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Arab women want to work, so let them

Increasing employment for Israeli Arab women should be a strategic and economic goal for Israel

The sad state of discrimination against Arab women in the work market was again recently exposed in a study by the Kayan-Feminist Organization. The study is intended for decision makers and the Israeli public who need to understand what is happening right under their nose in order to correct the situation. But these findings are not entirely accurate for Arabs or Arab women who are exposed to this reality on a daily basis.

When considering the integration of Arab women in the Israeli workforce, there are two variables to take into account ‒ gender affiliation and sectorial ethnic affiliation; only 21% of Arab women work, compared with 58% of Jewish women. In examining this huge gap, there is a need to examine all the parameters and barriers.

There is no doubt that in recent years a change has begun to take place in Arab society. A change that stems from the change that is taking place in the West and in Israel in particular. More and more Arab women are leaving home at an early age to seek employment, develop a career, study at university, and so forth. Yet despite all this, there is a glass ceiling that prevents Arab women from entering the workforce, and even studying.

The lack of suitable facilities for children in Arab towns and villages, the lack of employment agencies and professional training, and in particular, low motivation resulting from low wages and employment instability, are all factors that cause Arab women to allow society to continue dictating the path they take, on account of their aspirations to fulfill their personal and occupational dream.

Most parents in Israel, especially women, face many difficulties every day when they try to combine work and parenthood. But in Arab society the difficulties are greater ‒ there is a real shortage of suitable jobs for Arab women in Arab cities, in addition there is a lack of industrial areas in Arab communities, and economic initiatives are not promoted in Arab society.

In addition, women in Arab communities are largely exploited by poor working conditions and salaries below the minimum wage. Data from the Kayan study, which examined the employment of Arab women in the private sector of Arab society, revealed that 88% of women do not receive the minimum wage, and some earn as little as NIS 5 per hour. Further, social benefits almost don’t exist – 85% of women do not receive convalescence pay and 92% have no pension plans for their retirement.

The situation is bad, not only because women are not encouraged to work, but because their families forbid them to look for a job. Arab society is predominantly made up of traditional families for whom a woman’s entry into the workforce, not to mention her developing a career, is no small matter.

The difficulties and obstacles widen the gaps. There is no doubt that if the work was closer to home, was not exploitative and discriminatory, and was more developed and modern, it would be easier for women to bring about social change.

When they overcome the various obstacles, Arab women do go out to work. Most of them work in the teaching profession or in the or health and welfare sector, where jobs are typically found within the community and offer relatively flexible hours, thus eliminating the need to use public transport or search for childcare facilities. In my opinion, this indicates a desire and willingness to integrate into the workforce when it is both accessible and worthwhile.

Out of an understanding of the difficulties and the gaps, all relevant entities must be harnessed to integrate women into the workforce. We, at Tsofen, help integrate Arabs into the workforce by providing professional training, job search assistance and placement, and establishing high-tech centers in Arab communities. We believe that bringing advanced industry to the Arab communities will help to develop Arab cities and provide women with employment.

As part of our activities in the last six years, we have placed 100% of the women with we have worked, and today they hold positions in a variety of high-tech companies, both large and small. For example, 25% of employees at the industrial park in Nazareth are women. So change is happening ‒ but we also expect it to happen in the public sectors.

Israeli governments should adopt the strategic thinking that the employment of Arabs, in general, and Arab women in particular, is good for the development of the Arab economy, but particularly for the Israeli economy. Large unemployment among the Arab population, due among other things to the high percentage of unemployed women, not only hampers the Israeli company but also places a burden on the welfare system and the government.

There is a lot the government can do in this matter, such as employ more Arabs ‒ both men and women ‒ in the public sector, provide high-tech companies with incentives to employ Arabs, including many academic women who want to and can integrate into the industry. In order for this to happen we must convince the state to establish proper industrial zones in Arab communities, run sufficient and accessible public transport within the communities and allocate funds to local authorities for the establishment of afternoon childcare facilities for working mothers.

Arab women want to work outside the home to support their families with dignity. The potential is huge, the workforce needs to reach out and allow them to do so.

About the Author
Islam Haj Yahya is the Placements Manager at Tsofen, a Jewish-Arab organization that promotes the integration of Arabs into high-tech.