Empowerment – As an empowered decision-maker, an Arab woman’s choices stem from an enhanced understanding of power, influence and an informed mandate to affect change. Kayan strives to provide Arab women with the necessary skill sets to exercise their civil and political rights in areas such as the monitoring of public policy, including local budgets. Through our experiences of the previous two years, Kayan has come to understand the intimate interconnections between empowerment, personal agency, and economic self-reliance. In 2012, we are strengthening these connections by educating hundreds of developing Arab women leaders about personal efficacy, security, laws and rights through a prism of gender. We have empowered women with a greater understanding of their economic, social and cultural rights, poverty, gender-responsive public budgeting and requisites of social change. We have helped women understand their rights to pension, financial security (public and private), and allocations from the National Insurance Institute, employment laws, and taxation. Beneficiaries are developing practical tools for handling their personal economic security and making a changed future possible for themselves.
Community Organizing – Kayan can readily discern a strengthening commitment of members to the goals and vision of the Forum of Arab Women Leaders. Though challenging due to their other commitments, dedication is growing steadily. Participants recognize the importance of this framework and are likewise increasing their demands of it. Women are asking for access to the same development opportunities programmatic aspects deployed elsewhere in the Forum, such as the Active Approach to Personal Economic Security, Gender Equality in Local Budgets, and Sustainable Leadership for Women’s Health initiatives.
Challenging gender-based discrimination in the religious courts – Concerning our work in the domain of family law in the last few years – and in the last year in particular – Kayan has positioned itself as the principal address for this issue. This development is bolstered by our hard-earned reputation for professionalism. Clients often communicate that even if they have retained a private attorney, they are often advised to consult with Kayan. This positioning is evident also in our advocacy with the courts. We are succeeding to communicate legal updates and changes in the law to a broad range of women who might not otherwise have this advantage. Importantly, Kayan approaches the courts critically. Rather than merely accept verdicts, we seek out violations and respond creatively. In a recent case, for example, a remarried woman was taken to the Sharia court by her ex-husband on the grounds that she was unfit to retain custody due to the presence of a non-related man in her home. Her lawyer actually conceded that this position was legally valid within the Sharia court and set about preparing a case to prove her suitability as a parent despite her marital status. In other words, the attorney chose a litigation strategy demarcated by a religious jurisprudence steeped in gender-based discrimination. Her social worker advised her to consult Kayan to see if additional options might exist. Refusing to accept a priori the flawed premise of paternal prerogative, Kayan challenged the dubious presumption itself and demanded the civil Family Court uphold its original custody ruling. Using the tools available to us in other legal frameworks, such as the civil Family Court, amicus curiae status and exhaustive appeals processes, Kayan works to erode the ability of the religious courts to practice such overt gender-based discrimination. “Winning” a case within the confines of a faulty paradigm is a spurious victory. Kayan chooses to measure success by means of women actualizing their rights, not merely negotiating palatable verdicts within an unjust system. We see impact when beneficial precedents are set or new terminology is introduced into the courts. This is where civil society can change the rules and create new awareness that spreads from woman to woman.
Society has convinced many Arab women that should they choose divorce, they should expect to forfeit certain rights. A common narrative features a presumption by the client that she should expect to lose custody of her children, shared property and income. Male relatives often retain great influence over the mentality of these women, nearly 80% of who suffer domestic violence and fear the repercussions of seeking help. Consequently, many women dwell indefinitely in situations of abuse and despair. But increasingly – by way of social workers, educational seminars and rights education initiatives – women are learning that this does not need to be the case. Kayan empowers women with the knowledge that they are not prisoners. We challenge biased assumptions and empower women with an understanding of their rights. Caught in the seams between religious and civil law and facing strict social pressures, isolation and dependence, Arab women are utterly disadvantaged in their quest for justice. As an agent of feminist social change, Kayan refuses to navigate the status quo. Rather, we break down barriers and help women actualize rights they never knew they had.
Regarding Kayan’s advocacy within the Christian courts, we have received encouraging feedback indicating the unique nature of our contribution. Civil society organizations, court officials and the Ministry of Justice have expressed appreciation for the new and important tools we are providing. We see that Kayan is breaking new ground in this domain and importantly, we are doing it systematically, professionally and with a vision for the future. We are providing new understanding and feminist criticism that empower a broad spectrum of attorneys and their clients well beyond the boundaries of Kayan’s own casework.
Protecting the rights of women in the workplace – Kayan has become the key professional development resource for Appointees for the Prevention of Sexual Harassment in the Arab local authorities. We were the first to translate the law to Arabic and continue to bring new awareness to marginalized women and professional and public stakeholders alike. We have introduced critical concepts of employer obligation and remain the only institution doing so. All of the actions now underway at the behest of the appointees are evidence of impact. Firstly, new appointments have been made where before none existed. Furthermore, these appointees have been activated with new understanding of the importance of their role. Local authority staff members are attending lectures about sexual harassment, employers are learning about their obligations and responsibilities, new regulations are being imposed, women are being made aware of their rights and avenues of recourse are expanding. Appointees are asking for information and professional development support; they are requesting materials, training and guidance and are becoming more effective in their work.