Developing and Institutionalizing the Grassroots Movement of Arab Women in Israel:
Grassroots community activism has always been integral to Kayan’s vision of social change, empowering women to overcome imbalances and improve their lives in tangible ways. In the early stages of the organization, Kayan’s intensive, months-long program for individual empowerment and consciousness-raising was implemented with groups of 10-15 women within various Arab villages and towns, and in ethnically mixed cities. This group work engendered, for the first time in Israel, a critical feminist dialogue among a wide community of Arab women. Meetings consisted of guided discussions pertaining directly to women’s daily lives and examined the connections between their personal issues and their social status as women within Arab society. In these early stages, Kayan’s direct involvement concluded upon the completion of the series of meetings. The goal of spurring a critical discourse among Arab women in their communities having been realized; for the first time in many of their lives, questions had been publically voiced concerning Arab women’s status in society.
Feedback from the women, however, made it clear that participants were not satisfied with personal empowerment alone; they viewed community organizing as a requisite catalyst of social change. Many even felt frustrated as a result of having taken part in the groups. As they became increasingly aware of their status and position as women in society, they recognized a lack of tools with which to change the status quo and improve their lives. Stemming from such feedback, Kayan began to facilitate workshops that provided tools for community organizing and mobilization. These programs became an integral part of Kayan’s work with women’s groups, which had by then evolved to include not only personal empowerment and leadership training, but also accompaniment of social entrepreneurs in the process of planning and implementing grassroots community projects.
The results were very encouraging. Among other successes, a women’s community center was established in the village of Arabeh – the first and only of its kind – which offered local women various enrichment classes ranging from language, literacy and computer skills, to discussions about feminism and the status of women in Arab society. In the village of Maghar, grassroots women’s activism led to the inauguration of an intra-community public transportation system. The achievement brought these women public recognition as leaders able to meet the needs of women in the community. The establishment of such community-based projects plays a critical role in the institutionalization of Arab women’s leadership by lending visability and public credibility to this newly arrived cadre of public actors and raises awareness of women’s potential to assert power and influence over their personal and public realities.
Jusur and the Forum of Arab Leaders:
Our core methodology, Jusur
(Bridges), has come to represent a crucial framework for Kayan's empowerment work and ensures the sustainability of myriad initiatives for social change. By providing leadership training and professional development support of feminist activists, Kayan helps Arab women to organize themselves at the grassroots, articulate a vision of change, formulate a plan of action and deploy an expanding set of skills and resources as decision-makers in the public sphere. Our long-term commitment to women activists ensures they gain the tools they need to assess community priorities, foster effective relationships, overcome challenges, develop feasible work plans and execute professional programs that respond to local needs.
Through several years of direct action in Arab villages throughout Israel, Kayan has built a grassroots network comprised of hundreds of women from myriad communities, a key organizational resource for consolidating an emerging Arab women’s movement. Kayan’s Forum of Arab Women Leaders has grown to include nearly 40 women representing 17 community initiatives in 20 villages. These pioneering leaders meet quarterly to discuss working relationships, requisites of success in their communities, the impact of their work and the strengthening of partnerships with other community-based organizations, civil society organizations and public authorities. Together, Jusur
and the Forum of Arab Women Leaders comprise a sustainable foundation for feminist community organizing throughout the Arab society.
Key achievements in feminist community organizing:
In January 2005, a women’s group supported by Kayan in the Arab village of Maghar succeeded in their campaign to introduce public transportation within their community of 20,000. This initiative served as a model for other villages and, by 2007, Kayan had provided an organizational framework that enabled women in several other Arab villages and cities to begin working on similar initiatives. This campaign, which was dubbed Women Demand Mobility, was met with unprecedented success; in July 2010, for the first time in the history of the state, government-sponsored public transportation was mandated within and between all Arab localities.