Getting to Know Kayan: Part III, Methods
Welcome to Part III in our “Getting to Know Kayan” series. To read the previous parts, please visit:
Grassroots community activism has always been integral to Kayan’s vision of social change, empowering women to overcome imbalances and improve their lives in tangible ways. In the first years following the establishment of Kayan, coordinators facilitated workshops for individual empowerment and consciousness-raising with groups of 10-15 women within various Arab villages and towns, and in ethnically mixed cities. This group work engendered, for the first time in Israel, a critical feminist dialogue among a wide community of Arab women. Meetings consisted of guided discussions pertaining directly to women’s daily lives and examined the connections between their personal issues and their status as women within Arab society. In the beginning, most of the participants were unfamiliar with the format of group discussions and some raised doubts about the value of sharing one’s personal thoughts and experiences with others, fearful that unpopular opinions might bear personal and social ramifications. Indeed, some participants dropped out after the initial meetings for such reasons. Yet most participants were keenly interested in the group process and in the challenging questions raised in such discussions.Feedback from the women, however, made it clear that participants were not satisfied with personal empowerment alone. These women also viewed community organizing as a requisite catalyst of social change. Many even reported feelings of frustration as a result of having taken part in the groups; as they became increasingly aware of their status and position as women in society, they recognized a lack of tools with which to change the status quo and improve their lives. Stemming from such feedback, Kayan began to facilitate workshops that provided tools for community organizing and mobilization. These programs became an integral part of Kayan’s work with women’s groups, which had by then evolved to include not only personal empowerment and leadership training, but also accompaniment of social entrepreneurs in the process of planning and implementing grassroots community projects.Early results were very encouraging. Among other successes, a women’s community center was established in the village of Arabeh – the first and only of its kind – which offered local women various enrichment classes ranging from language, literacy and computer skills, to discussions about feminism and the status of women in Arab society. In the village of Maghar, grassroots women’s activism led to the inauguration of an intra-community public transportation system. Such achievements brought these women public recognition as leaders able to meet the needs of women in the community.Kayan has continued to work with grassroots women leaders to assess the needs of their communities and develop feasible work plans through which to address them. Importantly though, the formation of these local projects are in and of themselves not the primary target of Kayan’s work with grassroots leaders. To be sure, a Hebrew class for Arab women holds genuine importance to the participants, yet the real impact of Kayan’s work is to be found in the leadership of the women who initiate such an activity. Similarly, a computer skills workshop may help disadvantaged Arab women become more competitive in the labor market, but it is the demonstrated ability of an Arab women to identify such needs, articulate her vision of change, formulate a plan of action and deploy an expanding set of skills and resources that ultimately determine Kayan’s contribution as an agent of social change. Furthermore, the establishment of these community-based projects plays a critical role in the institutionalization of Arab women’s leadership by lending visibility and public credibility to this newly arrived cadre of public actors and raises awareness of women’s potential to assert power and influence over their personal and public realities.In 2006, Kayan evaluated the various community groups’ capabilities to sustain projects and maintain a process of activism and social change over the long term. The study revealed that as Kayan stepped back, group activities gradually fizzled. Group leaders cited a lack of financial support from their peers and the wider community, a lack of tools for sustainable community activism, feelings of isolation, and unfamiliarity with the skills needed for effective group leadership. In 2008, Kayan launched Jusur (meaning ‘bridges’ in Arabic), bringing an important institutional framework to its empowerment work and ensuring the durability of myriad initiatives for social change. Jusur comprises an infrastructure that enables empowered women to engage their communities effectively, exchange experiences and sustain their activism for social change.By providing leadership training and professional development support of feminist activists, Jusur ensures activists gain the tools they need to assess community priorities, foster effective relationships, overcome challenges, develop feasible work plans and execute professional programs that respond to local needs. Through several years of direct action in Arab villages throughout Israel, Kayan has built a grassroots network comprised of hundreds of women from myriad communities, a key organizational resource for consolidating an emerging Arab women’s movement. Kayan’s Forum of Arab Women Leaders has grown to include nearly 40 women representing 17 community initiatives in 20 villages. These pioneering leaders meet quarterly to discuss working relationships, requisites of success in their communities, the impact of their work and the strengthening of partnerships with other community-based organizations, civil society organizations and public authorities.