Israeli Druze Women Seeking to Break Into Workforce Face Catch-22

Most of Druze women who do work are employed in teaching and education, with very few in other fields. The focus on the education field perpetuates high unemployment and low salaries.

Misa As’ad, 25, from the northern village of Beit Jann.
Gil Eliahu

“I completed a bachelor’s degree in education and am working toward a teaching certificate at the Arab Academic College of Education, but I’ve been unemployed for three years,” says Misa As’ad, 25, from the northern village of Beit Jann.

“I wanted to work as a teacher in one of the schools in the village, but I couldn’t get hired. There are already enough teachers. I applied to a school outside the village, but I don’t have a driver’s license and the bus service is unreliable, so I’m not working.”

The trap As’ad is in is not unusual in Arab society, and in Druze society in particular. According to the Central Bureau of Statistics, less than a third of Druze women work, a similar rate to that among all Arab women – but significantly lower than the 80% labor force participation rate among Jewish women.

Most of the Druze women who do work are employed in teaching and education, with very few in other fields. The focus on education helps to perpetuate high unemployment and low salaries.

The Druze in Israel, who belong to an offshoot of Islam, are concentrated in the north of the country, with 98% of them living in 19 small towns. The area suffers from all the same problems of Israel’s periphery – a shortage of jobs, a lack of support networks like day-care for working mothers, and inadequate public transportation to get them to jobs.

Additionally, the conservatism of Druze society and some of its internal ethnic characteristics prevent women from joining the force. “It’s a society with unique cultural characteristics,” says Dr. Amir Khnifess, director of the Druze Association of Science and Leadership.

“Most parents would prefer for their daughters to work somewhere close to their village, without having to travel a long way or sleep somewhere else overnight. This conservatism should be respected, not fought,” he says.

“The solution to the unemployment problem for Druze women is to invest in local industrial zones that could hire more female workers. The aim has to be to find ways to match the community’s cultural life with the labor market. The community’s way of life can be preserved, while enabling more women to find jobs.”

The preference for employment and studies close to home is evident in the CBS figures on the distribution of Druze students in academic institutions. The 2015 data show that most Druze students were enrolled at Western Galilee Academic College (13.3 %), the Arab Academic College of Education in Haifa (14.4%), Ort Braude Academic College of Engineering (7.6%), the University of Haifa (5.7%) and the Technion Israel Institute of technology(1.9%). The lowest percentage was found at Ben-Gurion University of the Negev (0.2%).

The good news is that there are already a good number of potential employment solutions for Druze women, though they have not yet been sufficiently adapted for this population to create substantial change.

Jobs nearby

“There are factories near the Druze communities, that would seem to be places where the women could work, but these factories require late evening and night shifts at hours that are not suitable for Druze women. We’re working together with some employers to help them adapt for the Druze women who come to work there,” says Azat Halabi, director of the Ne’urim Program, a nationwide program run by the Ma’ase Association and sponsored by the Rashi Foundation.

The five-year-old program operates in 17 Druze communities and provides informal educational opportunities for teens, in addition to other training, resume-writing workshops and visits to universities and other educational institutions.

They are aided by 18-year-old female volunteers who can continue to volunteer during their academic studies in return for a stipend. The program now has 350 graduates and employs 90 volunteers each year.

Halabi says the program isn’t trying to radically change the picture, but rather to gently and effectively influence the society in a way that will help Druze women break out of the cycle of unemployment.

“We don’t judge the Druze women or the kind of environment they come from. We try to meet their needs and adapt our program and hours of activity accordingly,” he says. “We cooperate with the local councils, the internal organizations and the placement centers.”

Mona Daash.
Gil Eliahu

He says the women who come to the program want to obtain the professional tools that will help them gain employment.

“After high school I didn’t want to study right away and I thought that volunteering would be an empowering experience,” says Mona Daash, 24, an alumnus of the center who went on to earn a degree in statistics. “The volunteering included training I never could have gotten anywhere else, and experience standing in front of teenagers. It helped me see that I want to become a teacher, and my parents encouraged me.”

Despite all the varied efforts to encourage Druze women to enter the work force, the majority who do still opt for the field of education. CBS statistics show that the percentage of Druze students in professions like teaching humanities and social studies (16%) and Arabic language and literature (9%) is higher than their proportion of the general population.

“I knew I was going to go into education, because it’s a profession that suits the Druze culture, but I was debating between teaching sports and teaching Arabic,” says As’ad. The new generation still has the same concerns as its elders and so education continues to be the main choice of profession.

“I want to study English, but I haven’t completely decided whether to go into translation or teaching,” says Janan Awida, 20, a second-year Ne’urim volunteer from the village of Sami’a. “I want to be a teacher. My parents are religious, so my workplace has to be close to home.”

Iman Tarbiya-Alqasem, employment coordinator at the Economy Ministry, says: “The figures for employment and higher education among the Druze as a whole and Druze women in particular are on the rise, which indicates that there is a shift going on in the Druze community, while it maintains its cultural and traditional characteristics. This varies from village to village. Today there are women who are studying medicine, engineering and law and working outside their home villages and integrating in the Israeli labor market. There is noticeable development.”

Iman Tarbiya-Alqasem.
Khalil Khidar

She goes on to say that, contrary to the popular contention, the government does have plans for Arab society in general and for the Druze specifically. But the success of these plans depends on cooperation from Druze society. “It is the responsibility of Druze society to see that its sons and daughters expand their fields of study, especially into professions that are in demand in the economy,” she says.

The government target is to increase employment from a rate of 32% in 2015 to 41% for Arab and Druze women by 2020. This means adding 52,000 Arab and Druze women to the work force. The government is also working to expand the limited supply of jobs for Druze who live in the geographic periphery and to provide them with more professional training.

“The Economy Ministry has opened 21 Ryan Employment Guidance Centers, which in 2015 alone served about 8,000 people from this population throughout the country and found job placements for 60% of them,” Tarbiya-Alqasem said. “The centers locate women who are not integrated in the work force, provide them with employment guidance and professional training, and conduct workshops on preparing for the working environment, on self-empowerment, computer skills, Hebrew, English and more.”