The events of last Thursday signify a major breakthrough for Arab women leaders in Arabeh and Kayan’s “Gender Equality in Local Budgets” programme. It is the first time in the history of Arab local authorities that a budgetary allocation has been made for the specific purpose of addressing gender-discrimination. The decision comes as a result of steadfast women’s activism and demonstrates the ability of grassroots women leaders to participate in local budgeting processes in order to promote the status of women.
The “Gender Equality in Local Budgets” programme aims to provide Palestinian women with the tools to identify gender-based discrimination in local budgeting processes and to bring their influence to bear on an equitable, needs-based allocation of public resources. It empowers participants to critically analyse the various impacts of economic policy, including inter-related systems, laws, budgetary allocations and social initiatives, on the status of Arab women in Israel. By raising awareness regarding the ways in which gender-responsive budgeting can serve as a foundation for genuine social equality, Kayan’s Department of Community Work is working to incorporate a new cadre of Arab women leaders within public planning and allocation processes in their communities. In 2011, the programme was organised in cooperation with the Tel Aviv-based Adva Center, the local council and community centre in Yaft An-Nassriye, and the Arab local authority and women’s centre in Arabeh. The programme is comprised of three stages: preparatory empowerment training, a sixteen-session budget analysis course, and a practical implementation stage.
In Arabeh, course participants drew on a needs assessment survey they had recently conducted through Kayan’s community organising framework, Jusur. For their final presentation in December 2011, the group hosted a round table discussion between programme participants, Mayor Omar Nassar, Heads of the Departments of Engineering and Social Services Tamim Saadi and Khaled Shalash, and representatives of the local parents’ committee and local council. A request was submitted for an annual allocation to support women’s work as an integral part of the overall budget and to establish two municipal committees: one tasked with planning expenditures of the women’s budget and another to safeguard women’s interests within the various departments of the local authority. As the group in Arabeh has much experience in the local field, they were keenly aware of the needs and priorities of the women in their community. The roundtable was a significant achievement of the group, with the mayor endorsing most of the recommendations.
Rafah Anabtawi, Coordinator of Kayan’s Department of Community Work, emphasised that although the local council’s allocation for women’s activities clearly signifies an a step forward for women activists in Arabeh, it is merely the first step of a process that must be followed by responsible decision-making on how this budget is spent. That process must include the full participation of women. “Our goal is not the money,” Rafah said. “Our goal is to improve the status of women and to influence the decision-making process. The local budget is just one of the many tools that we use in order to achieve our goals.”