While several institutions now focus on the difficult lives of minorities, Bedouin women are driven into the work force by their families’ needs and demands.
Despite the conservative traditions, poverty often pushes Bedouin women into the work force across the Middle East region. In fact, it was the lack of those basic needs that motivated them into making the shift.
Bezeq Israel Telecom is one of the country’s largest telecom groups. In a recent venture established in May with the Ministry of Industry, Trade and Labor, it successfully launched a call center, located inside a mosque, a project designed to combat unemployment among Arab Bedouin women.
“I started from zero but I have risen to be a manager. I think my example can inspire other Bedouin women to go out and work,” the 21-year-old Palestinian, Dalal Abu Kaf, said in a New York Times article.
Stories like Kaf’s do set an example for Bedouin women yet, obstacles outweigh such motivational cases.
Bedouins are desert dwellers across the Arab world who live within tribes headed by sheikhs or tribe-elders. They typically live in tents and raise goats, sheep, horses, and camels. Known for being excellent navigators in the desert, they shift locations depending on grazing conditions and the availability of water.
Like other Palestinians, Bedouin communities are equally subject to home demolitions conducted by Israel.
Khadra, from the village of Lakiya, said in an article, published by the Equal Rights Review in 2011: “They come in the morning when the husband is away so that only the women and the youngest children are in the house. Most of them cannot speak Hebrew … They bring down the house and then they send the bill for their ‘work’ to the people to pay.”
Khadra is a member of the Bedouin women’s organization Sidreh. Established in 1997 with a small group of women from around the Negev desert, the organization works on the economic, educational, health, and housing enhancement of Bedouin women. “We wanted to make a change in our community, to make women more involved, to encourage them to participate in community life, and to give women the skills to do this,” she said.
Similar institutions sprung up with the rising awareness of how dire the lives of these women are.
Bedouin Women for Themselves was created to empower the women with the skills required to survive. Most of such entities are primarily targeting illiteracy as it is the main factor that prevents women from obtaining jobs.
Poverty has contributed to the loosening of the conservative tradition of not allowing women to work far from home. Jordanian Bedouin shop owner Shiekha Khalaf al-Shobasi, a native from the village of Zamlat al-Amir Ghazi who, with the help of a government grant, has opened a store, said in a Reuters article last Wednesday that the objection has been gradually fading for a decade now.
The Jordanian tribal elder Abdul Wahed Al-Rasheed shares Shiekha’s views as he is overseeing several projects to empower women. As long as the work place “preserves women’s dignity and social traditions” he says, most Jordanian tribes will not object.
Bedouin communities in general have been under-represented across the region, with women and children being the most affected. The way in which the Sinai Bedouins have been treated, for instance, is reportedly not any better. The province, which has witnessed the largest amount of lawlessness and anarchy since the Egyptian revolution began, is also under-facilitated, making its inhabitants among some of the poorest communities in Egypt.
Tourist resorts have been replacing fishing Bedouin villages since the early 1990s. “This is the land of the Bedouin, but the hotel owners don’t want any Bedouin in their hotels. Even the women are not allowed to sell beads on the beach,” 20-year-old Fedayah Rebabah in Nuweiba told The Guardian in February.
Opening the province to foreign investment increased the burden of the locals of Sinai. International hotels reportedly operate in a way that ensures that the cash flow does not find its way to local pockets. Even camel rides and tea-brewing experiences offered to tourists are largely restricted.
Such conditions have pushed such women to aggressively seek work for a living. Bedouin women in Saudi Arabia are known to the local residents for driving their trucks around the desert. Given that these women are constantly accompanied by their rifles, members of the police force do not protest despite the Kingdom’s general restrictions on women driving.