According to the Central Bureau of Statistics, only 21.5% of Arab women were employed in 2011, compared to 68% of Jewish women. About half of working Arab women are part-time workers.
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Contrary to popular belief, reports show the reasons for the low employment rates are not linked to tradition or mentality, but to far more prosaic factors.
Arab women protest for work (Archives)(Photo: Yaron Brener)
Place of residence, type of community, education levels, job experience, the local Arab job market's limited range, lack of proper public transportation and no day-care facilities are the major factors listed in several studies.
Low levels of Hebrew proficiency have also been cited as a factor preventing Arab women from integrating in the work force.
Some claim that the hijab, the traditional head gear worn by many Arab women, is not readily accepted by many workplaces run by Jews.
Denied access to the Jewish job market, Arab women are forced to find work in the struggling Arab communities, which employ them illegally, with employers often taking advantage of their high motivation and their limited options.
Roads to change
But not all Arab women are willing to accept this predicament.
"The Arab woman deserves to be part of the decision making process and empower her social standing," says Ranin Div-Yazbaki, who promotes employment of Arab women in Majd al-Krum.
Among other activities, the project, run by the Abraham Fund Initiative, offers training programs in Hebrew, CV writing, computer lessons and courses in personal and community empowerment.
The project's job placement rating stands at 63%, with many women finding jobs according to their individual skills.
"In the past, public opinion didn't support the promotion of Arab women, but today the situation has changed and you can see many projects of empowerment," said Div-Yazbaki.
Samia Aramush-Mahmid, spokesperson for Haifa's Arab sector, offered a more optimistic view on things.
"Arab women in Israel have undergone a significant change in recent years. There is greater awareness to rights and higher levels of education," she explained.
"Arab women's employment rate has increased and their jobs vary from manual labor to academic positions."
Even so, Aramush-Mahmid is aware that the road ahead is long. "Alongside this positive change, many Arab societies across Israel continues to oppress women, play down their capabilities and deny their basic rights.
"In many places the woman is still considered the husband's property, she is dependent on him economically and socially. Her fate is in her husband's hands and in the hands of the other males in the family, including her father, brothers and sons."
Though Aramush-Mahmid described Haifa as relatively open to Arab women, who may enjoy greater freedom, the situation is markedly different in other areas in Israel.
"Most men discount women's abilities and try to degrade us at any price," said an Arab woman from the Negev area.
"I personally registered for a women's empowerment and promotion course despite my family's objections, which were based on primitive, hurtful and destructive notions.
"They tried to convince me to stay home and threatened me, but I insisted, putting my life at risk to achieve my aspirations until I reach my goal."
Samah Sulaima-Agbarieh, a social worker from Lod, claims International Women's Day holds no special significance.
"I think this day will be the same like any other for Arab women," she said.
"In the past year Arab women were murdered, girls under 17 were wed and more than 1,000 babies were born to teen mothers.
"In the south a girl murdered her elderly husband, another girl was attacked with acid; in Tira a man murdered his sister because she was working, and more shocking incidents occur all the time," she expounded.
"Many women are quietly suffering and no one receives help or support. I wish all our women progress, liberty and freedom," she said. "The road ahead is long and we, as activists, need every hand and any support by other women."
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