Women's rights advocates meet in Nazareth 370.
(photo credit: Joshua Lipson)
“Violence against women is not a fact of Arab culture. If it’s culture, then
there’s nothing we can do. But in fact, there’s very much we can do,” explained
Sausan Tuma-Shukha, a representative of Women Against Violence, to a Knesset
delegation in Nazareth last week.
The NGO seeks to demolish a popular
conception of how Arab women came to be at “the edge of the edge” of Israeli
As Tuma-Shukha and other representatives of Arab-Israeli women’s
rights groups spoke, calling for a serious state commitment to improving
conditions in the Arab female sector, the diverse representation of MKs nodded
Led by chairwoman MK Aliza Lavie (Yesh Atid), the
delegation came to the Nazareth headquarters of Women Against Violence at the
invitation of director Aida Tuma-Suleiman, taking comment from members of
Tuma-Suleiman’s group and several other women’s rights groups focused on the
Arab sector. Women Against Violence, founded in 1992 by a group of Israeli Arab
female professionals, runs programs in the prevention of gender-based violence,
women’s employment promotion, and political advocacy.
especially pleased with the results of her organization’s effort, which engaged
a polyphonic set of local NGOs and ran the political gamut from Hadash to Yesh
“We haven’t received anyone from [the] Knesset in about 12 years.
And yet, all I did was tell MK Lavie about our organization at a hearing of the
Committee for Improving the Standing of Women, and here they are,” she
MK Dov Henin praised the discussion’s expert participants and
pledged to make their case to the state.
“This is my first week on the
committee, and I’m very impressed by all the work and planning that has been
undertaken on this issue… Sadly, your expertise is being missed by the state.
Engels once said that the standing of women is the best indicator of the
condition of a society, and I think that’s true here,” he said.
evidence to the group’s breadth of mission, the organization invited activists
and experts from academia to present to Lavie’s delegation. Problems faced by
Arab Israeli women presented were in the areas of health, employment, and
Nihaya Daoud, a public health researcher and
lecturer at Ben-Gurion University of the Negev, explained that Arab women are
more likely to be plagued by health problems and violence if unemployed or
Arab women face disadvantages in Israel that are social,
economical, political and cultural in origin, she said.
“We need to begin
speaking about Arab women’s health in broad, social terms – not just in terms of
And the health situation of Arab women in Israel
reflects their low social standing in every sense.”
Daoud pointed out
that between Jewish and Arab women, a fatal consequence of institutional
inequality can be seen in the rate of early detection in breast cancer and
She called for education reform, employment programs,
and information accessibility as broad-based solutions to health and violence
problems in the Arab women’s sector.
Tuma-Shukha, citing figures from her
own research and that of her colleagues, showed the severe impact of
non-participation in the workforce on the quality of life of Arab women and on
the productivity of the Israeli economy.
Reportedly, an 80 percent of
Israeli Arab women abstain from the workforce – including 42 percent of those
that hold an academic degree.
In describing the perverse logic of Jewish
schools being understaffed and degree-holding Arab teachers underemployed,
Tuma-Shukha conveyed her organizations employment initiative slogan: “Their
employment, everyone’s benefit.”
By her estimate, workforce
non-participation and exclusion of Arab women costs the Israeli economy NIS 21
billion in lost revenue, some of which could be used to fuel a virtuous cycle of
improved education in the Arab sector and financial assistance for families well
below the poverty line.
Despite the welter of grim statistics,
representatives at the meeting waxed ebullient over what they perceived as a new
willingness by the government to engage their concerns.
their hosts for bringing an underexposed perspective to their attention, members
of Knesset meandered out to the balcony, breaking za’atar-coated bread with
local constituents and pledging to stay engaged with their concerns.