women with academic degrees are employed, as opposed to 74% of Jewish women. And
a quarter of them earn the minimum wage.
A DECADE ago, “only” 36% of
Arabs in Israel lived below the poverty line. Today, the figure stands at 56%. A
Bank of Israel report stated that the poverty level between the two lowest
social strata in Israel, the haredim and the Arab sector, rose in
At the same time, the haredi community reached a turning point. In
spite of the sharp cuts in stipends, the chances of a haredi man joining the
ranks of the poor continues to drop. The reason is the increased entry of
haredim into the workforce, a phenomenon strengthened by special employment
programs geared towards their community. By contrast, the chances of an Arab
joining the poverty ranks in Israel have only risen.
Real feminism must
acknowledge the discrimination against Arab women in this country, and real
feminism must know to identify with and struggle alongside them, on the
national, civil and social levels.
My parliamentary agenda is to protect
Arab women in this society in each of her identities: as a woman, a Palestinian,
and as a citizen of this country.
I, like most other Arab MKs, want to
see an end to state policies which are hostile, both physically and
symbolically. Incitement, by some members of Knesset, by some rabbis, and by
some simple everyday citizens against Arabs, is a reality.
witch-hunt against me and my party (Balad), and the remainder of the Arab
parliamentary members is also part of this reality. So is police hostility and
violence (remember the October 2000 riots?), home demolitions and the
expropriation of land.
Therefore, it is possible to sum up Israel’s
relations with its Palestinian citizens in one sentence: We are not only a
minority that is discriminated against, we are a minority at risk.
the past two years, the Knesset has brought forth dozens of laws designed to
strengthen the Jewish character of the country at the expense of its democratic
I fight for my rights in my homeland. Perhaps this is news to
many of you, but I did not choose to live in the State of Israel; Israel has
chosen to live among my people and I.
The writer is a member of the Balad
Party and the Knesset Committee on the Status of Women.