The third meeting of the Jusur Forum of Arab Women Leaders in 2013 focused on how women activists can increase the participation of women in the political arena. Thirty women participated in this meeting, representing more than 15 women’s groups from Arab villages in northern Israel.
The meeting succeeded in raising awareness among the Forum’s members of the importance of working within the community to achieve equal opportunities between women and men to take on active and fulfilling roles in all areas of life, particularly in the political sphere. Kayan believes that change in women’s representation on electoral lists and in local decision-making process cannot be achieved without an approach that targets all levels of the community. To this effect, Kayan has been working for years to empower and develop women leaders at the local level. The Forum, founded in 2008, aims to institutionalize this grassroots movement, enabling women’s participation in local decision-making in order to enact holistic, sustainable social change nationwide.
Kayan’s community organizer Adella Biadi-Shlon opened the session with an introduction to the objectives of the meeting, which were chosen according to the needs expressed by members of the Forum, and thanked the members of the Forum’s steering committee who took charge of preparing the meeting.
The program included talks on a range of topics. Biadi-Shlon presented on the concept of gender identity as a social structure, emphasizing the relationship between different currents of feminism and societal change. Rafah Anabtawi, Kayan’s director, discussed actions the Forum can take to promote the development of women leaders and increase its influence on women’s representation in politics. She highlighted the importance of raising political awareness among women and of not separating “women’s issues” from other social issues. Anabtawi also noted the need for local women’s groups to participate in the Forum’s discussions on feminism and on taking grassroots action to the national level.
Houari Den, feminist and social activist, gave a lecture on the participation and representation of women in politics. Den defined “politics” as control over community resources, and noted that Arab women are generally absent or under-represented in the most influential political decision-making positions in Israel, including the parliament, government ministries, the judiciary, the media, academic institutions, leadership of funding organizations, and local government. She stressed the need for women to carry out feminist agendas in the public sphere, arguing that there should not be a separation between the grassroots community work of women’s groups and the political action of Arab municipalities.
The meeting concluded with an evaluation of past projects to improve women’s participation in public life carried out by the Forum and local women’s groups. Looking toward the future, members of the Forum developed a detailed work plan to address the coming municipal elections in October 2013. This new project is intended to increase women’s participation in the local decision-making sphere, and to increase the influence of women activists at the national level during and after the election period.