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The Arab woman’s stone ceiling

Better employment will remain a distant dream as long as there isn't the infrastructure to support it

From early childhood I dreamed, while I gazed through my small window at the Haifa seascape, at the distant horizon, and skipped over the waves, both large and small, that tried to prevent me from seeing my objective clearly.

That’s how I grew up, a lucky girl who was born in the “right” place (Haifa) at the “right” time (1980), and I was able to pave my way, which, as for other Arab women, included considerable challenges. But, while most Arab women continued to dream, the right place and time enabled me to progress towards the realization of my aspirations. These days I wonder: Where are the Arab women in this story? Are they allowed to dream? And if so, are their dreams and aspirations doomed to failure, and to remaining on the other side of the window?

The government proudly announced that it has finally decided to promote the employment of Arab women as a government objective. It also expects Arab women to aspire to advance in their professional lives and to enter the work force, to break through the glass ceiling. My humble question is: How are these women expected to dream of advancement when they are facing so many barriers?

First of all, they suffer from twofold discrimination, as women and as Arabs. The employment rate among Arab women is 32.3 percent, compared to 78.8 percent among Jewish women, according to a 2014 manpower survey by the Central Bureau of Statistics. The representation of Arab women in the civil service in 2012 was 3.24 percent, according to the latest report published by the Civil Service Commission. Another important statistic: 41 percent of employers would prefer not to employ Arab women with children, as indicated by a survey on equal employment opportunities in the Economy Ministry last March.

This data can be added to the many barriers preventing the integration of Arab women into the job market. The main problem is the lack of job opportunities within the Arab communities, which means that those who work require public transportation. There are very large disparities between Arab and Jewish communities in this sphere.

Until the beginning of the millennium there was almost no public transportation in the Arab communities. The little there was reached only the outskirts of the communities and was circuitous and inefficient. Under such circumstances, how were the women expected to get to potential places of work? At the start of the millennium the transportation and finance ministries, along with the Prime Minister’s Office, realized that it is unconscionable that 15 percent of the population lacks public transportation, and only then did they begin to address the problem. The solution is still only partial, and only 7 percent of the subsidy for public transportation reaches the Arab communities.

Let’s assume that an Arab woman was born, like me, in the “right” place, where public transportation is available. She has found a job and has a way to get there. But is there a daycare center in her community where she can leave her most precious possession in a suitable and high quality childcare framework?

The Arab local councils suffer from a serious lack of daycare centers. Last August we were informed that the government had allocated 1.2 billion shekels ($300 million) for the planning and construction of daycare centers in all the local councils. Despite the government’s positive steps — earmarking 20 percent of the budget for the Arab local councils and fully funding for those that meet quick timetables — the budget still doesn’t reach the Arab local councils. It’s stuck in the ministries due to complex barriers such as a lack of available land for public construction.

Internal barriers in the Arab local councils are also challenging the integration of Arab women into the job market. Due to their underrepresentation in key positions in the councils, the topics that could promote the employment of Arab women are not placed on the agenda, and are sidelined in favor of other concerns. Arab women must therefore get together and insist that the decision makers in the Arab local councils actively address these issues. If not, the women will remain marginalized.

The absence of an infrastructure to support employment is what is preventing most Arab women from realizing their dream and joining the job market. Without a government policy tailored to the barriers facing Arab women, the glass ceiling will become a stone ceiling. That will act as a boomerang against the government, and the underemployment of Arab women will continue.

Let me say to Arab women: we are fortunate that at least our dreams are not limited by a glass ceiling.

About the Author
Attorney Samah Alkhatib-Ayoub is a researcher in the Equality Policy Department of Sikkuy - The Association for the Advancement of Civic Equality