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    01 May

    | 2023 | 15:00

    On her agenda – Women in East Jerusalem

    • In Hebrew
    • Public
    • Jerusalem Institute for Policy Research, Radak 20
    • In Hebrew
    • Public
    • Jerusalem Institute for Policy Research, Radak 20
    On her agenda – Women in East Jerusalem

    On her agenda

    Women in East Jerusalem

    Jerusalem Institute for Policy Research is the leading data source for East Jerusalem research. We would like to give a place of prominence to the voices coming from the ground, and invite you to a panel discussion and meeting with women leaders from East Jerusalem and civil society organizations.

    The meeting was opened by Netta Haddad, researcher and Information and Data team leader at the Jerusalem Institute for Policy Research. Netta presented the latest data on young women in East Jerusalem with the following key points:

    Marriage age – 50% of women aged 20-24 are married, 75% of women aged 25-29 are married. Marriage age in East Jerusalem is lower than marriage age among the Arab population in the rest of the country.

    Fertility rate – Recent years have seen a significant decline in the fertility rate; today it stands at about 3 children per woman, similar to the trend in the Arab population in Israel at large. Note that a similar process is taking place in Jordan and the Palestinian Authority, as well as in the other Middle East countries. 

    Age of youngest child – This is an issue typically examined in the context of women’s employment. The assumption is that for women, young children are a barrier to the labor market. About 60% of women aged 25-35 have at least one child under the age of four years.

    Educational level – Among those in their primary work years, about 30% of women have an academic education, in contrast to about 20% of men. Note, however, that much of the population has a low level of education only. This statistic is relevant in understanding the employment rate and the nature of employment. We see that nearly half of young women have chosen to go for an academic education, and that the incidence of women who completed academic study is higher than among men.

    Participation in the workforce – Although the percentage of women with academic education is higher than among men, only 24% of Arab women in Jerusalem participate in the workforce, in contrast to 78% of men.

    After Haddad’s talk, a panel discussion was held with East Jerusalem women who are leaders in their fields. The speakers presented what they do and talked about their career path and the challenges they have faced along the way. 

    The panel was introduced by Dr. Amnon Ramon, senior researcher at the Jerusalem Institute for Policy Research. Dr. Ramon pointed out that with respect to women in East Jerusalem, there’s a sense of “groping in the dark”, due to the discrepancies between the stories that the data tells, and the complexity of “life itself”. Dr. Ramon emphasized that the aim of the panel is to place the different voices of East Jerusalem women on the table, to hear from them about the motivations that drive them, how they reached the domains they are engaged with, and what problems have been challenging them. 

    Bayan Rajaby – Head of the Arabic department in the Lada’at – Choose Well association, advancing women’s rights and gender equity through a guidance center, workshops, raising awareness and actions toward policy change. A third-year social work student at the Hebrew University.

    From her talk: “The subject of healthy sexuality always sounds “tough”, especially in East Jerusalem society, which is considered conservative, and thus there is a great dearth of knowledge on women’s health and specifically on healthy sexuality. When I read about this, I found it very interesting and thought that East Jerusalem women have the right to amass knowledge about their bodies and their health. Although it is considered taboo and no one wants to talk about the subject, I decided that I would like to be a representative of the topic in society, since women deserve to know about the subject and about women’s health in general.

    One of the main challenges is that there is not much knowledge in Arabic on the subject, there is general knowledge but the knowledge we find in social networks is not in Arabic nor in culturally and socially adapted language. One of the challenges of the institutions or groups that engage in this topic is to learn how to reach our audience and how to make the knowledge accessible to them. An additional challenge is “systemic difficulty” – objection coming from the schools we wish to reach out to, despite the fact that the field itself is ‘ripe’ for it and we see enthusiasm, and that women turn to our center for guidance and are eager to know and learn.

    There are also personal challenges, such as the language barrier; for a visit to a gynecologist, for example, if a woman does not want to see an Arab doctor, the language barrier is significant. From a social and systemic perspective – many of the women who turn to us have told us that they don’t get a professional resolution to their issues. Our non-profit provides information on abortion, and then they say that the response they got was not the most accurate since it was influenced by social perspectives. For example, a 30-year-old woman who wants to use contraception and the doctor tells her why don’t you want to have children?”

    Zahieh Abu Ghannam – Vice President and CFO of 0202. In the past she worked as a teaching assistant in Arabic language at the Shalem College. She holds a bachelor’s degree in chemistry and a bachelor’s degree in Arabic language and literature and education. She also holds a teaching certificate.

    Excerpts from her talk: “I come from the Mount of Olives, I’m a mother of two, I studied chemistry, Arabic literature and education at the Hebrew University, after which I worked for about eight years at the Shalem Center. I taught Arabic to Jewish students and then began working at “0202 – Points of View”, a non-profit that promotes discourse on diversity and inclusiveness in Jerusalem. In our non-profit we are involved with making Jews understand how Arabs see the world from their own perspective and vice versa.

    My own journey began when I decided to study at the Hebrew University, and my life changed entirely. There were not many East Jerusalem Arab students, especially not female ones, and then I realized that I’m studying in an Israeli environment and I have to explain to students around me about East Jerusalem, but at the same time I needed to explain to the Arabs from the North what East Jerusalem is, and I saw that I am in a place where I have to explain a lot about my own society. Many Arab students were afraid to talk to Israeli students, and so each group sat separately. Then I began to work at the Shalem Center which was also a challenge for me, to teach Arabic to Jewish students was not easy for me because you know we live in a country where Arabic is a tool used in the army, and questions kept coming up inside me like what am I doing here, am I doing something good or something that isn’t good?

    Since I began to work at 0202, I see myself as a Palestinian mediating Israeli society to Arabs. It was hard for me to write about things that in my mind were terrible, that I needed to translate and publish to my Arab followers. But the goal of the non-profit is to make people understand, and then they could decide what they want to do with the information. After several years I began working as VP and CFO, managing a team of Jews and Arabs and for me it was a great big challenge – and all of this in Hebrew, which was still very hard for me. Another challenge is the encounter with stereotypes about Arab society among Jews. I always feel that I am in a place where I must change where we are at right now, to help all people to live easier lives.”

    Riman Barakat – Head of the East Jerusalem/Palestinian community department at the FeelBeit Center. Until recently she managed a self-guided tour business – Experience Palestine. רימאן served in the past as a managing partner of the Israel/Palestine Center for Research and Information (IPCRI). She holds a master’s degree in Middle Eastern studies and international relations. 

    Excerpts from her talk: “I began working at FeelBeit eight years ago. It’s an inter-community meeting place for art, culture and music. It’s a meeting place in which everyone can express themselves without being judged. FeelBeit allows for expression of all identities in the Jerusalem space – Palestinian, Jerusalemite, secular, etc. Art, and particularly in East Jerusalem, can’t be disconnected from the social and political space it grows in. In a certain way, this could even be a burden on the artist.

    Sometimes, female Palestinian artists from more traditional backgrounds have a harder time finding a place where they can present their gendered themes. At FeelBeit, we make room for this and encourage it. FeelBeit is an open place. It is a home for people from a range of areas and identities, in which they could be who they are, express their identity and feel safe in that space.”

    Afaf Qaddoumi – From Jerusalem, a mother of three, has been the principal of the Isawiya elementary school for girls for the last 23 years. She holds a bachelor’s degree in chemistry, a master’s degree in education from Al-Quds University, and an additional master’s degree from the David Yellin College in education and learning. She is a lecturer at Sakhnin College, a personal coach and guides school principals who are just starting out, is a partner and team member at the Israel Center for Philosophy in Education. As a trailblazer in a variety of educational disciplines, she guides school principals just starting out and provides inspiration to educators.

    Excerpts from her talk: “I hail from the Old City of Jerusalem; I am a Muslim although I studied at a Christian school. I am the principal of a school in Isawiya and when I took the school principal course, I did not know Hebrew at all. I can very much relate to what all the wonderful women here said before me, I apologize to you for my language, I learned Hebrew at age 30-something from all kinds of Ulpan language programs and I knew I must get used to the language so I went to volunteer at Hadassah and there I learned Hebrew and those were very important times for me.

    I came to Isawiya 23 years ago, I was principal of a school with 1,400 girls, four years later they built another school so the girls from middle school went there, and today I am school principal of 750-800 girls. In general, in the eastern part of the city boys and girls are taught in separate schools, and that means a lot about our culture and mentality. We are just across from the Hebrew University and physically close to French Hill, so there is constant contact with the differences between the neighborhoods. Although today we are in a somewhat different situation, and perhaps this is because we have an elementary school, a middle school and a high school within the village itself. Today I look around me and see that there is improvement, but there is still plenty that remains to be done, and the political situation, of course, East Jerusalem as a whole is not an easy place, and Isawiya in particular even more so, because there is a lot of political involvement.

    What makes the school special – is gender-sensitive education. When we are standing together, 800 girls reading a verse from the Quran, I say to them all the time – first go to university for four years and only after that get married. Each time I choose a class or a grade to tell them that. Even though there are still plenty of 26-year-old mothers with children who come to see me. I have been involved in many programs that talk about me as a woman, a daughter or a mother. How do I accept ‘others’? In what way are we different from one another? How do I conduct myself with the family, and how does it conduct itself with me? As a daughter in the family? Today I know that all my students go on to middle school and then to high school. They finish the Tawjihi [matriculation]. But it’s important to remember that we are in a traditional society, and there is still the issue of marital inbreeding.”

    Liana Nabeel – Social activist, businesswoman and East Jerusalem field worker. Research assistant with the Jerusalem Institute for Policy Research’s Society and Populations team. CEO of the Kayani non-profit for personal and societal empowerment and sustainability in East Jerusalem. Graduate of the “Jerusalima” leadership program of the Leichtag Foundation targeting young influencers and leaders in Jerusalem.

    Excerpts from her talk: “I grew up in Jordan. I came to Israel in 1998, got married and am a mother to six children, I had only my Tawjihi certificate from Jordan and after 12 years, the father of my children died and I had a great challenge – being alone in a country where I had no family of my own, with no academic education and no knowledge of Hebrew. What interested me after my husband’s death was how to preserve the quality of life of my children.

    I decided to go get a bachelor’s degree, and I was accepted to Bethlehem University, and then I got a master’s degree in organization development for educational institutions, at Kiryat Ono (in Hebrew). I wanted to learn more Hebrew and worked in a few disciplines – in education and as an employment coordinator, and there I learned a lot about the job market. Then I went to work as a manager of sustainability projects in East Jerusalem and became very much connected to the work in the field. I was involved with programs sponsored by the Jerusalem municipality and by the Ministry of Environmental Protection.

    I was a partner to establishing many committees within the neighborhoods, and I founded the Kayani non-profit for personal and societal empowerment. Then I decided it was time to put it all together and to make the voices of East Jerusalem women heard, so I came to the Jerusalem Institute for Policy Research, and I am now conducting interviews and focus groups. I am proud of where I am right now. Challenges – there are many, each in its own area. At first the challenges were related to confidence-building – who am I and what am I bringing with me. As a municipality worker, building confidence was not a simple task and took a while. My motivation at first was a desire to change and to do good – where there are challenges, that’s where you’ll find me.”

    After the panel there was a discussion in which representatives from central civil social organizations operating in East Jerusalem shared their insights. This part of the program focused on the ‘soft’ areas, which tend to be neglected under the weightier core issues. Topics included – the interface between the eastern and western parts of Jerusalem, the challenges surrounding the Hebrew language, the impact of security-related tensions, health-related issues in the eastern part of the city, the sense of security in the public space, challenges of motherhood, and more. 

    The main questions posed to the different organizational representatives were – what makes the circumstances of East Jerusalem women unique? How and what can be done to improve the situation? How can the challenges raised today be addressed?

    Maan workers association – “I would like for everyone to know to demand their rights, we teach people, conduct workshops in which we teach them whom to turn to when necessary and what their rights are as employees. One of the things we understood through our workshops about the women who come to us, is that there are many problems in East Jerusalem that are concealed, and if we don’t actually go out to the field, we will not know how to help them.”

    Lissan (Promoting gender and social equality in Jerusalem through Hebrew instruction) – “One of the problems is that as a country we don’t know how to provide services in Arabic. Lissan has been operating for a decade out of a sense of linguistic justice – language is a basic right. We tend to take language for granted, but in the Jerusalem reality, language is an exclusionary element; according to the CBS, 52% of East Jerusalem women do not know Hebrew at all, and the need for Hebrew is overwhelming, for receiving medical services and municipality services and for finding work and successful integration into the labor market. There are many challenges in this context – making time and getting the support from my husband and family, and certainly being a mother and also private Ulpan programs are very expensive.”

    Shuafat Center for Youth and Young Adults – “I can’t ignore the fact that East Jerusalemites are residents and not citizens. When there isn’t really an identity, that is, that you can’t really talk about it and so when we talk about language or what I want to study and where I want to work, etc., it’s based more on something with a really wobbly foundation. It doesn’t mean that women are at a lower level it just isn’t the same starting point and that’s where the additional gaps come from. In East Jerusalem you finish high school and then you either go to work or to academic studies, but we don’t really make that choice of what to study on our own; either the family decides for us, there are all kinds of challenges, I would say that the Youth Center is the first place that gives young people aged 18 to 35 a place where they can talk the way they want to without giving up their identity”.

    After that, the discussion was opened up and several important points were raised:

    • “Until today, we, the women, have done so much to adapt ourselves and integrate into society. But the time has come that employers, society and the bureaucracy should adapt itself to us – culturally and language-wise.”
    • “We must keep in mind that not all women are able to reach senior influential positions and there are many gaps among the different groups of women.  There is great diversity in East Jerusalem, we aren’t a single unit. Successful policy will be able to reach this diversity.”
    • Excerpts from the talk by מסעדה ג’בר: “I have been with the East Jerusalem Development Co. Ltd. for five years now – the operational arm of the Ministry of Jerusalem Affairs. We see how women are motivated to become integrated and to advance in the world of employment, and I hear that the potential percentage of such integration is low. Involvement of the community in writing up policy adapted to the residents is so important, so that the community could impact decision-making that affects it. I think we now need to focus our investment in women, since every population needs its own support system. Ultimately, we have a common goal of integrating into quality employment and an improved financial situation for all of us.

    Ehud Prawer, head of the Society and Populations team at the Jerusalem Institute for Policy Research, summed up the event. Ehud said that the subject of women in East Jerusalem requires in-depth study and decoding, and these can’t exist without dialogue with authentic voices coming from the field. Ehud pointed out that the dialogue and panel discussion by women gave a lot of motivation to continue with the research effort and the change in awareness required in the domain of East Jerusalem women. Ehud closed the evening expressing a hope that the voices that were heard will slowly make their way into the Israeli establishment and will lead to improved policy.

    Pictures from the Event