First ever government conference on Arab women's workforce i...

First ever government conference on Arab women's workforce integration

December 21, 2016

PanelGovernment officials and more than two dozen Arab women leaders came together in Nazareth on December 13th for “Trailblazing Arab Women: Integration of Arab Women in Society, the Economy, and Labor Market, a conference organized by The Authority for the Economic Development of the Arab Sector

Over the past few years, the government has placed unprecedented focus on advancing Arab women’s employment through budget allocations and program development as part of the larger goal to close gaps between Jewish and Arab citizens.  Arab women are considered among the most disadvantaged populations, with employment rates of 34.7% compared to Jewish women's employment rates of 79.1%, and those employed often working in low-quality, part-time and low-wage labor . Beyond the barriers all Arab citizens face in integrating into the workforce, Arab women are subject to “double marginalization:” they must navigate being a minority in Israel and also the more traditional, patriarchal elements of their communities.

Following this ongoing investment, the Authority for the Economic Development of the Arab Sector decided to initiate, for the first time, a public conference for Arab female leaders focusing exclusively on trends, obstacles, and opportunities in the fields of high tech, business, and media for Arab women.  The conference aimed to give a stage to these successful women, showcasing them as role models to their society and to the wider Israeli public, to empower them as a group, help them network amongst themselves, and brainstorm ideas for future progress. 

During the conference, attendees had the opportunity to hear keynote presentations from Minister of Social Equality, Gila Gamliel (Likud), Chair of the Knesset Committee on Women and Gender Equality, MK Aidah Touma-Sliman (Joint List), Director of the Authority for the Economic Development of the Arab Sector, Aiman Saif, and National Commissioner of the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, Adv. Mariam Kabaha.

Gila Gamliel emphasized the importance of enabling women from all segments of Israeli society to enjoy equal opportunities.  MK Aidah Touma-Sliman stressed that Arab women still face significant structural barriers that need to be addressed but also cited the opportunities in the government’s belated but important Economic Development Plan for the Arab sector. 

Aiman Saif gave a detailed presentation of the government's wide-reaching efforts to advance the integration of Arab women into the general economy.

  • According to his presentation, the most decisive factor affecting employment among Arab women is education: only 30% of women with a high school education are employed while 72% of those with one higher education degree and almost 90% of those with a second higher education degree are employed.
  • Another significant factor affecting the rate of employment is the prevalence of early childcare facilities. Only 1 in 7 kids are in government-funded and monitored facilities in Arab localities.
  • The average salary is 45% lower for Arab women than their Jewish counterparts between the ages of 25-64.
  • Government policy is focusing on advancing the integration of Arab women into the Israeli workforce by providing technical training and career education, enhancing access to resources for entrepreneurs, and developing support mechanisms for working women through, among other initiatives, the expansion of public transportation and childcare centers in Arab localities. In addition, he spoke about where work still needed to be done including integrating more Arab women into government service and increasing the number of companies owned by Arab women that participate in government programs.

Adv. Mariam Kabaha spoke about the Commission’s work and encouraged conference attendees to be “ambassadors” for the Commission within Arab society and ensure that Arab women are aware of the Commission’s services.  She reflected on her own professional trajectory saying:  “when I looked at the barriers obstructing me from becoming the Commissioner, all I saw at the end of the day was myself – I had to overcome my own fears and mistrust".

Panelists spoke about their personal success stories, shared lessons and insights, and discussed what they envisioned as possible solutions to existing barriers. Many spoke about the need to invest in the younger generation, serve as role models and share insight that many of them, as "first generation trailblazers," never had.

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