Palestinian women in Israel and in East Jerusalem: Gender analysis of WAC-MAAN’s target group vis-à-vis the question of employment

This report was written by Roni Ben Efrat, and Michal Schwartz From WAC-MAAN’s Development and Gender departments

As part of its human rights agenda, WAC-MAAN works among women who have been excluded from the labor market and whose families suffer deep poverty as a result.

Of Israel’s 8.3 million citizens, 1.7 million are Arab (21%)[1]. They include some 538,800 Arab women of working age (15+). Of these, according to data from 2014, only 28% are in the labor market (employed or actively seeking work). By comparison, 66% of Israeli Jewish women are in it.[2] If we narrow the age span to 25–64, the rate for Arab women goes up to 35%, that of Jewish women to 83%.[3] The low participation of Arab women is the long-term result of two major factors: (1) official and unofficial discrimination against Arabs in education and employment; (2) the stigma that Arab society traditionally attaches to married women working outside the village. Hand in hand with this low participation goes a poverty rate of 54% in the Arab sector. Here 80% are categorized as lower class, compared with 34% of Jews.[4]

 The target group

“Among Arab women, the labor force participation rate increases dramatically as education rises – from 17% among women with 9-12 years of education to 67% among women with 16 or more years of education.”[5] In other words, considering Arab women with 9-12 years of schooling, 83% (ca. 200,000) do not take part in the workforce. They lack the skills that suit a modern economy. Typically, they have three or more children, do not use a computer, do not possess a driver’s license, and do not have fluent Hebrew.[6] Many would like to help lift their families out of poverty, but they have no idea about where or how to seek work, about how they would travel, about who would look after the children, or about fending off social pressures. These 200,000 women, plus 125,000 with even less schooling—hence a total of ca. 325,000—make up our larger target group among women.

Analysis of the employment situation

The absence of Arab women from the job market represents a basic infringement of their rights. They are condemned to a life of poverty, exclusion, and non-fulfilment—with neither ‘bread nor roses’. This infringement also burdens the Israeli economy as a whole. The Bank of Israel detected the problem long ago, but the wake-up call came from the OECD. One of the conditions for Israel’s joining the latter in 2010 was that it increase labor force participation among Arab women and ultra-Orthodox Jewish men. With regard to these groups, Dan Ben David of the Taub Center likewise warned in 2010: “In light of the rapid demographic changes that Israeli society is undergoing, the currently high rates of non-employment already characterizing large parts of the population will be impossible to maintain in the future, when these groups become the majority.” [7]

The low workforce participation of Arab women affects Israel’s GDP and tax base. In a recent study[8], Yashiv and Kasir write that if the level of Arab women’s employment rises to 36% by the year 2030, this will translate into a national GDP increase of 35 billion New Israeli Shekels (NIS) (1$ = 3.80 NIS). If it rises by 2050 to 49%, the increase in GDP will be 114 billion NIS, which is roughly a tenth of Israel’s current GDP.

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