Reducing Poverty among Arab and Muslim Women: The Case of Arab Women in Israel

By Jabareen, Yosef | Journal of International Women's Studies, July 2015 | Go to article overview

Reducing Poverty among Arab and Muslim Women: The Case of Arab Women in Israel


Jabareen, Yosef, Journal of International Women's Studies


Introduction

Gender inequalities in areas such as wage conditions, sectors of economic activity, job and occupational segregation, vulnerable employment shares, and labor force participation rates are a persistent feature of contemporary day labor markets around the globe (ILO, 2009). This is amply illustrated by the fact that the 2008 world labor force participation rate of 65.1% comprises rates of 77.5% for men and 52.6% for women. However, it must also be noted that global male and female labor force participation rates have been showing signs of transformation in recent decades, albeit at a very slow pace (ILO, 2014). Internationally, perhaps the most striking aspect of female labor force participation in recent years has been its steady, linear upward trend (Cohen and Bianchi, 1999; Cohen et al., 2009). Yet, the lowest regional female labor participation rate belongs to the Middle East, at a conspicuously low rate of 21.3% (in contrast to 68.8% among males) in comparison to 56.8% and 64.2% in Sub-Saharan Africa and East Asia respectively (ILO, 2010: 48). In the Middle East, Arab countries continue to stand out as having the lowest female participation rates of all (ILO, 2010; UNDP, 2006). The case of Israel in this context is particularly interesting. Even though Israel has an advanced economy, labor participation among Arab females in the country is nonetheless extremely low, standing at 21.1% in 2008 (Jabareen et al., 2010; CBS, 2010).

The Global Employment Trends 2014 (ILO, 2009, 2014) suggests that the gender gap in employment continues to be large in developing countries, with a general tendency towards a further widening, and that decent work deficits are the primary cause of poverty and social instability and that access to full and productive employment and decent work is crucial for all. Importantly, the international experience suggests that "work is the best way of lifting families out of poverty" (OECD, 2010: 3). Thus, this paper assumes that one crucial policy, among many others, aimed at poverty reduction is to increase the women's participation in the labour market and their access to decent work. This issue is a critical among Arab and Muslim women around the world in general and among Arab women in Israel since the participation rate of women in the labour market is quite low. This paper assumes also that it is crucial to understand the low rate of Arab women participation in the labour force prior to developing policies towards increasing their participation and reducing poverty rate consequently. Therefore, this paper aims to identify the reasons behind the low rate of Arab female participation in the labor market, and based on that to propose a conceptual framework for increasing their participation rate and reducing poverty among them and their households.

The statistic, reflecting not only women's low employment rate but a broader distinctive pattern of gender inequality, female poverty and marginalization from economic life in general, raises several crucial questions: What accounts for this unique social phenomenon? Is it primarily the result of Arab and Muslim culture and social structures, as most scholars assume? Or, is female labor participation impacted by other important factors as well?

The scholarship on Arab female labor participation rates has generated valuable knowledge that has contributed to our understanding of the phenomenon. Still, the majority of studies undertaken thus far have been concerned with only a few aspects of the phenomenon. Most suggest cultural interpretation as the major determining factor, while others examine socioeconomic variables, fertility rates, education, female structural adjustment, stage of state development, economic structure, and social and cultural policies as possible explanations for the phenomenon (Assaad, 2003; Doumato and Posusney, 2003; Lewin-Epstein and Semyonov, 1992; Moghadam, 1998, 2005; Nassar, 2003; Tzannatos and Kaur, 2003). …

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