Bringing the jobs to Beduin women

Economy Ministry touts centers helping women battle unique challenges to entering the workforce.

By TAMARA UNGAR, JENNA PERLMAN
August 2, 2015 01:50
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WORKERS IMPROVE their skills at the Rayan South employment center in Rahat last week.. (photo credit: MARC ISRAEL SELLEM/THE JERUSALEM POST)

 
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The frustrating cycle that many graduates in the Beduin sector face is best summed up by Ella Eyal Bar David, an employment and infrastructure project manager at the Economy Ministry who works with Beduin clients.

“People who have graduated and don’t find work [find it] very frustrating, because they went and studied and invested thousands of shekels in those studies, and then after they finish their degree they go and work in a gas station or something, and not in their profession,” said Bar David, last week as she showed a group of visitors around the Rayan South employment center in Rahat, south of Beersheba.

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Mahmud Alamour, the director of the center backed up Bar David’s statement, adding “We are living on the periphery with limited resources, especially public transportation, infrastructure and also job opportunities.”

The center is one of 21 the Economy Ministry established for the Arab sector in recent years in cooperation with Joint Distribution Committee’s Tevet Employment Initiative and the Prime Minister’s Office. The centers serve as onestop shops for the unemployed, training and guiding them regarding suitable employment.

Alamour, speaking to journalists on a press tour last week organized by the Economy Ministry, expressed his concerns relating to the integration of Beduin women into the workforce.

“Most of the Beduin have limited infrastructure with no industrial areas or means for economic development,” Alamour said. They face formidable barrier in getting jobs, he added.

“The education system in the Beduin community is very weak, for example most of the students who finish high school cannot speak Hebrew and it’s very difficult for them to then start to work in the Israeli labor force,” Alamour said.

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Bar David expanded on Alamour’s point, explaining that this linguistic divide creates a gap between the level of Beduin’s education and their employment.

“Today’s labor market demands very high technical skills, you have to know Hebrew very well, you need to speak English very well, you need to know math,” she said. “We can see that with Arab women this barrier is even higher.”

A major goal of the Economy Ministry is increasing the employment rate, particularly among groups with low participation in the labor market. Bar David explained that it is not only the undereducated who have difficulty getting jobs, and there is potential for social rifts to develop where opportunity is not present.

“This is one of the things that the Rayan center is working toward – to help them find work in their profession,” she said.

Helping Beduin find employment requires a grassroots approach, Bar David emphasized.

“If you really want to work with the community it’s important to have leaders from the community on staff.

All of them [the staff] have bachelor’s degrees, education and they know the families, they know the heads of the families and they are arranging community fairs to talk about employment,” she said.

The Rahat center, which opened in late 2012, has a heavy caseload of clients. Alamour said that it takes a lot of work from both the staff and the community to engage job seekers.

“The situation now is that the people have no hope and no future. They don’t believe in themselves and it takes a lot of energy to convince the people that they can improve their situation and that the government actually wants to help,” he said.

At the Bezeq customer service center in Hura, a Beduin town northeast of Beersheba, women from the community have entered the labor force thanks to a creative solution to cultural barriers that prevent travel to and from work.

The service center has been located in a mosque for the past four years; the center’s director, Motti Vaknin, said this was key to getting women to work there.

“You need to know the culture of the Beduin. The women now feel safe to come to a place which gives them the atmosphere that they require to get permission from their husband or other people in the home to come to work,” he said.

The cooperation between the government and community has afforded the women of Hura the opportunity to work, Vaknin said. Thirty women work at the center and more are being recruited.

“This place is very unique, there is no other place in the world where you can put a call center inside a mosque,” he said. “It gives the women the opportunity to have success and to be the first [in their families] to involve themselves in the modern world.”

Team leader Wafa has been working at the Bezeq center for three-and-a-half years and said the location within a mosque has made work a possibility for her and increased the living standard for her entire family.

“When the workplace came to me, it’s completely different and much easier for me. The people are much more accepting of me and my work because I’m working in a mosque,” she said.

“Even when I wanted to work in other places, my family recommended to me to work here, in our community. If I were to work in another place I wouldn’t have the same working conditions as here at Bezeq.”

Wafa met barriers to employment including transportation difficulties and educational deficits similar to those faced by her counterparts in other communities and parts of the country.

She offered advice to companies and government entities wishing to facilitate the movement of Beduin women into the workforce.

“Bring the job to the people and don’t expect the people to go looking for the jobs in the big cities. This is important for the Beduin women,” Wafa said.

Sareem Abu Asat is an 18-year-old client of the Rayan South employment center and a beacon for the next generation of Beduin youth.

Through the legitimacy of the center and trust from within her community, Abu Asat has gained the support from her family to begin study in a special engineering program. She hopes to become a medical engineer.

“This is my dream, because I want to help,” she said.

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