Arab feminist group draws attention to 'unpaid labor'

Kayan offers community leadership training and empowerment in Arab localities and legal aid for low income women.

Arab woman 88 224 (photo credit: Courtesy)
Arab woman 88 224
(photo credit: Courtesy)
For Rula Deeb, every day is an International Women's Day of sorts. Deeb is the director of the Haifa-based Kayan feminist organization, which aims to advance the status of Arab women in Israel. Kayan was formed in 1998 to empower women both as members of Arab society - "a traditional society in transition" - and as minority citizens in Israel, Deeb said on Sunday. Kayan offers community leadership training and empowerment in Arab localities and legal aid for low income women. "It's crucial for us to see women... who are empowered and proactive in the public sphere and in public activism bringing social change to their communities," she said. While it's important to address inequalities in politics, higher education and employment, Kayan is also trying to draw attention to inequalities in the division of "unpaid labor" - or household management duties - in Arab families, she said. Employed women do the majority of household work such as shopping, cleaning, cooking, raising children everywhere, but they often bear more of the burden in traditional societies. For Arab women who work both outside and inside the home, the strain can be tremendous, she said. "Women go out and work, and when they return home... they take care of everything. It's like slavery," Deeb said. "It might prevent them from being activists in the public sphere. It affects their capacity to develop themselves, to improve their lives... It's a high price" they pay. Last year, Kayan distributed a log for women to record the hours they spend on various household tasks, such as shopping, teaching children and laundry. The exercise was meant to raise participants' awareness of the amount of work they do to maintain their homes. Deeb said the nonprofit organization hoped to conduct a more systematic survey of time Arab women spent on household management in the near future. "We think that we can't talk about social equality and general equality, without talking about equality at home," she said. "It's a very important indicator for equality in society." Women also face challenges in the workplace. Women in the Arab private sector are vulnerable to abuse from employers, who often offer less than minimum wage to women desperate for a low-skill job in their area. Some women are paid as little as NIS 1,200 a month to work more than eight hours a day as a sales clerk in the Triangle region in the Sharon, she said. "Their employer says 'take it or leave it'... They know that many others would take the job," Deeb said. These women need more sophisticated skills to be integrated into the Jewish sector, she said. Many accept such low pay because they need the money and it's a chance to get exposed to the outside world, she said. Kayan, which means "being" in Arabic, offers these women legal aid and information to cope with such difficulties, as well as advice on where to turn to report an anonymous complaint. "We know that their rights are violated and we want them to be aware of the facts," Deeb said. "They can move and do something about this."