Nonprofit or community organization
Last modified: January 22, 2012, 10:59 AM
Kayan is a group of feminists who aim to advance the status of Arab women in Israel.
Kayan, which means 'Being' in Arabic, is a feminist organization established by and for Arab women living in Israel. The founders of Kayan came together through their shared experience as women who are minority citizens of Israel and members of an often patriarchal Arab society. In order to address these specific challenges Kayan was founded in 1998 as a capacity-building non profit organization devoted to personal and collective women's empowerment. The facilitators, community organizers and lawyers of Kayan offer knowledge-based trainings, mentoring programs, free legal representation and counseling, and workshops that are geared to advance the status of all Arab women in Israel. Empowering individual women and women's groups to be pro-active, Kayan prepares women to become activists, leaders and advocates for themselves who take on the role of change-makers in society, making significant improvements in the community and challenging roles and expectations in the process. Through these programs Arab women have both developed personally and formed self-governed groups collectively, accomplishing goals ranging from the instalation of a Public Transport system to creating a Union of childcare workers. In all activities Kayan promotes women's being: to be visible, to be vocal and to be valued.
Equality is still a dream for most Arab women and men living in Israel. In average, Arab women earn less than a half of the salaries of Jewish women. Only one in five Arab women participates in the workforce. Arab women have the highest illiteracy rate among all population groups, and the lowest median educational level.
We believe that the major changes not only can but also must come from the women themselves. Once women aim to break out of the traditional model, however, seeking opportunities for self-realization and self-determination, they encounter an environment that is not prepared for supporting such a step. Various needs that arise from women's choice for a lifestyle different from performing a traditional role in the domestic sphere remain unfulfilled, from adequate transportation to work-places to opportunities for exchange with other women in similar situations. Yet local leadership and therefore also resources still are almost exclusively in the hands of men who are unaware of these needs. Community organizing is an important instrument of Kayan's work to overcome this imbalance. We support grassroots women's initiatives that improve women's lives in tangible and specific ways, tending to the most pressing needs of women in their villages.
But while preparing the ground for true equality we must not forget that poor women need tangible and direct support also today. More than half of the Arab families in Israel live under the poverty line. Ignorant of the law and with nobody to ask, unable to pay for a lawyer and barely reading Hebrew, needy Arab women cannot realize their social, legal and economic rights. We publish easy-to-read guides in Arabic about crucial laws, ranging from security income and minimum wage to the rights of victims of sexual harassment and violence. The Internet is a great source of legal information, and we do publish our brochures on our website. Yet many women do not have the computer skills to use the Internet. We therefore bring brochures and lectures to the immediate vicinity of the women, to their towns and villages.
Furthermore, our lawyers give legal advice and representation to low-income women who do not have the resources to consult a lawyer. Every year, our lawyers support a great number of women through legal consultations and representations in individual cases. About two thirds of our cases are family law cases. Here, our major aim is to build women's trust in the new civil family court system, as most women still approach the traditional, gender-biased religious courts with which they are familiar.
Women need to improve their situation quickly, and they can do so if they have access to the relevant information and – even more important – if they are encouraged. This is why Kayan decided not to add another micro-enterprise or small business project to the valuable projects already existing in Israel, but to tackle the instilled barriers and the lack of knowledge that create poverty.
Women, especially in traditional societies, often perceive matters of personal economy as a male task. But it can be harmful for a woman's financial future if she leaves it to others to take care of. 82% of Arab women do not participate in the workforce; they have no financial precautions for old age whatsoever, no pensions, no insurances or savings. If they don't do anything, they will receive an old-age allowance only that is much too little to live from. Once we tell women this painful truth, they wake up and start to inquire about old-age provisions at the bank financial service providers.
We also realized that many women had never heard before of the social benefits and tax reductions to which they are entitled. Naturally, the majority had no idea how to claim these entitlements either. Information published by the state does not reach Arab women who do not read Hebrew, do not surf the Internet, and often do not travel outside of their villages. We bring the information directly to women, through workshops and seminars, easy-to-read-guides in Arabic, and through on-to-on counseling.
We encourage women to demand what is rightfully theirs. Through such encouragement, women no longer accept a simple "no" of the staff of social welfare institutions and continue to demand a benefit until they get it, because they know for sure that they are entitled to it. You can donate to Kayan at http://www.israelgives.org/amuta/580345247