On 28 December, more than thirty women from over fifteen Arab localities in Israel attended Kayan-Feminist Organization’s final meeting of the Forum for Arab Women Leaders in 2011. The main goal of the meeting was to evaluate the Forum’s local and national programmes of the last year, some of which are to continue in 2012. The quarterly meetings of the Forum are an important part of the Community Department’s personal empowerment and community leadership programme, Jusur, which strives to strengthen and institutionalise the grassroots Arab women’s movement in Israel.
The Forum allows women leaders from these communities to learn from one another by presenting their community organising initiatives, sharing their experiences and articulating a shared vision for improving the lives of Arab women throughout Israel. The majority of projects aim to empower women as individuals and grassroots feminist activists and are designed to address the needs and challenges Arab women face in the domains of family, work, politics, and society. This final meeting of 2011 was also an important opportunity for these leaders to engage in cooperative planning for the year ahead.
Two of the women, Bushra Awad from Arabeh and Nedal Kenaneh from Yaft An-Nassriye, introduced their work in the “Gender Equality in Local Budgets” programme, which aims to provide women with tools to analyse gender equality in public budgets, increase women’s role in decision making, and advocate women’s rights vis-à-vis Arab local authorities. Both women emphasised the significance and the success of the project and the need to launch such initiatives in all Arab localities.
The meeting also included a presentation of Kayan’s investigation of a future programme in “Conflict Transformation” and the results of a focus group conducted at a previous meeting. After digesting the Forum’s last discussion, Kayan has continued to explore the issue of women and conflict transformation. Kayan intern Megan Leatherman presented the various steps Kayan has recently undertaken to learn how women might work to challenge the status quo of conflict and conflict resolution in Arab society in Israel. Kayan’s staff sought to better understand the leaders’ commitment to this issue and to explore how we might go forward.
The women expressed a need for intensive training on conflict and conflict transformation methodologies. Members of the Forum agreed that any intervention would prove futile without a deeper understanding of related issues and potential solutions. For its own part, Kayan has determined to further research women’s role in conflict transformation and committed to fostering Arab women’s active involvement in this domain, particularly through the framework of the Forum.
In addition to an evaluation of their achievements in 2011, the leaders discussed the challenges that they had faced throughout the year. On the national level, the most important accomplishment was found in the work of the Forum steering committee concerning implementation of the “Local Councils Law” of 2000, which mandates municipal appointments of an advisor on the status of women. Since 2010, the committee has been investigating Arab local councils’ compliance with the law. Their research has revealed that councils have either failed to appoint a female advisor as required by the law or have not adhered to the legal procedures regarding appointments. In a major achievement, the committee secured the support of Palestinian Member of Knesset Haneen Zoabi, who cooperated with the committee in drafting revisions to the law.
Reflecting on their work in the previous year, participants concluded that the most significant achievement of the year had simply been the act of taking part in the forum itself, in that it helped them as women to explore their feminist identities, engender greater personal responsibility, and foster women’s leadership. Kayan believes firmly that advancing the status of Arab women can be achieved by enhancing feminist leadership and strengthening the grassroots Arab women’s movement. The Forum constitutes the most important part of this process.