More Arab women work outside of home, finds study

Despite increase, women who seek employment still face societal tensions, researcher tells ‘Post.’

A WOMAN MAKES traditional pita bread in Kafr Kasim, near Rosh Ha’ayin (photo credit: Courtesy)
A WOMAN MAKES traditional pita bread in Kafr Kasim, near Rosh Ha’ayin
(photo credit: Courtesy)
“Arab women from all over the country are going to work, but it is not easy for many psychologically because of the conflict it creates with their husbands,” according to preliminary findings of a study being prepared as a PhD at Bar-Ilan University.
Their husbands “want them to continue their full-time care of the home and the children’s needs,” Joseph Klein, a senior lecturer and head of the division of educational leadership and administration at the university, said in an interview with The Jerusalem Post on Sunday.
Arab women in Israel are slowly gaining more freedom, but they are not disassociating themselves from traditional Arab norms, according to the study.
Rodayna Badir interviewed 800 Arab women aged 24 and older from all around the country for her dissertation.
Badir, from Kafr Kasim, told the Post that “despite the fact we live in modern society, culture and tradition still strongly shape societal norms.”
The women she spoke with claimed that their household chores add up to 70 percent of their time.
Badir hopes her research will open up avenues for incremental change by raising awareness of the need to strike a better balance between domestic duties and activities outside of the home.
“I don’t want to cut off culture, but to keep our roots while finding the freedom to study and work without limits.”
She agreed with the influential American political scientist Samuel Huntington, who argued that modernization does not mean Westernization.
“As the pace of modernization increases, however, the rate of Westernization declines and the indigenous culture goes through a revival,” Huntington wrote in The Clash of Civilizations and the Remaking of World Order (1996).
Klein, who is guiding Badir in the research, said that her work has identified several issues that have obstructed women from entering into the workforce: Arab perceptions of women, caring for many children, and schooling issues.
Possible solutions include more support from and communication with the husband, and greater employer flexibility.
“I am optimistic, not for a revolution, but for change,” he said, adding that the revolution already happened with more and more Arab women leaving the household to work and engage in other activities.
“We need to ensure that it is not a revolution that breaks down, but one that builds up,” said Klein.
Badir found that many women who believed in the importance of taking care of the home and family, had more problems at work as a result.
Women who put more value on home duties would refuse requests to stay late at work. They would ask to leave early, or perhaps take days off.
“Arab women in Israel generally experience a high level of conflict between family and work,” she said.
Husbands who support and discuss their wife’s work helped ease conflicts within the home.
However, few husbands display such behavior, according to her research.
“We are in a process of change. The woman feels it is her right to work, but does so carefully in order not to blow up the household and go against traditions.”
Asked about possible solutions, Badir responded that if husbands would realize that their wives could double household income, perhaps an acceptable balance could be found within the context of traditional culture.
“The change is going slowly,” she said.
In addition, she continued, there needs to be more afterschool programs and daycare hours as well as a division of household chores.