Sawa Women’s Group in Tal’et Ara hosts the regional meeting of the Jusur Forum of Arab Women Leaders
In cooperation with Kayan-Feminist Organization, the Jusur Forum of Arab Women Leaders officially launched its 2012 program of activities at its regional meeting held April 3rd. More than 35 women leaders participated in the meeting, representing 16 Arab villages in Israel. The goal of the meeting, hosted by Jusur member Sawa in the Tal’et Ara regional council, was to follow up on the projects and activities of the local groups and to update participants on implementation of the 2012 Work Plan, ratified at the Forum’s concluding meeting last year. By increasing awareness of the status of women on both the local and national levels, the forum seeks to strengthen and institutionalize an Arab women’s movement currently gaining momentum throughout the country. Working together for the benefit of society as a whole, members of the Jusur Forum support the work of women activists in the field, whose initiatives respond to urgent needs at the grassroots and seek to improve the lives of women in direct and concrete ways.
Opening the meeting, Kayan’s Coordinator of Community Work, Rafah Anabtawi, stressed the importance of women’s activism in the field, highlighting the impact of their personal and public initiatives on the social, economic, political and national levels. The activists’ diverse projects and programs, derived from the needs of Arab women in their communities, respond also to their status as a marginalized national minority suffering from the discriminatory policies of the state. Amid their increasing participation in the public sphere, Arab women are proving themselves an integral part of the Palestinian minority within Israel and demonstrating that their influence extends beyond women’s issues alone. Their actions reveal the impact of empowered women in all domains, including the institutions and policies of the state. It was in this context that Johayna Hussein, member of the Jusur Forum and the Kanz Women’s Council, spoke about the solidarity of women’s associations and feminist activists with Palestinian political prisoner. Johayna emphasized the political significance of their visit to Jenin in support of political prisoner Hana Shalabi and its value in fostering cohesion among all Palestinian people. She also highlighted the importance of exposing women activists in Israel to the phenomenon of administrative detainees on hunger strike and Israel’s ongoing persecution of persons released in the recent prisoner exchange.
The meeting also included follow up regarding Kayan’s efforts to promote parity in public budget allocations. Kayan Community Organizer Reem Zoabi reviewed progress achieved on the local and national levels within the framework of Kayan’s Gender Equality in Local Budgets program. Reem explained the theoretical components of the program and gave practical examples of the impact of gender-responsive budget analysis on political and economic decision-making in Arabeh and Yaft An-Nassriye. The activists discussed strategies to enhance the cooperation of Arab authorities in the framework of the program.
In an open discussion, participants explored the potential of working more closely with the women’s issues liaisons of the Arab local authorities, and how such approaches might be expanded on a regional level. Importantly, Kayan’s recent appeal for greater collaboration was received warmly by the National Committee of the Heads of Arab local authorities. The union has expressed its willingness to cooperate with the Forum and will call for a joint session to follow up on the issue.
To conclude the days’ events, spokesperson for the National Committee of the Heads of Arab local authorities, Abdul Anabtawi, facilitated a discussion about alternative avenues for action given the patriarchal structure of the Arab national minority in Israel. A heated debate ensued concerning the feminist struggle vis-à-vis local authorities, the general orientation of these institutions and the extent of their interest in women’s issues at the local and regional levels. Participants identified a lack of criticism in Arab local culture and reiterated the importance of self-liberation in being an effective agent for change. They stressed that gender equality is not simply a women’s issue, but a matter of utmost concern for the entire community. The women expressed a need for networks of information-sharing that can serve as resource for their daily efforts and underscored the crisis that has evolved from a profoundly detached political representation. The absence of a single female head of council in 65 Arab local authorities, for example, is a striking example of the comprehensive marginalization of women in the political arena, which has contributed to a skewed and unrealistic picture of Arab society. The domination of the political discourse by fundamentalists, furthermore, has prevented the development of a vital progressive nationalism and stifled much needed social change.
The women of Jusur, including activists who have joined only recently, agreed upon the need for the Forum and stressed its role in defining and strengthening their identity as leaders. Through this unique framework, they are gaining the tools to challenge their exclusion, pursue social change and raise the status of Palestinian women throughout Israel.