Israeli Arab women assuming more modern family roles

University of Haifa study shows major differences between Arab families today and in pre-state Israel.

arab girls 88 (photo credit: )
arab girls 88
(photo credit: )
The classic image of Arab women being weak, inferior, dependent on their menfolk and confined within 'old-school' tradition patterns was challenged Monday following the publication of a study conducted by the University of Haifa. The study questioned 537 Israeli Arab women, half Muslim and half Christian - mostly from the north of the country - from 179 different families spanning three generations. It found that there were significant differences between the young Arab family in contemporary Israel and the conservative Arab family of pre-state Israel. "The gloomy picture of the pseudo-depressing situation of the Arab woman and the description of her as submissive to and dependent on the male and subordinate to him is not correct," said Dr. Nasreen Haj Yahia Abu Ahmad from the university's school of social work, who carried out the study under the guidance of Professor Yoav Lavee. Many of the younger women questioned reported that the division of labor with their partner was shared more than the division of labor had been with their parents. Husbands took on some of the tasks associated with running the house and taking care of the children, they said. The study also showed changes in a variety of areas such as parental involvement in choosing a spouse, the method of engagement and the character of the meetings with the future spouse during the engagement period. "Almost 86 percent of women in the first generation had been... involved to a large extent in choosing a spouse [for their children], in comparison to 52% of the second generation and about 13% of the third generation," said Abu Ahmad. According to the study, while 39% of women in the first generation had accepted a traditional arranged marriage, only 10% did in the second generation and by the third generation it has almost completely disappeared. In the first generation, matchmaking took place about 51% of the time, while today it occurs only 18% of the time. Abu Ahmad said that the study also discovered a significant increase in the number of women who met their future husbands before becoming engaged. "This acquaintance was very rare in the first generation (less than 1%) and has completely turned around to become more common among the generation of granddaughters (61%)," she noted. She said that one of the main explanations for these changes was that "young women in Arab society are more educated than their mothers and their grandmothers and are employed more outside the house." "The more an Arab woman finds herself intensely exposed to the Jewish population, the less traditional her views and behavior will be," explained Abu Ahmad.