Arab women's jobs program gains steam

The Sharikat Haya program, which trains Arab women and helps place them in jobs, had more than 300 applicants for its second class, out of whom 115 were selected. Last year 75 women attended the program run by the Abraham Fund in Shaghur, Nahf and Reina, and this year a new location is opening in Sakhnin. The program is sponsored by the American Jewish Joint Distribution Committee, the European Commission and the United Jewish Communities of North America. "Arab women are an untapped resource," spokesman Josh Simon said on Tuesday. "The program began in 2007 as the Abraham Fund believes that the integration of Arab women into the labor market will improve their economic and social status as well as increase participation of Arab citizens in the Israeli workforce in general, therefore economically empowering Arab society as a whole." "Once the women and community understood the potential... we saw a growing demand for this program," co-executive director Amnon Be'eri-Suitzeanu said. Only 17 percent of Arab women work outside the home, while the figure is 60% for Arab men and 55% for Jewish women, according to a 2003 report from the Central Bureau of Statistics, "The Arab Population of Israel." The program, which lasts a few months, provides training in areas ranging from resumé writing to computer skills, as well as job-placement services. Sharikat Haya also holds an annual job fair that is open to the entire community. From last year's pilot group of 75 women, 30 now have jobs, and the rest are still looking, with the program's help. Zent Abujomaa is one of the women who now has a job. A mother of five, she supports her family by working part-time as a caregiver for a disabled girl. "It really helped me, it taught me how to deal with issues with jobs, family and society," Abujomaa said. "It's worthwhile for all women." The program's focus on personal and collective empowerment and on changing public perception of what Arab women can do is key. "The bottom line is to prove a point," Be'eri-Suitzeanu said. Co-executive director Muhammad Darwashe said the program helped the women, and Arab society in general, to become economically stable. A stable society was one that could better coexist with its neighbors, he said. Be'eri-Suitzneau expressed high hopes for the program's future. "There's a lot of backing from both [the Israeli and Arab] sides," he said. He wants to expand to more Arab towns in the periphery, and to eventually have the government adopt the model and implement it nationwide.