By Dr. Bettina Suleiman
Israel's Transportation Ministry announced in July that for the first time in Israel's history, public transportation services will be offered to Arab locales. "History in the Arab Israeli sector," read a press release issued by the Ministry. New public transportation bus lines will be introduced and begin operating in Arab villages and towns throughout Israel.
This is an unprecedented success for the rural Arab women who fought for mobility in their localities over the course of six years, through the project "Women Demand Mobility" facilitated by Kayan - Feminist Organization and supported by the Heinrich Böll Foundation. Unable to travel from place to place, they were cut off from the work-force and economic activity, from health and social services, from educational institutions, and from participation in their communities. Their lack of mobility was a reason for gender inequality and poverty.
"Friends, I want to go out of the house and attend an empowerment workshop. I want to contribute to the empowerment of other women and to the society, but it is difficult for me to come. If there is no man - brother, father or husband - to drive me, I have to go by foot for an hour!" said a woman in Kayan`s empowerment group in Mghar in 2003. This statement initiated the project, aiming to bring public transportation to all Arab towns and villages in Israel.
The project was innovative and visionary, so its beginnings were marked by trial and error. At first, the women of Mghar simply did by themselves what the state would not do for them: assessing local transportation needs and designing public transport accordingly: routes, bus-stops, timetables, everything. Only later, they realized that a reliable and sustainable service needs involvement from the state.
This was the beginning of a major advocacy campaign directed towards local authorities, and carried by women's grassroots pressure groups in numerous villages - Kayan's "mobility groups." With the support of the Heinrich Böll Foundation, Kayan also surveyed groups of women in 14 rural locations. Based on the findings, Kayan published "Mobility among Arab Women in Israel", (see link below) a report that documented the lack of mobility and its consequences form a gender perspective on transport, and provided recommendations for action.
The report was a breakthrough, the first of its kind ever published in Israel. It served as an advocacy tool towards national authorities, and initiated contacts to the Ministry of Transport that resulted in the Ministry's acknowledgment of the women's demands in 2007 and its collaboration with Kayan in assessing transportation needs. Kayan helped the Ministry to reach dozens of local women who otherwise would have been excluded from the planning process, ensuring that today's new bus-lines serve Arab women, men and children equally.
The writer is the development coordinator of Kayan-Feminist Organization
Mobility Among Arab Women in Israel, Report by Kayan (English, PDF, 40 pages, 1MB)