Wafa Tiara, Kufr Qara’s “First Feminist”

Written by Tal Miller, Mynet, “Yediot Hadera”, on June 2nd  On the day she went out to work in agriculture to provide for her family, her eyes opened. There she...

Written by Tal Miller, Mynet, “Yediot Hadera”, on June 2nd 

On the day she went out to work in agriculture to provide for her family, her eyes opened. There she saw for the first time the horrible exploitation, the humiliating treatment, and the abuse of Arab women forced to work in the absence of minimal working standards. Despite the “good advice” she got, as well as the threats on her life and the lives of her children, she embarked on a struggle which  continues to this day, to integrate Arab women in the workforce and protect their basic rights. This is Wafa Tiara, Kufr Qara’s “First Feminist,” the only woman in town whose husband hangs out the laundry. 

One day, when a brief history of feminism in Israel’s Arab Sector is compiled, Wafa Tiara will be honored somewhere at the top of the list. In a time where every interest in the economy has someone fighting for it, Tiara is one of a kind— a vigorous lobbyist fighting bravely to give women in the Arab sector the opportunity to go out and work and the right to make a living with dignity.

As the coordinator of WAC-MAAN’s Women in Agriculture project, fighting for women’s empowerment has become first nature to Tiara— except that unlike classic lobbyists, she does most of her work pro bono. Her profit margin isn’t measured by her paycheck, but rather by the employment statistics for women in her sector. When the work began a decade ago, the unemployment rate for Arab women in the Triangle region was as much as 83 percent. Of every ten women in the sector, only one or two held a job. Tiara swore to change this, and change is happening indeed. Today unemployment rates are already down to about 73 percent, and she will continue fighting to drive them lower yet.

“In a developed state like Israel, this statistic is incomprehensible,” Wafa said this week at her office in the MAAN center in Baqa el-Gharbia “The government is aware of the situation and is trying to set up programs to integrate women in the workforce, but the plans are not right and they don’t work in practice. They teach women to write resumes, but then nobody does anything with those resumes because there are no appropriate jobs for the women. Instead of bolstering the ranks of workers, it only bolsters the ranks of frustrated and desperate women and makes it more difficult for them to integrate in society. At MAAN we are trying to change this picture. There are 5,000 women we represent, and we do everything we can to look out for them, both for jobs and for decent conditions when they start working.”

Shameful exploitation

Tiara (42) was born and raised in Kufr Qara, where she lives to this day. “The power to lead is something I got at home,” she says, minutes after stepping out of the Toyota van she expertly navigates through Baqa’s roads.

“I had eight sisters and two younger brothers. A big home in which my mother and I had to be partners in labor to provide for everything. After I finished high school I got married and had four children, but I always wanted to do more than I was doing. I started volunteering at schools, I took courses. I did things that people around me didn’t always like. In my town, people expect that if you aren’t a teacher or a nurse, you should sit around at home. I never accepted that.”

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