"Gender Equality at the Local Level" is a joint, 3-year community action project run by two non-profit organizations led by women: Adva Center for Equality and Social Justice and Injaz Center for Professional Arab Local Governance.
This project, which has already proved successful, aims to increase Israeli women's political and economic power by providing them with knowledge about their economy and society and about the workings of their local and national governments. It also strives to consolidate local groups that can serve as the basis for women's joint political action. In addition, the project creates opportunities for women from different communities to meet, join forces and provide mutual support in an "old girls' network."
The project is a shared society endeavor; it operates in 21 different localities, half of them Jewish and half of them Arab.
What did the project actually do?
First, it created a model for action on the local level for more gender-responsive service provision and budgeting, incorporating that model into a manual How to Conduct a Gender Audit of Municipal Budgets, available in English, Hebrew and Arabic.
Second, it recruited women's groups in no fewer than 21 localities, most of them in Israel's socio-economic periphery.
Third, it provided the women's groups with training in social and economic issues, the structure of local government, how to read the municipal budget, how to gender mainstream programming and budgeting (Gender mainstreaming is a strategy that involves auditing programs and budgets to determine If they have different effects on women and men/girls and boys, as well as examining the fit between women's and girl's needs and the services they receive),and how to get involved in local programming and budgeting in their own communities on behalf of women and girls.
The project was designed to answer the question: What happens once women complete an empowerment course? Thus, the fourth step was to assist the women's groups to develop a vision for their communities and action plans for local projects that would bring about changes benefitting all residents, but targeted at women and girls.
Here are some of the things the women actually did:
- Increased the representation of women on municipal committees in their local authorities;
- Got women elected to municipal councils (local governing bodies);
- Created Municipal Women's Councils as permanent advisory bodies to the mayor on the status of women;
- Increased local women's opportunities to obtain professional training for a better job;
- Increased local women's opportunities to start their own businesses, by bringing an entrepreneurship course to the community and by creating a Hub for women's small businesses;
- Created a special program for adult women to get a college degree, with funding from the local authority;
- Introduced gender equality programs into the curricula of local schools;
- Stopped the practice of water cutoffs without warning to poor families;
- Obtained municipal subsidies for cultural activities;
- Persuaded the local authority to construct a hiking trail for women;
- Convinced the local sports facility to allocate time and space for women and girls;
- Got the municipal engineering department to remove physical obstacles in the way of strollers and wheelchairs;
- Convinced the municipality to create a public library for children and their parents.
On May 12, 2015, the project held its second national conference, with generous support from the Heinrich Boell Foundation. The purpose of the conference was to enable women from the different localities – Jewish and Arab women – to get acquainted and to learn from one another's challenges and successes. The conference was attended by 170 women hailing from 19 different localities. The conference program began with a playback theatre activity, to which attendees reacted enthusiastically, as one can see clearly in the photographs and the video film. The playback theatre was followed by workshops, each attended by both Jewish and Arab women, at which the women discussed their undertakings in six different areas: making sports activities and local infrastructure appropriate to women and girls, encouraging economic development and women's entrepreneurship, increasing women's representation in decision-making positions, increasing professional training and employment opportunities for women, giving adult women new opportunities to get a college education, and making cultural activities affordable and appropriate to local residents.
What the conference revealed was the strength and energy that is generated when women who received the same training and engaged in similar political (in the broad sense of the word) activities but did not have opportunities to meet get together to share their experiences and learn from one another. The conference enabled women to understand that the obstacles they encountered when trying to promote a specific issue were similar in different localities. It also exposed them to new ideas regarding how to overcome those obstacles.
One of the objectives of the conference was to start building the basis for a new stage of the project in which Jewish and Arab women from the various localities participating in the project would work together at the regional level. Now that the first step in that direction has been taken, we intend to create new opportunities for meetings among women and to develop regional forums for social change benefitting women and girls from diverse communities.