Advancing Social Welfare With Bedouin Women

7 June 2023

Photo credit: Shatil staff

“I remember watching the children from Rahme traipsing down the wadi to school in freezing rain and blistering heat, and thinking that if I were a millionaire, I’d pave a road for the school bus.
– Nura Zanon, Rahme resident

Nura is a 36 year-old mother of two girls and resides in the unrecognized Bedouin village of Rahme. She is a preschool teacher’s aide, a student in the Open University’s management program, and “a person who makes social change.” She is also one of 15 Bedouin professionals (13 women, 2 men) comprising the Shatil-guided working group for “Advancing Social Welfare Rights.” The group participants—residents of both recognized and unrecognized communities in the Negev—bring the full gamut of professional experience and expertise from their work as municipal officials, social change organization staff, educators, and activists to the table. All are working to better the lives of their fellow Bedouin citizens of the Negev, where Bedouin municipalities are among Israel’s poorest.

Since January 2023, Shatil has organized monthly lectures and workshops aimed to enrich group members’ knowledge of how the social welfare system works in Israel and to equip them with tools for influencing decision-makers. The project will culminate in July 2023 when they jointly draft a policy paper addressing a critical problem in their community and outlines recommendations for its mitigation through programs, policies, and budgets.

Insufficient transportation services for school children is just one of a multitude of problems that were discussed in the group’s deliberation on the focus for their policy paper. Though the women from recognized and unrecognized villages share certain priorities like improving educational services and advancing employment for Bedouin women, they also struggle with different challenges. Nura notes that while her colleagues, all of whom are women with driver’s licenses and academic degrees and freely appear in public unveiled, violent crime still wreaks havoc on their towns on a daily basis.

Still,  the group has chosen to address the urgent problem of young Bedouin people, ages 18-24, who have no framework or structure to their lives. The OECD calls these youths NEETs, or Not in Employment, Education, or Training, and over half  (54.1%) of 18-24 year-old Bedouin in Israel’s Negev meet this definition. The reasons and consequences for this phenomena are manifold, but they include the 21% high school drop-out rate; weak Hebrew language skills that prevent youth from integrating into the broader Israeli economy; the difficulty of finding a job, especially for young Bedouin women; and the temptation to make fast money through organized crime rings. Nura believes that these issues are rooted in Negev Bedouin’s insufficient access to educational services.

The group continues Shatil’s years of dedication to advancing Bedouin socio-economic development. Concurrently, Shatil is coordinating a new program to promote employment for Bedouin women in unrecognized villages and  has a program called Local Power that developed and established something called the Bedouin Treasurers Forum which, now in partnership with the Ministry of Interior, works to efficiently allocate a $1.2 billion budget earmarked for the socio-economic development of the Negev Bedouin.

Nura’s working group, “Advancing Social Welfare Rights,” is part of a three-year European Union-funded project called Agenda 2030. Spearheaded by Itach-Maaki: Women Lawyers for Social Justice in partnership with Shatil and Heschel Center for Sustainability, Agenda 2030 aims to reinforce the capacities of Israeli social change actors’ implementation of the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), which was adopted by the United Nations in 2015 – here, focusing on gender equality, promoting climate justice, and reducing poverty.

When asked whether Nura had been familiar with Shatil before joining the group, she is wholehearted in her response: “Yes,” she said. “Shatil has helped us with all kinds of problems in Rahme over the years by guiding us to find solutions that were right for us. Shatil is an amazing, amazing organization, because Shatil staff listen.

Recalling a citizens’ campaign in Rahme several years ago that led to construction of the paved road that Nura had envisioned, she reflected:

“One thing I’ve learned is that I don’t need to be rich in order to create change. Sitting in a group session on advocating in the Knesset the other day, it suddenly dawned on me that I already have a lot of power in my two hands. I’m intelligent. I know people that I could turn to for help. Here, I’m learning the steps I need to take to represent the needs of my community, and make their voices heard.”