Opinion |

Women, Get Down From the Ivory Tower and Get Involved in Local Government

It’s time to tell them: If you don’t stick your hands in the mud, society’s entire future, and especially your sons’ future, is in danger

Odeh Bisharat
Odeh Bisharat
Arab Israeli women attend a rally commemorating Land Day in the Umm Al-Hiran village near the southern city of Beersheba in the Negev desert, March 30, 2016.
Arab Israeli women attend a rally commemorating Land Day in the Umm Al-Hiran village near the southern city of Beersheba in the Negev desert, March 30, 2016.Credit: MENAHEM KAHANA / AFP
Odeh Bisharat
Odeh Bisharat

If Arab women aren’t active in politics, it’s not because they’re not worthy but because the arena isn’t worthy of them – if it’s at all worthy of ordinary mortals.

You know what acrobatic skills it takes to be a politician in the local arena? How polite the candidate has to be, even toward those one cannot stand to be around? And how seriously one has to treat even those whose opinions one doesn’t value? And we haven’t mentioned the weddings that need to be attended, the events that need to be hosted at home, and the crates of fruit and vegetables and tons of coffee involved, issues worth an entire chapter in their own right.

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So first of all we must congratulate the good people who are willing to enter this madhouse. If the town’s good isn’t burning in the person’s bones, and if they aren’t planning to turn the municipality into a private grocery store, the reward isn’t worth the effort - the suffering involved in being sworn at routinely; or having someone ask to build them a fence, which they don’t deserve, in exchange for 20 more votes from family members.

In the Arab community the voter turnout for the Knesset election is relatively low, due to the feeling that it won’t make an impact, so all hopes are pinned on the local elections. Any strangers that happened to find themselves at the scene of a local election, might think judgement day had come early – everyone is scrambling to bring voters to the polls, and in some places a miracle occurs: the dead vote, too, at least so it is said.

However, “the funeral is stormy and the deceased is a dog,” as the Arabs say. For what can the mayor do, if the thawing of every dunam for construction requires decades of struggle, there are no industrial areas to yield tax revenue or ensure places of employment, and the public the mayor is in charge of is among the lowest socioeconomic strata in the country? So the only rewards are getting a position here and a job there. A poor person’s festivity in all its sad glory.

So we must entreat good people to jump into this whirlpool and this call is directed mainly at Arab women. In recent years they have made tremendous and even revolutionary achievements in all walks of life. Even in the Technion, Israeli society’s masculine bastion. Arab female students make up about half of Arab students!

The long way women have come is demonstrated – and don’t raise a brow – in the wedding ceremony. There were times when the celebration was solely the bridegroom’s lot, while the bride functioned more as a prop than a partner to the festivities. When the groom was carried on guests’ shoulders in victorious rounds, and songs extolled his beauty, saying how even the son pales by comparison to the light shining from his face, the bride was supposed to sit on a chair in her velvet cage and display sadness. The more tears she shed the better, after all, she was leaving her parents to a stranger’s house, where she is required to obey the groom’s mother. And when the women wanted to praise a woman, they used to say “she has a mouth to eat, not to speak.”

Today not only doesn’t the woman shed tears, she also, good heavens, displays happiness and comes up to all the guests and dances, what a disgrace, among the men and women. This small detail symbolizes the revolution Arab women have experienced.

Just as women have brought about a dramatic change – certainly for the better – everywhere they've gone, so they must also get involved in local government. Women’s entry into this world means, first of all, a reduction in violence, because masculinity alone is fertile soil for violence. The local discourse will start dealing with other, more profound aspects. At the moment most the discourse is about the town’s physical construction, while hardly mentioning the people.

Women’s entry is vital for themselves as well, because this is about the image of the society they live in. And if women think about their sons more than about men, as many believe, the need is critical: taking part in shaping society to make it more humane.

And if “the experience determines consciousness,” and if women are to be found in large numbers in every walk of life, this must be reflected in local government as well.

Women’s condescension toward local government is well known. Many feel that the election discourse, with its aggressiveness and coarseness, “wounds” their delicate ears. It’s time to tell them: stop condescending, get down from your ivory tower! If you don’t stick your hands in the mud, society’s entire future, and especially your sons’ future, is in danger.

Just as women have brought about a dramatic change – certainly for the better – everywhere they've gone, so they must also get involved in local government.

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