Walking the streets of Jisr-Az-Zarka, on her way to the town's municipality building, Makbula Nassar stands out in the scenery. Her outfit includes pants, a short-sleeve shirt, high heels, and hair blowing in the wind. The rest of the women on the street are covered from head to toe, only their faces visible.
Nassar is the host of a popular talk-show, which airs in the leading Arabic radio station in Israel. Her show promotes a liberal agenda, and often challenges religious leaders and institutions. Today she is visiting a town whose population is mostly very religious.
Nassar has come to Jisr-Az-Zarka not as a journalist, but rather as an activist, promoting gender equality. She is meeting local social workers to discuss women's rights in marital relations. The following is a video report I prepared about Makbula Nassar, which includes scenes from the heated conversation she had with the social workers.
In her struggle for gender equality, Nassar is trying to divert a decades-long trend. Arab women in Israel have always suffered from lack of political representation and a lack of access to decision-making and positions of power. Hanna Herzog, a political sociologist at Tel Aviv University, argues that in the Arab society in Israel, dominant ideas about the inferior status of women gained additional reinforcement -- beyond the traditional cultural origins -- from the political conflict in the region. According to this theory, the geopolitical history has contributed to the strengthening of discrimination against women.
"With the establishment of the State of Israel, the continuity in Palestinian society was broken. Nearly all political and organizational institutions collapsed, changes occurred in the economic structure, and the social structure was shaken... Insecurity led to the tightening of social control over women. Control of women became the measure by which Palestinian society was able to preserve itself and maintain its special characteristics. Its uniqueness vis-a-vis the Jewish society is expressed by its preservation of traditional values, further emphasizing its significant identification with the Arab world surrounding Israel." (Palestinian-Israel Journal of Politics, Economics and Culture,
Vol.2 No.3 1995)
However, these days, more Arab women in Israel are gaining higher education then ever before. A Brookdale Institute Research shows that between 1990 and 2006, the percentage of Israeli Arab women with 13-15 years of education doubled, and the percentage of those with 16 or more years of education increased fivefold.
Last year I reported about the struggles young educated Arab women have finding employment in the Israeli labor market, but that is also changing. Makbula Nassar's job -- aside from hosting a radio talk show -- is being a Communications Coordinator for Tsofen, a nonprofit organization, whose goal is to promote integration of young educated Arabs in Israel's blossoming high-tech industry. Tsofen's work has contributed to the recent hi-tech boom in the Arab sector. Nassar, whether as a PR person, a talk show-host or an activist, is demonstrating the emergence of women as agents of social change in Arab societies.
-- "The Multipule Identities of Arab Women in Israel," Palestinian-Israel Journal of Politics, Economics and Culture, Vol.17 No.3 & 4, 2011
-- "Women of the Arab Spring," The National, January 14th 2012
-- "Women Sidelined in Lebanese Politics," Don Duncan, Video Journalism Movement, 2011.