Economic empowerment courses for Arab women in Jaffa are helping their percentages to grow in more highly skilled jobs.
A stone’s throw from neighboring Tel Aviv, the reality of the ancient port city of Jaffa is entirely different. The mixed Jewish-Arab city boasts an impressively diverse population with a rich cultural mix, but it has its share of hardships. Women in Jaffa, especially those in the Arab community which comprises about 50 percent of the city, don’t enjoy the same opportunities as their Jewish counterparts. Thanks to an economic empowerment program, however, more of those women are now moving into the workforce and into more highly-skilled jobs.
To help them to help themselves, for the past three years a unique and exceptionally active community center in the heart of Jaffa has been holding training courses for the city’s Arab women where they can bring their computer skills up to speed so they can join Israel’s highly educated workforce.
In partnership with Cisco Systems (the giant Internet supplier of networking equipment and management) which has an Israel subsidiary and the Peres Center for Peace located nearby, in December the Arab Jewish Community Center (AJCC) in Jaffa had 21 women graduates from its Al Amal, Women’s Economic Empowerment Program.
Among them is 19-year-old Lania, who grew up in the Jaffa community of Ajami. The tough community was recently featured in an Israeli film that bears its name. After finishing high school, Lania knew there was more in store for her than settling down, getting married and having children. She soon discovered that computers and high-tech were her calling. Young, religious and proud to be of the Muslim faith, to Lania being a good Muslim means working, as well as adhering to traditional family values.
Her faith as her power
“I see my faith as a source of power, and not a barrier,” she says, quoting the Koran, the Muslim holy book. “Do and work and God will acknowledge your work and doing.”
It was through the Al Amal course, says AJCC public relations manager Marina Boykis, that Lania discovered her calling. Now, she wants to works toward a higher position. “Even though Lania understands there are stereotypes [that may work against her], the course proved she can succeed,” Boykis tells ISRAEL21c.
The numbers tell a story: Seventeen percent of Israel’s workforce is composed of Arab women, age 15 and up, in contrast to 54% Jewish women. While a number of factors prevent Arab women from integrating, the Al Amal project aims to change the statistics.
“The low participation of Arab women in the Israeli workforce is a result of racial and gender discrimination,” says Ibrahim Abu Shindi, executive director of the AJCC. Targeting Arab women in Jaffa, the courses provided by Al Amal seek to help this disenfranchised group of women enter the workforce.
Opening the door for more Arab women
In other recent courses women have learned the basic computing skills needed for jobs like providing tech support at a call center. The course covered topics including computer applications, hardware, software and Internet systems. Following the course, participants also received job-hunting support. And the internationally-recognized Cisco certification certainly eases their entry into the professional high-tech field.
While the women who are married with children face the same obstacles as all young mothers do – they often can’t work night shifts and have fewer hours when they can work in the afternoon and evening – to date, the Al Amal project has enabled more than 60 Arab women from Jaffa to find gainful employment.
The project is one of very few of its kind, but despite the challenges greater numbers of Arab women are entering the workforce. The Al Amal idea is spreading, says Boykis. “These women are recruiting others – and opening the door for them. There is a general misconception that Arab women can only be put in low-skilled positions. Al Amal is showing them that not only are they fully capable of going to higher positions, but that a lot of [Arab women] want to go there.”