Arab women have made significant advances over the past two decades. Whereas in 2001 the average years of study for an Arab woman in Israel was 5 years, by 2013 Arab women were spending an average of 12 years in school. Today, Arab women surpass Arab men in higher education (67% of all Arab college and university students in Israel in 2012 were women). Employment rates have also grown from 20% in 2000 to 27% in 2014.
Still, Arab women are recognized as one of the most disadvantaged groups in Israeli society and as being “a minority within a minority.” Arab women navigate issues related to the traditionally patriarchal elements of Arab society and their status as minorities within the state of Israel. Numerous socio-economic indicators illustrate the impact of these barriers:
- Only around 27% of Arab women participate in the labor market compared to 76% of Jewish women and 73% of Arab men. (Among Arab women with an academic degree, 77% are employed—albeit not always in their studied profession.)
- Arab women are even more overrepresented than Arab men in low-skilled, part-time, and low-wage labor.
- According to 2011 Bank of Israel figures, salary gaps of more than 40% exist between the average salaries of Jewish and Arab women.
- Within Arab society, Arab women continue to be affected by violence against women and (including the extreme example of “honor killings”) and the prevalence of polygamy, especially among the Negev Bedouins.
The “double marginalization” of Arab women creates specific barriers to integrating into Israel’s general job market. Traditional Arab society emphasizes the role of women in the home as caretakers of large families and the community. Even with growing acceptance of women’s employment and educational attainment within Arab society, there is still a shortage of job opportunities, childcare services, and public transportation near Arab localities that add to the challenge.
The low employment rates of Arab women make them an exclusive focus of many government and civil society programs to advance employment and close socio-economic gaps, and a high priority within most such programs. Advancing Arab women’s employment is recognized by the government as key to closing socio-economic gaps between Arabs and Jews in Israel and strengthening the economy on the whole.