Arab women and girls in israel o by domainlawyer


									March 14, 2005

Arab Women and Girls in Israel: Obstacles, Opportunities & Strategies for Change in Health, Education & Employment
National Seminar, January 31, 2005, Haifa

"I'm very proud of all the women who participated in this seminar and spoke about the topics in which they are involved. Now no one can say 'there are no Arab women working in these areas.' And there are many more professional women out there." This closing statement by Aida Touma Sliman, Director General of Women against Violence (WAV), captures the excitement and positive energy felt by participants in the first national seminar to broadly examine key issues concerning the health, education and employment of Arab women and teen-age girls in Israel. The atmosphere at the seminar was one of "breaking new ground": promoting discussion of issues that have not received the place on the public agenda that they deserve, and fostering a frank dialogue among all those who participated. As one of the Arab women commented, "Listening to the speakers was like listening to my own voice." The seminar was particularly significant, coming at a time of complex social transition for Arab society in Israel as a whole, and for Arab women in particular. Awareness is growing in both Arab and Jewish society in Israel that an understanding of the special needs of Arab women and girls is essential to develop effective policies and services to meet those needs. At the same time, it is important to highlight initiatives that have already had a positive impact on this population, in order to gain a better understanding of successful strategies for change. Among the 27 speakers were 16 Arab female professionals from diverse fields, including the director of the first shelter for battered Arab women and girls and the founder of the first Bedouin women's organization. Participation was by invitation only, for leaders concerned with the status of Arab women and key decision makers within the Israeli establishment. Thought-provoking, lively discussions at

the end of each session reflected the engagement of the nearly 120 participants, including key people from every relevant government ministry, Jewish and Arab representatives of NGOs and universities, service providers, and Arab and Jewish women leaders. All groups of the Arab population were represented, including Moslems, Christians, Druze and Bedouin. Together, the participants discussed lessons for the future and networked to explore future joint initiatives. The Opening Plenary Session Greetings were given by Jack Habib, Director of the Myers-JDC-Brookdale Institute, and Ghada Shal'ata, a member of the Board of WAV (Women Against Violence). Habib discussed the importance of linking research to action and highlighted the differences between the Institute as an applied research center committed to the entire population, and WAV, a nonprofit organization that initiates and runs projects, primarily for the Arab population. "The partnership between the two organizations makes a strong statement regarding the importance of including the Arab population and partnering with it, as an integral part of our quest for a healthier and more just society," stressed Habib. Ms. Shal'ata described WAV's work on behalf of Arab women in Israel, whom she said are marginalized by Arab and Israeli society. She described the seminar day as "an opportunity to discover the talents of Arab women who have reached significant professional achievements." Keynote lectures were given by the two seminar co-chairs: Shuruk Isma'il, Director of the multi-year research program on health and the Arab population in Israel at the Institute's Smokler Center for Health Policy Research, and Aida Touma Sliman, Director of Women Against Violence and a longstanding activist on behalf of Arab women in Israel. Ms. Isma'il's presentation, one of the highlights of the day, provided a comprehensive overview of the status of Arab women and girls in health, education and employment, based on integrative data from Institute studies and national data. Her presentation indicated that there are gaps between Arab women and Jewish women in health (shorter life expectancy, a higher infant mortality rate, a higher rate of diabetes, later-stage discovery of cancer); education (more high school dropouts, fewer academics); and employment (lower employment rates, more parttime positions). At the same time, Ms. Isma'il highlighted the dramatic improvements that have occurred in the level of education of Arab women. Ms. Touma Sliman analyzed difficulties unique to Arab women, such as domestic violence in the context of 'family honor crimes' and described the striking absence of Arab women in public positions of power in Israeli society, as well as their marginalization within their own society. She called for women to recognize their own strengths and demand their rightful place in decision making and in the public sphere.

Parallel Tracks Participants divided into two tracks according to their areas of interest and activity for two consecutive sessions. Each session included background presentations and examples of successful interventions. Discussions following the presentations focused on priorities and lessons for future initiatives. Central Issues in Women's Health and Examples of Successful Interventions Dr. Boaz Lev, Deputy Director of the Ministry of Health and chair of the first session, described Arab women in Israel as suffering from "double disadvantage." As he noted, the solutions to health problems are not always medical, but rather include environmental aspects, accessibility and cultural parameters, all of which must be addressed if progress is to be made. He pointed out that budget cuts often result in the reduction of resources allocated to close gaps, thereby causing them to widen further. Following the session, Lev, summed it up in one word, "superb." The special health needs and challenges facing Arab women were discussed by two speakers. Nihaya Daoud, a PhD candidate at The Hebrew University/Hadassah Hospital School of Public Health, presented authentic narratives of Arab women and girls, and spoke about their personal perceptions of health and barriers to the attainment of better health in their society (such as modesty, excessive eating as a necessary token of thanks to a hostess and the cultural sanction against wasting food). Dr. Bashara Bisharat, Medical Director of Clalit Health Services' Northern District, provided a comprehensive picture of the diabetes epidemic among Arab women and described efforts to provide care for these women. He noted some of the cultural dilemmas the health system faces in treating Arab women. For instance, what can an Arab woman do when a male relative is the only doctor in the village? For reasons of modesty, she cannot reveal her body to him; however, geographic distance often prevents her from seeking medical remedy elsewhere. In addition, there is a serious lack of transportation in Arab villages. In many cases, this results in Arab women remaining undiagnosed and untreated. "Arab women see society as threatening instead of supportive when it comes to health." During the discussion, participants stressed the need to train more Arab women physicians, especially as experts in family medicine, and to raise the consciousness of male physicians to women's health needs other than gynecology. The second health session focused on mental health, a subject that is almost never discussed in Arab society. Nabila Espanioli, a psychologist and distinguished feminist activist in the Arab community who runs the Al-Tufula Center for preschool education, introduced the topic, promoting a

holistic view of medicine. Ms. Espanioli quipped: "Therapy is not a western invention. Arab women listened to each others' problems and supported and counseled one another centuries ago." Four diverse speakers followed. Nuzha Alhuzail, a PhD candidate in the Department of Social Work of Ben Gurion University, presented an emotionally charged narrative case-study of a young Bedouin girl who had to face the consequences of attempting to defy her parents' husband-of-choice for her, a crime for which she was punished with prolonged solitary confinement. Her mother's compliance with tribal tradition highlighted the widening generation gap. Odette Falah, a psychologist from Haifa, surveyed the main reasons Arab women seek counseling (depression and coping with loss) and the difficulties and inhibitions that often prevent them from doing so. Arab widows are especially vulnerable, since their husband's family is entitled to so much control over their lives. Therapy is too costly for most Arab women and carries a severe social stigma. Ms. Falah also spoke of the potential embodied in women's empowerment groups, as group processes are perceived as being more legitimate than individual ones in Arab society and also provide the necessary mutual support. The closing presentations at this session were delivered by Irit Elroy, a researcher at the Smokler Center for Health Policy Research at the Institute, and Nivin Ali Salah Darawshe, Director of the ISHA program (a national women's health initiative of the Jewish Community Federation of Cleveland and the Jewish Agency), for the development of leadership in women's health in the Arab town of Yafi'a. Ms. Elroy, who is evaluating the ISHA program, described how the national project is being adapted to the specific cultural needs of Arab communities and the unique difficulties that have been encountered in the process. She summarized the key to the success of this program by quoting a Chinese proverb: "Go in search of people, begin with what they know and build on what they have." Ms. Darawshe grew up in Yafi'a, so when she sought potential lay women health leaders, she began with her acquaintances at local schools and clinics. A permanent group was formed, and together these women attend lectures on health-related topics and initiate activities. They created a women's walking track outside the village to overcome the traditional standard of modesty, which prevents women from walking around the village in sportswear. During the lively discussion at the end of this session, Rina Bar-Tal, head of the Israel Women's Network, emphasized that knowledge equals power. She recommended the use of existing resources such as the Advisor on Women's Issues, which can be found in most local

councils and municipalities. "Give them a project to work on, provide them with content and don't hesitate to use the word leadership," she stressed. Diane Levine, Director of the Department of Health Education and Promotion at Clalit Health Services, who participated in the health track, stated: "With all my experience in health promotion, I still learned so much. There was an openness and professionalism, needs were expressed, and there was a lot of listening. As a professional, I took a lot that I want to apply to my work". Employment and Education The session devoted to Employment Opportunities, Obstacles and an Example of a Successful Intervention was chaired by Geula Havilio of the National Employment Service. "The Israeli labor force is missing out on the productivity and creativity of women; obstacles must be removed so they can find appropriate employment in harmony with their aspirations and qualifications." Kiram Baloum, Director of Women's Programs at the Center for Jewish-Arab Economic Development, shared findings from a survey, according to which there was a significant increase in the number of entrepreneurial initiatives by Arab women between 1996 and 2000. She attributed this growth to increased awareness of entrepreneurship and to the outbreak of the Intifada, which opened up new opportunities in Israel as a substitute for markets lost in the Territories. The most colorful presentation of the day was that of "Grandma Jamilla" Khir, an entrepreneur who has established a small empire with the help of her signature olive-oil based "wonder soaps," said to cure or improve a variety of physical ailments and skin conditions. What began as decades of trial and error in her kitchen, using essential oils and indigenous plants, sending free samples to anyone who would agree to try them, has grown into a business for which her children have become directors of marketing and production. Her products are now exported to the USA, Japan, Holland, and Hong Kong, and a factory has been established in the Tefen technological park with 24 employees. What's Grandma Jamilla's secret of success? "A great passion to succeed, faith in my work, excellent service and of course – a great product!" The second session on The Status of Arab Girls and Examples of Successful Interventions included two presentations by researchers at the Institute's Engelberg Center for Children and Youth and two guests. Iman Awadiye described the needs and aspirations of Arab girls in an age of rapid change, based on surveys conducted by the Engelberg Center among youth in Nazareth and Tamra. Two important themes that emerged from the study were: the minimal

availability of after-school activities for girls; and the significant generation gap between the girls and their parents which created a lot of tension and difficulties. Paula Kahan-Strawczynski, a senior researcher at the Engelberg Center, presented the findings from a recent study on girls at risk who are in the care of the Ministry of Social Affairs' Service for Women and Girls. The study indicated significant differences in the needs of Arab and Jewish girls. Arab girls have a much higher rate of truancy from school (47% versus 33% respectively). Moreover a higher rate of Arab girls is neither attending an educational framework, working nor seeking to do either (38% compared to 20% of the Jewish girls). The findings revealed that a relatively small percentage of Arab girls at risk receive emotional support from their parents (11% compared to 25% of Jewish girls at risk). Nevertheless, social workers reported that mothers function as a role-model for 61% of the Arab girls (compared to 36% of Jewish girls) and can be a significant source of support in the rehabilitation process. In light of these findings, the study indicates the importance of expanding educational and vocational opportunities for girls at risk, and of working intensively to help mothers provide their daughters with more emotional support. Michal Komem, Director of the "Girls on the Map" program at Ashalim, introduced Berlin Titi, an Arab graduate of a mentoring project in which girls at risk are assisted and counseled by girls who were formerly at risk but who have "made it" and are now successfully integrated into adult society in work or volunteer programs. Berlin and her friends are important role models and are a source of much inspiration to other girls who are seeking the courage and strength to overcome their difficulties. Dr. Riad Agbaria, Head of the Pharmacology Department and the Center for Research and Development of Bedouin Society at Ben Gurion University, initiated a program to promote health studies, which is leading Bedouin youths from the Negev to become health professionals. High school students with high potential, who would never have access to university studies and in particular in selective health fields, are given a special course in medical and science related subjects. The most successful are given the opportunity to pursue studies at the university in various health related fields. The Closing Plenary Panel: Strategies for Change Jabbar Assakla, Director of Programs in the Arab Population at Shatil, an organization that provides consultation to non-profit grassroots organizations, chaired the closing panel, which was dedicated to strategies for change. Mr. Assakla reviewed the history of non-profit organizations in the Arab population in Israel.


One of the panelists was Amal A-Saneh Al-Hajuj, Director of AJEEC – the Negev Institute for Strategies of Peace and Development. Her father's disapproval of her attending high school like her brothers was the spark that led to her becoming a successful leader in the Bedouin community (Amal now holds a Master's degree from McGill University, Canada). Her strategies for change include getting topics on the public agenda; creating partnerships; and initiating projects according to local needs (such as a group of Bedouin women who became wedding photographers to ensure that women would get photographed at weddings, despite the taboo against men photographing them). Suraida Mansour Assad, a National Coordinator of Sex Education at the Ministry of Education, discussed a program on "partners without violence." In an attempt to reduce domestic violence, this unique program is geared toward high school students of both genders. The program promotes mutual respect between people in a relationship, and raises awareness of the early warning signs of violence. These topics had never previously been discussed in Arab schools and are arousing great interest among teachers and school counselors. Unfortunately, budgetary difficulties have resulted in the discontinuation of the program during the current school year. Fidaa Naara Abu Dbai directs the Awareness Raising Project at WAV. Ms. Abu Dbai reviewed WAV's key strategies for promoting its goals: educating the public through lectures, dissemination of publications, and conferences; cooperating with organizations by creating coalitions around common themes, such as equality with regard to marital legal status; directly providing services such as shelters, halfway houses, a hotline and legal counseling; and strategically using the media. "Who gets involved is much more significant than how many," stated Ms. Abu Dbai. "If a woman who never participated in these sorts of activities before is demanding her rights regardless of her husband's opinion – she has been empowered." Summary • A comprehensive picture of the status of and major challenges facing Arab women and girls in health, education and employment had been provided. • Specific discussions were held on the implications for the development of policies and services. • Participants had been exposed to organizations and individuals that are implementing successful and often dramatic strategies for change. These experiences as innovators, entrepreneurs, and leaders can be an important guide and inspiration for others. • Participants felt they were exposed to important examples of partnerships between Arab and Jewish professionals and organizations. • Much networking took place and new partnerships were seeded among representatives of the various organizations. Professor Faisal Azaiza, Director of the Arab-Jewish

Center at Haifa University, expressed his interest in holding a follow-up conference with the Institute at Haifa University. The head of vocational training at the Ministry of Trade, Industry and Labor said at the plenary session that anyone who had a significant program to implement could turn to her, since funding is available. The chairwoman of the Israel Women's Network expressed an interest in expanding one of the programs presented and said, "This was a fantastic seminar, and we haven't heard the end of it yet – a lot of important contacts were made." • The seminar was widely covered by the media, including television teams from the Arab programming departments of all of Israel's major channels, and the JTA.

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