On June 29, Kayan facilitated a conference exploring “Economic Security Among Arab Women” in the Galilean village of Majd-al Krum. 140 Arab women from across the north of Israel came together to discuss their personal experiences as past and present participants in the “Active Approach to Personal Economy” program. The project aims to teach Arab women about their economic rights and give practical advice on how to plan their economic security, prepare financially for the future, and make economic issues a part of their everyday lives.
Researcher and member of Kayan’s Staff and Board of Directors Umayma Diab has recently completed a comprehensive research project in which Kayan’s team interviewed 450 Arab women to assess their attitude, behavior and level of knowledge towards economy and personal financial security. Diab found that only 13.5% of the interviewees take an active interest in economic issues. 57.3% report they do not have the ability to save, though 72.7% of the women think private savings are imperative. Yet of those women, 44.6% don’t have savings of their own. Certainly a positive attitude towards economics does not necessarily indicate an active approach.
Perhaps the most informative statistics came from Diab’s study of women over the age of 65. Most women in this category think that it crucial to have private economic savings. 65% of women over 65 who receive allocations from the National Insurance Institute claim that personal savings improve wellbeing. This opinion was echoed by a 64-year old participant of the roundtable discussion, a graduate of the “Active Approach” program who claimed, “I wish I had the information on economic security at an earlier age. I want to educate my daughters on this subject, and the women in my community. It is so important for me to teach women this information.”
Other participants of the roundtable discussion included a 50-year old woman from Yaft An-Nassriye, a 40-year old woman from Arabeh, and Rafa Anabtawi of Kayan’s Department of Community Work. The women shared their personal experiences as graduates of the Active Approach initiative, including the impact of the course, their new roles as community leaders, and the importance of educating others within their communities on economic issues and personal economic security.
Safa Ighbarieh, an economic researcher from Adva Center, presented a critical reading of the research results. She gave an introduction to the topic of savings, and presented her own research on attitudes towards personal economy in Australia. Her research revealed the massive gap between the savings of women and men; in Australia, men save four times the amount of women.
Discussions revealed that as a result of the program, participants are becoming more actively involved in issues of personal economy. Participants have begun reviewing family financial documents and inquire at their banks about their husbands’ financial activities in the common account and savings programs. Some increased savings for old-age by reducing expenses and considering expenses more cautiously. Others established saving plans, though several struggled to implement such plans due to lack of resources. Participants who do not have pension insurance and who are not included in their husband’s pension insurance plans opened dialogues their husbands about obtaining coverage.
While the majority of program participants have statistically low chances of finding employment of their own – many are already of retirement age – many now actively encourage their daughters and grand-daughters to pursue higher education and professional skills, while discouraging early marriage. This represents a significant and positive challenge to traditional gender roles and expectations. In addition to the impact on each individual, participants also became more aware of the importance of economic planning and security of all women, and are spreading the lessons learned throughout their communities. Kayan’s hope is that a large group of women will commit to financial and insurance plans as a result of grassroots outreach in the communities.
Swiftly growing interest in the program and unexpected media coverage indicate that Kayan has initiated something truly novel in this domain. Programs that foster economic security among Arab women typically deal with issues of development and work to provide skills training and employment opportunities. Though important programs, they have not engaged an entire community of Arab women in a critical questioning of their own perceptions and attitudes toward economic participation, specifically on economic security. Kayan seeks to delve deeply into the root causes of economic insecurity among Arab women; the Active Approach program is providing a unique and powerful opportunity to do just that. The intiative is fundamentally changing the ways that women think about the future, and challenging deeply rooted assumptions on the place of Arab women in the economic domain. When asked what personal economy means to her, Neta from Salem responded, “Stability, security and savings.” She said the conference has given her “encouragement to save, a feeling of security and empowerment, and hope for the future.”