Not at once; but woman is the mothering element in the world and her vote will go toward helping forward the time when life’s Bread, which is home, shelter and security, and the Roses of life, music, education, nature and books, shall be the heritage of every child that is born in the country, in the government of which she has a voice.Helen Todd
After Helen Todd published an article containing this quote in The American Magazine in September 1911, ‘Bread and Roses’ became a slogan of the women’s suffrage movement in the United States, a call not only for equality and basic rights, but also for the beauty and dignity that allows a person to flourish.
While women in the USA were eventually given the right to vote, now, over one hundred years later, the equality and flourishing of all is a vision which has not yet been fully realised in our world. Many still hunger for bread and yearn for roses.
Just before the start of the new year, I attended the ‘Bread and Roses’ annual art sale in Tel Aviv. Organised by two of the church of Scotland’s partners in Israel, Sindyanna of Galilee and WAC-MAAN, it brings together the work of over 400 artists who donate more than 600 pieces of art. Most of the artists are local, but amongst the collection are a few pieces by international artists as well. Paintings by famous artists hang next to those by recent art graduates and amateurs, and, now in its 13th year, it has become a place for art collectors to discover new names.
Seventy-five percent of the proceeds goes to support Sindyanna and WAC-MAAN’s Women and Work project, which helps Arab women in Israel find decent jobs with fair pay. In the last year, WAC-MAAN has been working with the Health Ministry to offer vocational training and employment for women in care homes and retirement communities. One hundred women have already benefitted from this programme.
As they explain on the exhibition website, Sindyanna and WAC-MAAN work ‘on the seam between Jews and Arabs, Israelis and Palestinians’ and they ‘believe in the possibility of creating an egalitarian, democratic society without discrimination, racism, or oppression’. Sindyanna of Galilee is a producer of fair-trade olive oil managed and staffed by Arab and Jewish women. In addition to producing award-winning olive oil, their work supports local farmers, provides economic opportunities for Arab women, and encourages Jewish-Arab cooperation and dialogue. WAC-MAAN, the Workers Advice Centre, seeks employment rights for women, opposes discrimination against Arabs, and offers support, advice and legal protection to workers.
After visiting the exhibition, I was interested in learning more about employment opportunities for Arab women in Israel. In the process, I discovered a large discrepancy in statistics in some of the policy reports I read which has left me with more questions than answers. A January 2018 report from Mossawa, the Advocacy Centre for Arab Citizens in Israel, states that employment rates for Arab women stand at 21% vs 56.7% for Jewish women. But a March 2018 report from the Taub Centre for Social Policy Studies in Israel places the rates at 40% (Arab) and 82% (Jewish).
The Mossawa statistics seem to have been taken from a 2016 Haaretz article so are not particularly recent. But even if that is the case, it doesn’t explain such a large variation. It may be that rates of employment among women in East Jerusalem (13%) are included in the Mossawa report and would almost certainly not be in the Taub Centre study, but that’s just a guess…
Regardless of which set of figures we use, however, there is an undeniable gap in employment rates between Arab and Jewish women in Israel.
The graph below from the Taub Centre shows that the employment rate for Arab women with higher education is roughly the same as that for Jewish women with no higher education, and remarkably higher than for Arab women who do not have higher education.
This gap can be attributed to a number of factors: inadequate public transport links to Arab villages (though this is slowly improving), lack of childcare facilities for Arab women, insufficient proficiency in Hebrew (the primary language used in universities and workplaces outside Arab communities). Some employers ask for the military profile of applicants, despite being forbidden to do so by Equal Employment Opportunities Law; because Arabs are exempted from the obligation of military service, they are at a disadvantage when entering the workforce. In the more conservative communities, there also continue to be objections to female relatives working, and there is a concern that increased education and employment amongst women especially in Bedouin areas are causing a rise in social and family tensions, potentially leading to more violence against women.
While the Taub report is certainly more optimistic than the one from Mossawa in its portrayal of employment amongst Arab women, questions of quality of employment and equality of pay still remain. According to the Mossawa report, in 2016, rates of part-time employment due to lack of choice stood at 35% amongst Arab women against only 11% for Jewish women. There are now more Arab women than Arab men holding higher degrees, and girls make up the majority in high school technology and science classes. But this rise in technical education isn’t reflected in the work they go on to do. As the Taub report states, in public sector jobs, wage gaps between Jews and Arabs are small, while in private sector jobs, the difference in earnings is sizeable.
So this is where the work of Sindyanna and WAC-MAAN is vital. Statistics can help create a picture of broad trends, but they don’t fill in the important details. They don’t reflect the complexity of the human stories, the daily struggles of women and their families, the many factors affecting their employability. However optimistic the figures, it is not enough to say that employment amongst Arab women is rising. It must be work with dignity and fair pay.
The art sale does more than raise funds; it also raises awareness. It is a reminder that it is not enough for people to have bread. In order for a society to flourish, all its members need roses too.