Helping Arab women get proper jobs and defending their rights at work

The Coronavirus crisis has created a difficult challenge for the WAC-MAAN women’s sector, which organizes Arab women in Israel – especially women with low education levels – helping them to […]

The Coronavirus crisis has created a difficult challenge for the WAC-MAAN women’s sector, which organizes Arab women in Israel – especially women with low education levels – helping them to integrate within the labour market. Prior to the crisis, the rate of participation of Arab women in labour market in Israel was 35%, compared to 85% among Jewish women. The vast majority work in jobs such as services, agriculture and cleaning. Many are part time, wages are low, and employment rights are partial.

Wafa Tiara, WAC’s organizer in the Baqa al-Gharbia region (northern Triangle), coordinates the effort to help non-professional women enter the job market, mainly in agriculture, cleaning and social care. In March, at the start of the Coronavirus crisis, she was busy supporting workers who had been put on unpaid leave. From mid-March to June, she handled some 100 telephone calls a week, giving information about social rights and how to access unemployment benefits, assisting the women to fill the necessary online forms. She also liaised with employers to find out about their reopening schedules and encourage them to maintain contact with their workers.

In April, more than 100 women whom WAC had helped became unemployed. Since May, we have managed to do what seemed impossible and return many of them to work. One of the difficulties was that during the closure, the maximum number of people permitted in a car was reduced to two, compelling women to mobilize additional cars and drivers and to convince employers to pay for them. In addition, some of the flower-growing farms closed down, either temporarily or permanently.

Aside from this, many women were afraid to go to work, fearing Covid infection, and WAC had a hard time convincing them that, despite their fear, they could save their jobs and social rights by adhering strictly to the Ministry of Health rules. As a result, since May we have been able to get all women back to work.

Arab women working in nursing homes for the Elderly

Parallel to these efforts, WAC raised its voice against the government’s plan to allow the employment of 4000 new migrant workers in nursing homes. WAC called on the government to stop this plan and start a program preparing thousands of unemployed Arab women to take these much-needed jobs. WAC’s Michal Shwartz from our Women and Employment project wrote an Op-Ed in The Marker (July 9 2020), in which she pointed out that unemployment has hit Arab women particularly hard during the pandemic, with an estimated 80,000 jobs lost. This is particularly unfortunate after seven years in which the government carried out special initiatives to encourage Arab women to join the labor market. Mobilizing Arab women to work in nursing homes could be a practical solution to the homes’ staff shortages while mitigating poverty and unemployment.

A fund to support women who have been sexually harassed at work

During the summer, WAC initiated a fund to support women who had been sexually harassed at a workplace. The need to support women harassed on the job is acute when it is a Palestinian woman that is working in an Israeli company. As well as the usual trauma associated with such harrassment, the women faced problems in filing complaints against their Israeli employer who is responsible even if the perpetrator is one of its employees. Palestinian women are additionally challenged by the cultural difficulties of being exposed as victims of sexual harassment in a traditional Moslem society. This is why WAC decided to help these women and support their case and start a fund for this purpose. We have approached our supporters and friends and in a short period of time, a sum of approximately NIS 100,000 (US $30,000) was raised for a dedicated fund for Preventing Sexual Harassment at Work. The legal process has begun. We would like to thank dozens of individual supporters locally as well as Solifonds (Switzerland) and the FNV (The Netherlands).  

Hydroponic agriculture: a pilot project

The hydroponic agriculture project aims to help women start their own farming initiative at home. This is an important addition to the efforts to help them integrate in the job market ( A collaboration between WAC and Sindyanna of Galilee, the project has progressed nicely in recent months, despite the Coronavirus crisis. WAC’s hydroponic team, Yoav Gal-Tamir, Wafa Tiara and Tomer Lahav, a professional gardener, took part in a hydroponic crash course. Seven women completed the second course in Baqa al-Gharbia on February 9, raising the number of women who are practicing hydroponics to 12.

WAC has been cooperating with the Israeli owners of Hydroponics: Avner Rogel, Yair Fuchs and Guy Ruvio. The three are running a pilot program which aims to create a community of hydroponic growers who will help each other, share information and undertake common initiatives. They have developed a modern vertical hydroponic system, as well as a smartphone application by which growers send photographs and weekly reports, as well as receive monthly feedback. Both the entrepreneurs and the growers have benefited from the experience, enhancing the growers’ engagement and knowledge—for example, about the importance of getting quick answers to problems in real time.

The growers understand the importance of receiving professional guidance and being part of a community. All share a WhatsApp group. WAC believes that once there are enough hydroponic systems in operation, growers will sell their products to Sindyanna of Galilee, as well as to local businesses, community centers, and farmers’ markets.

אודות Wac-Maan