Campaign touches on the representation of women in positions of political influence.
By TALYA HALKIN
Israeli Arab women's organizations have entered negotiations with the Higher Arab Monitoring Committee, the political body which represents Israeli Arabs, demanding equal representation for women in political parties on the committee.
Representatives of some civil rights and women's advocacy groups have said that if their demand is not met they will consider boycotting uncooperative parties in local and national elections. At present there are no women representatives at all.
The informal coalition of women's organizations that is now negotiating with the committee was formed following a recent media campaign launched in the Arab sector by Women Against Violence, an advocacy group for Israeli Arab women.
Among other issues, the campaign touched on the representation of women in positions of political influence. Following this campaign, representatives of Women Against Violence and other organizations began meeting with monitoring committee head Shuweiki Hatib, as well as with members of the political parties represented on the committee, to urge them to act for the representation of women on the committee.
"Arab women in Israel live in a very difficult reality," said Abir Kopty, the spokeswoman for Mossawa, the Advocacy Center for Arab Citizens of Israel.
"They are an oppressed group in three different ways - as women, as Arab citizens, and as members of a population that is weakened both socially and economically."
Kopty told The Jerusalem Post that while cultural and religious traditions within the Arab sector impede women from advancing economically, the prejudice directed at Arab women by Israeli society at large further restricts their chances of becoming economically, socially and politically empowered.
"Nevertheless," Kopty said, "we will not accept the line used by Arab political parties, which claim that this is not the time to talk about women's issues, because they are engaged in a larger struggle against racism on a national level."
Kopty said she personally did not see representation on the monitoring committee as a goal in and of itself, and that the real goal was equal representation of women in political parties at both a municipal and a national level.
"It's important to raise the possibility of a political boycott," she said, "because it's important to make the point that we are serious, and that we cannot be silenced over and over again with promises of change. If things don't change," Kopty added, "Arab women will end up founding their own political party."
Mahmoud Asad, the media director for Women Against Violence, said that the organization's decision to initially focus on the monitoring committee emerged because of the belief that it could lead to "concrete results."
Monitoring committee chairman Hatib, who has recently met with the representatives of women's organizations, has expressed his support for including women on the committee as additional representatives of the political parties that sit on it, so that their number equals that of male party representatives.
According to Asad, a recent study conducted by Women Against Violence showed that while both men and women declared their willingness to give women more equal political representation, in reality Arab society constrains the behavior both of women who demand more social and political liberties and of the men who support their activism.
"We have to be braver both as a society and as individuals," Asad said. "For example, a man who agrees that his wife will go out to work and come back late in the evening must be courageous enough to withstand the social criticism this kind of behavior will entail." He added, however, that he was not in favor of a political boycott. "The rules of the game are very complex," he said, "and I don't think it's a tool that will succeed. I believe the way to success is through dialogue, and through the initiation of social change that will gradually lead to the acceptance of women in the political sphere."
"In the end, women will sit at the monitoring committee table," Hatib told the Post. He also said that he thought the suggestion to increase the representation of political party members by 50%, so that the additional representatives are women, has "good chances of passing."
In response to the criticism of some women's advocacy representatives, who have pointed out that Hatib has essentially laid the responsibility for increasing the representation of women on the political parties themselves, Hatib said that this was the only means by which women could be represented on the committee.
"This is a political committee," he said, "and whoever sits at its table must be a political person, not the member of an advocacy group."