The Association for the Improvement of Women’s Status, Lakia
Registered NGO No. 580265536
The First Bedouin Women’s Non-Profit Organization in the Negev
The Association for the Advancement of the Status of Women, Lakia was incorporated as a non-profit organization in Israel in 1996 with the goal of improving the status of women in Bedouin society and in Israeli society as a whole. We were the first women’s organization in the Negev. The Association is run and operated by Bedouin women who are sensitive to the needs and problems of their community and of women in particular. The Association, which operates in Lakia and the surrounding unrecognized villages, has been a important influence in the improvement of the status of women over the years.
Among our major accomplishments has been the development of Desert Embroidery, a thriving home-centered embroidery industry, advocacy for our community through the development of a cultural tourist center, the operation of a Mobile Library for over 1,000 children, as well as youth leadership and educational projects. We have raised the awareness of the community on many essential issues, including genetic diseases caused by kinship marriage, the importance of education for adults and both male and female children, pre-natal care, home economics, and more. We have helped young women return to school to complete their studies and provided literacy classes for older women.
Understanding the Problem of Bedouin Women
Israeli government statistics reveal that fewer than 12% of Bedouin women in the Negev participate in the workforce, compared with some 20% and 23% among Arab women in central and northern Israel respectively, and over 56% of Jewish women. Arab Israeli women meet discrimination on three fronts:
1) The traditional patriarchal Arab society discriminates against and shortchanges women.
2) The Arab minority is discriminated against by Israeli Jewish society and government policies
3) Women face discrimination in the Israeli job market.
Bedouin women, who constitute a minority within the minority Arab Israeli population, face even more severe problems.
Among the factors affecting the low employment rate of Bedouin women is the lack of adequate educational and professional training which fails to prepare Bedouin women to compete in the Israeli job market. The need to remain close to home to care for school-aged children combines with immobility resulting from the inability to drive or afford a car. Poor roads, lack of public transportation and job scarcity in the Bedouin settlements exacerbate the problem. In addition, the socio-cultural practices of Bedouin society do not encourage women to participate in the work force, travel outside their villages unaccompanied, or mix with the opposite sex in the workplace.
How We Help
The Association for the Improvement of Women’s Status is committed to improving the lives of Bedouin women and children through economic empowerment and the advancement of education and culture. We run several projects:
The Desert Embroidery Project – develops alternative income sources and preservers traditional folk art skills to restore the contribution of women’s to their families’ income. Some 80 women work at home producing traditional hand embroidery which we sew into attractive items for the home. The embroiderers are paid for everything they produce and participate in educational lectures and trips.
The Desert Embroidery Visitor Center and Store – hosts cultural activities for Israeli and foreign tourists to enhance understanding and coexistence. Through lectures, home-cooked meals and the Desert Embroidery store, the Visitor Center generates income for Bedouin women in the Desert Embroidery Project. Over 200 tour groups from Israel and abroad visit us each year.
Our Mobile Library – began operating in a donkey cart in the streets of Lakia over a decade ago. Today over 1,000 children freely exchange books in Lakia and the surrounding towns. In a community lacking public libraries and a tradition of reading, the mobile library nurtures a love of books and develops children’s educational skills.
Our Youth Leadership Projects – Teenage girls and boys meet to engage in projects in the community with a focus on volunteering, gender equality, the importance of higher education, and community advocacy.
Our Educational Projects – we run a summer camp for under-privileged children and English, mathematics and computer classes for youth.
Making a Difference
In the early years, we faced male opposition, including the burning of our headquarters. Today Association headquarters is a dynamic meeting place for women providing information on health and family care, education, and women’s rights. Evidence of improvement is visible throughout Lakia. More women allow their daughters to study beyond the eighth grade and others encourage their daughters to continue to university. Through the Desert Embroidery Project women who would otherwise be restricted to their homes can expand their horizons and earn money to support their children’s education. At Desert Embroidery, women become aware of the greater possibilities existing for their younger sisters, their children and themselves.
We are working to increase earned income from Desert Embroidery sales and tourist visits to decrease reliance on outside funding, but all our projects need financial support. We have new projects in the works: expansion of Mobile Library services to additional children; sewing and design courses to enable women to open home-based businesses; joint Bedouin-Jewish youth projects, and more.
We invite you to contribute to our work and to visit us in Lakia near Beer Sheba when in Israel!