Archive for March 31st, 2010

The effects of the earthquake that struck Haiti some two and a half months ago have reverberated across the country. Both in and beyond the capital, Port-au-Prince, progress made in tackling long-standing human rights issues – including the problem of gender-based violence against women and girls – seems a distant memory.

In too many cases, the most vulnerable have been the victims of exploitation and abuse.

Five grassroots advocates travelled many miles recently for a chance to speak with UNICEF Haiti Gender-Based Violence Specialist Catherine Maternowska.

The six met in the backyard of small cement house located off a residential dirt road. Despite the importance they attached to this meeting, each of the three men and three women in attendance was patient and respectful.

By the meeting’s end, the situation report was bleak: Like the capital’s overcrowded settlements for displaced people, the modest homes of host families in rural regions are under increasing duress. Daily life in the close quarters of a tent or one-room house has taken away any semblance of privacy. Come nightfall, poorly located latrines – or the complete lack thereof – require women and children to steal away to unlit areas. Few people feel safe.

“Since the earthquake, as the population here has increased, so have we seen an increase in cases of violence against women,” said Anse-a-Pitre Justice of the Peace Marc-Anglade Payoute. “The police and the justice system, we’re doing everything possible. We’re continuing to pursue arrests.”

For Ms. Maternowska the problem isn’t new or surprising: Emergencies increase the vulnerability of girls and women to gender-based violence. She stresses, however, that such violence can be avoided. Local women’s, men’s and non-governmental organizations; the justice system; all UN actors; and the media all have crucial roles to play.

“Sexual violence is not inevitable,” says Ms. Maternowska. “Haiti’s women’s movement has worked long and hard to change archaic Haitian laws that put women and girls at a grave disadvantage from the day they are born. Today in Haiti, support groups are teaching both men and women how to prevent violence, as well as how to create safe spaces for their daughters.”

In the aftermath of earthquake, UNICEF staff members have met with nearly a dozen groups in south-eastern Haiti, working to create an effective referral system for survivors of violence. Small plastic-coated referral cards, printed in Haitian Creole, instruct victims on where to go for medical care and support. The cards were developed by UNICEF, in collaboration with the Haitian Government, the International Rescue Committee, and UNFPA.

“Information is key,” says Ms. Maternowska, “and placing that information in the hands of a survivor can save her life. The referral cards we’ve developed provide information on how and where to access essential medications to prevent pregnancy and HIV. And of course, the provision of timely information gives survivors access to full medical treatment, psycho-social support and justice.”

In partnership with NGOs and other UN agencies, UNICEF supports the Haitian Government’s push to include gender-based violence services as part of a comprehensive approach to women’s and girls’ health. Plans to develop dedicated health centres for women and girls are currently in the works in the areas hardest-hit by the earthquake – including Port-au-Prince, Leogane and Jacmel.

The partners’ goal is to expand these services to even the most remote corners of Haiti, including Anse-a-Pitre.

UNICEF is equally committed to the prevention of future violence through the establishment of child-friendly spaces, with activities designed to educate girls and boys about gender-based violence and help them develop life skills needed in the new and challenging camp settings. Working with an established local Haitian partner, Solidarity for Haitian Women, UNICEF has plans to create women-centered friendly spaces, as well.

Safe spaces for women and girls will address issues related to gender roles and violence through a locally produced curriculum based on gender-based violenceprevention and basic rights. Group activities such as these provide the community-based psycho-social support that Haitian women and children need.

Part of a longer report at

The International Herald Tribune (IHT) today launched a viral campaign to raise awareness of its new editorial series, The Female Factor. Aimed at influential women in business and government around the world, its release coincides with the 100th anniversary of International Women’s Day.

The viral, entitled It’s a girl, was developed by London based creative agency Karmarama and tells the stories of thee women across the globe, highlighting their contrasting experiences. It is targeted at online channels, primarily women’s networks and bloggers who write about women’s issues, and has a dedicated Female Factor channel on U Tube.

John Scully, head of marketing for the IHT, said: “This is a high impact, thought-provoking viral that not only brings into relief the huge divergences in women’s lives but also gives a true flavor of the Female Factor series, driving people to our content.”

Nicola Mendelsohn, chairman of Karmarama added: “We wanted to create a viral that could capture women’s imaginations and at the same time, make them aware of the fact that the IHT is covering the issues they really care about from its unique international perspective.”

The Female Factor is a year-long series in the IHT, examining the most recent shifts in women’s power, prominence and impact on societies around the world, and assessing how women are influencing early 21st century development. The “Female Factor” series aims to take the reader on surprising journeys where women’s worlds intersect, whether they are in the western or the developing worlds, and answer the question: How does the ‘’Female Factor’’ influence early 21st century development?

The Female Factor: Conversations

Share your thoughts about the most recent shifts in women’s power, prominence and impact on societies around the world, as part of The Female Factor series.

A feminist group in Ukraine has called on wives, girlfriends and lovers of the country’s new Cabinet ministers to impose a sex ban after accusing the prime minister of being anti-women.

Mykola Azarov defended his decision to appoint an all-male government, saying he needed ‘people who can work 16-to-18 hours a day’ to fix the recession-hit economy.

‘Conducting reforms is not women’s business,’ the new pro-Russian premier insisted. He claimed it was too tough for women who could not say ‘no’.

He also ordered an Orthodox priest to exorcise the spirit of his female predecessor, Orange Revolution princess Yulia Tymoshenko, from his office. ‘It was very hard to breathe in there,’ he said.

His comments sparked fury from the Femen feminist group, which accused the career apparatchik of ‘blatant boorishness’.

‘Femen wants the wives, girlfriends and all females close to government ministers to declare a sex boycott of Cabinet members in protest against the impudent and humiliating treatment of Ukrainian women,’ said the group.

‘People with such an archaic views on women, who constitute more than half of Ukraine’s population, have no right to hold leadership positions.

‘In the whole civilized world, such a statement would be political suicide for any high-ranking official. Such remarks are shameful, not only for top-level politics, but for every man.’

The feminists also took issue with President Viktor Yanukovych – who won power in February’s election – for suggesting that a woman’s place is in the kitchen not politics.

The group likened the attitude to women by the newly-elected Ukrainian government to the policy in Nazi Germany of limiting women to the three Ks – ‘Kuche, Kinder, Kirche’ (kitchen, children, church).

They claimed Ukraine’s was the only government in Europe without a woman minister.

‘We are confident that Ukrainian women will never agree to neglect themselves and will force state leaders to change their views,’ said the group.

On polling day last month, the group staged a topless protest in sub-zero temperatures. They unfurled posters saying ‘Stop Raping the Country’.

The feminists have also protested against sex tourism in Ukraine.

Iceland is fast becoming a world-leader in feminism. A country with a tiny population of 320,000, it is on the brink of achieving what many considered to be impossible: closing down its sex industry.

While activists in Britain battle on in an attempt to regulate lapdance clubs – the number of which has been growing at an alarming rate during the last decade – Iceland has passed a law that will result in every strip club in the country being shut down. And forget hiring a topless waitress in an attempt to get around the bar: the law, which was passed with no votes against and only two abstentions, will make it illegal for any business to profit from the nudity of its employees.

Even more impressive: the Nordic state is the first country in the world to ban stripping and lapdancing for feminist, rather than religious, reasons. Kolbrún Halldórsdóttir, the politician who first proposed the ban, firmly told the national press on Wednesday: “It is not acceptable that women or people in general are a product to be sold. The law is a result of the feminist groups putting pressure on parliamentarians. These women work 24 hours a day, seven days a week with their campaigns and it eventually filters down to all of society.”

The news is a real boost to feminists around the world, showing us that when an entire country unites behind an idea anything can happen.

According to Icelandic police, 100 foreign women travel to the country annually to work in strip clubs. It is unclear whether the women are trafficked, but feminists say it is telling that as the stripping industry has grown, the number of Icelandic women wishing to work in it has not. Supporters of the bill say that some of the clubs are a front for prostitution – and that many of the women work there because of drug abuse and poverty rather than free choice.

So how has Iceland managed it? To start with, it has a strong women’s movement and a high number of female politicans. Almost half the parliamentarians are female and it was ranked fourth out of 130 countries on the international gender gap index (behind Norway, Finland and Sweden). All four of these Scandinavian countries have, to some degree, criminalised the purchase of sex (legislation that the UK will adopt on 1 April).

Johanna Sigurðardottir is Iceland’s first female and the world’s first openly lesbian head of state. Guðrún Jónsdóttir of Stígamót, an organisation based in Reykjavik that campaigns against sexual violence, says she has enjoyed the support of Sigurðardottir for their campaigns against rape and domestic violence: “Johanna is a great feminist in that she challenges the men in her party and refuses to let them oppress her.”

Then there is the fact that feminists in Iceland appear to be entirely united in opposition to prostitution. There is also public support: the ban on commercial sexual activity is not only supported by feminists but also much of the population. A 2007 poll found that 82% of women and 57% of men support the criminalisation of paying for sex – either in brothels or lapdance clubs – and fewer than 10% of Icelanders were opposed.

Jónsdóttir says the ban could mean the death of the sex industry. “Last year we passed a law against the purchase of sex, recently introduced an action plan on trafficking of women, and now we have shut down the strip clubs. The Nordic countries are leading the way on women’s equality, recognising women as equal citizens rather than commodities for sale.”

Janice Raymond, a director of Coalition Against Trafficking in Women, believes the new law will pave the way for governments in other countries to follow suit. “What a victory, not only for the Icelanders but for everyone worldwide who repudiates the sexual exploitation of women,” she says.

Jónsdóttir is confident that the law will create a change in attitudes towards women. “I guess the men of Iceland will just have to get used to the idea that women are not for sale.”

Part of a longer comment piece at

After two years of research that included enforcement operations targeting prostitutes, the Dallas Police Department (DPD) is seeing the benefits of their innovative new approach of going to the streets to provide comprehensive services and a complete exit strategy for those seeking a way out of prostitution. Data evaluated at the University of North Texas Health Science Center has not only shown the Prostitute Diversion Initiative (PDI) is getting prostitutes off the streets, it is lowering crime rates in areas frequented by prostitutes along Dallas’ I-20 corridor.

Surprising data reveals of the 371 adult prostitutes contacted as part of the Dallas PDI over the last two years, 54 percent tested positive for a sexually transmitted disease, with the most prevalent being syphilis, said Martha Felini, PhD, assistant professor of epidemiology at the Health Science Center School of Public Health. Of the truck stop prostitutes tested, about 30 percent had the disease, similar to the statistics found in underdeveloped countries. Almost half of the prostitutes were high school graduates or had higher education, and 54 percent reported having a mental health condition, with over half of those reporting having more than one.

The PDI’s ultimate goal is to change the way law enforcement and other institutions approach those involved in prostitution.

“The purpose of the PDI is to give these victims a choice,” Felini said. “By bringing resources to the streets we’ve learned these women have suffered a lifetime of trauma and their drug addictions are helping them cope with co-occurring mental health conditions. Should those eligible opt for treatment in lieu of jail, they can get immediate and appropriate care that will give them a fighting chance at recovery and a new life.”

Results show that 60 percent of those eligible opted to go into treatment. With 23 people completing the initial phase of the treatment program, 65 percent of these remain abstinent and in supportive care services with no subsequent arrests in Dallas County.

“As the PDI enters its third year, we anticipate seeing the impact of the program over the longer term,” Felini said. “In other words, will those successes in the first year continue to remain off the streets in two years? The statistics thus far indicate that the initial phase of the treatment is critical, but challenges remain in defining success in this migratory population. Part of this equation for determining success will become more demonstrable as the PDI expands its collaboration to other cities.”

This year, with the collaboration of the UNT Center for Human Identification, a High-Risk Potential Victim’s DNA Database will be implemented into the PDI , the first of its kind in the nation. Given that prostitutes are 18 times more likely to be murdered than women of similar age and race, this database will provide law enforcement a forensic tool to aid in post-mortem identification of victims and advocate for the prostitute in finding his or her killer. In addition, it can help provide closure to the victim’s families searching for missing loved ones.

Atlanta, Las Vegas, Montreal and South Korea are looking at the program and have contacted the DPD for more information on the PDI.

“In order to help establish a program in areas outside of the United States, we will have to look carefully at cultural differences to obtain the greatest success,” Felini said. “The PDI demonstrates a respect for women’s rights and recognition of mental health conditions as treatable. But many countries have a different perception of women, and those with mental health conditions are ostracized.

“The challenge we face today is humanizing the data we have analyzed. Most people are unaware of the prostitute population and believe that those individuals ‘get what they deserve.’ Regardless of your position on prostitution, information about this population is important to our understanding of mental health, cancer and infectious disease, all which affect the general population. We cannot afford to continue ignoring this marginalized group,” Felini said.

The Health Science Center will continue to evaluate the program as it expands and is implemented by other cities. Each year, a report will be published revealing the compiled data. For information on future PDI developments, visit, or the Center for Community Health at the Health Science Center.

Part of a longer report at

Dozens of French sex workers proclaiming themselves proud to be prostitutes last week marched to protest a lawmaker’s proposal to legalize brothels in France, arguing that such a law would deny them the freedom to work on their own.

A lawmaker in France’s governing party has proposed reopening brothels just over six decades after they were banned in order to move prostitutes off the streets and provide them with medical, financial and legal protection.

The protesters say the proposal limits their options to make their own decisions — and are demanding, instead, a repeal of a 2003 law that outlaws solicitation.

“We are workers and we want the choice to work as we want,” said Thierry Schaffauser, 27, a sex worker from Paris now living in London. “For doctors, they can work for a company or they can be independent. I think the importance is to let people choose how they want to work.”

Dozens participated in a daylong conference on prostitution at the Senate, organized by a lawmaker opposed to the proposed bill. Lawmaker Chantal Brunel, who proposed the law, was not present.

After the conference, the men and women marched through Paris’ Left Bank, many dressed in their skimpy work attire. Some carried signs reading, “You sleep with us, you vote against us.”

“There’s nothing to be ashamed of,” said Lola Bruna, a 19-year-old sex worker from Paris. They “used to say that this is the oldest job ever, and that’s not for no reason.”

Brothels were legally outlawed in France in 1946. The 2003 law tightened restrictions against prostitution by making solicitation punishable with two months in prison and a euro3,750 ($5,000) fine.

“The question is not, for example, about the brothels,” said Alima Boumediene-Thiery, the Green Party senator who organized Wednesday’s conference. “The question is about the recognition of the rights of these men and women who have made these choices that we must respect.”

Giving sex workers condoms and advice will not bring down HIV rates, says Elena Reynaga, general secretary of the Latin American and Caribbean Sex Workers Network. But giving them their rights will.

It is of little use giving condoms and HIV prevention advice to women who are harrassed by the police and abused and cheated by their clients because of their illegitimacy, she says. If you want sex workers to negotiate with their clients, you have to give them status. They have to have some rights.

She does not see why this, the oldest profession, should not be treated like any other. Everybody has to work for a living, she says. Some women, brought up in poverty, have nothing else to offer.

But the network, which now has 17 member organisations across Latin America, has begun to challenge attitudes. “We now say what we think – not what society wants to hear from us. We are trying to get out of the role of the victim to say ‘this body is mine – why do I have to ask the permission of society to do what I want to do with it? It is the only thing that is mine. If I want to make money from that, it is my right’.

“We have rights as women and we need to fight for that – to have the same benefits that all workers have to get out of the darkness.”

Society is two-faced, she says. There is demand for commercial sex, but discrimination against those who provide it. Her argument is that sex workers should be treated like any other kind. And yes – they need pensions. “We want to contribute to the national security for when we are old,” she says.

Reynaga has the backing of the International HIV/Aids Alliance for her demand that Global Fund money should be channelled through sex workers’ organisations, and not NGOs that think they know what is best for them.

“Remember all the millions of dollars that the Global Fund has spent in our region. Very little has reached us,” she says. In only three countries – Argentina, Ecuador and Paraguay – have any grants gone to sex workers organisations. Out of $170 million spent in Latin America, according to an report by the Alliance, only 4.6% went directly to be managed by key populations. Yet where it has, she says, there have been significant achievements. In Ecuador, they advocated for the end of a compulsory card that each sex worker had to keep with her, listing the sexually transmitted infections she had suffered. Each woman had to pay a doctor $26 a week for a check-up. “The doctors always invented STIs to sell medicines to them,” says Reynaga, “and they were also victims of the doctors.” But now, she says, sex workers are now far more readily seeking healthcare when they need it.

And they need and want education, she says. Reynaga, brought up in dire poverty in Argentina, went to school so that she could run the network and speak on equal terms with politicians and officials. She was 47 at the time. Learning to read and write has transformed her life. Education opens horizons and for many – although not all – it shows a path out of sex work altogether.

Part of a longer article at

Earlier this month church leaders here threatened to mobilize their faithful against a draft of a national constitution if it included language allowing abortions under any circumstance.

Kenya currently outlaws abortion unless three doctors certify that the pregnancy puts a woman’s life in immediate danger.

In a sign of official acknowledgement of the widespread use of illegal abortions, however, post-abortion care is legal and available in hospitals.

In February, Kenyan President Mwai Kibaki, a Catholic, assured church leaders that Parliament would not pass the draft constitution, which is meant to be enacted within the next two years, if it includes any abortion exceptions.

A committee of experts charged with drafting the constitution had placed a provision allowing for abortions under certain emergencies in order to comply with international treaties on human rights that Kenya has signed. The provision would permit abortion if a pregnancy brought danger to life or health of the mother. Such phrasing could be interpreted to allow for the termination of pregnancies that pose both physical risks as well as psychological ones, such as when a woman has been raped.

A new constitution is being drafted as part of a deal that brought an end to violence in the wake of the 2007 elections, which left more than 1,000 Kenyans dead. Political factions here agreed to enact a new constitution before the next round of elections in 2012 in the hopes that curbing presidential powers would decrease corruption and avert further bloodshed.

While the abortion-related language in the draft varies little from what is currently allowed under Kenya’s penal code, its inclusion in the constitution would make the imposition of a complete ban all but impossible and would open the door for more lenient legislation in the future, says a women’s advocacy lawyer closely following the matter.

Kenya’s Parliament is currently debating the draft of the constitution, including whether to leave the abortion-related provision, which is to be decided upon by the end of this year when Kenyans vote to accept or reject.

The criminalization of abortion in Kenya, combined with the stigma and shortage of legal post-abortion care, leads to the deaths of hundreds or possibly thousands of women each year due to complications of unsafe abortions, the New York-based Center for Reproductive Rights said in a report this month.

Kenyan women portrayed by the report described how they or their relatives or friends suffered illegal abortions from people who accepted small fees in exchange for procedures that used knitting needles, pipes, pens, bleach and malaria pills.

Unable or afraid to seek emergency care in public clinics, many women who undertake such illegal abortions die.

Those who sought help in hospitals were often met by nurses and doctors who were corrupt, untrained, ill-equipped or even abusive, finishing incomplete abortions without analgesics or calling women names, according to the report.

Many young women from Kibera are arrested for having abortions, according to the center’s report, and few understand that post-abortion care is legal and public hospitals are supposed to provide the service without cost if the patient is unable to pay.

Kenya’s Ministry of Public Health told Women’s eNews that it hopes to lower the death toll of illegal abortions by both improving and expanding family planning programs and ensuring that when women do suffer complications from illegal abortions, they have access to proper care.

Recently, the government has been training midwife nurse practitioners working outside of urban centers in post-abortion care.

Henry Njagi, spokesperson for the National Council of Churches, does not care to acknowledge the problems of dangerous and often fatal abortions flagged by the Center for Reproductive Rights report.

“Our position is that the abortions shouldn’t be happening in the first place,” he said in a recent telephone interview. “Pregnancies should not be terminated. What is required is education for the women so that they don’t get pregnant if they are not interested in getting the baby.”

When pressed on the issue of pregnancies in difficult circumstances like rape, Njagi hung up the phone and did not respond to further questions sent via e-mail.

In a section of abortion-related questions on the Web site of the National Council of Churches, Secretary General Karanja responds to one about what happens to a girl who aborts a child. “She is guilty of murder,” he says.

A lawyer at Kenya’s Federation of Women Lawyers said such attitudes are by no means universal here and that it’s still possible to keep the clause protecting a woman’s right to an emergency abortion in the constitution.

“There are threats and half truths and falsehoods put out to create religious fear in the people,” said the lawyer, who asked not to be named in keeping with the group’s policy of only allowing its executive director to be quoted publicly. “But we find that whenever we go out to explain to people the real reasons for allowing abortion they immediately are sympathetic or would support abortion under difficult circumstances.”

For more information: “In Harm’s Way: The Impact of Kenya’s Restrictive Abortion Law,” Center for Reproductive Rights:

Part of a longer report at

President Obama, who quietly signed an executive order last week reaffirming that no federal funds can be used for abortion, is facing fury from a core part of his constituency: women’s advocates.

“Women elected him,” said Terry O’Neill, president of the National Organization for Women. “He campaigned as a pro-choice president. We wished he would storm the ramparts for every one of our issues. It really pains me to conclude that on balance this law is not good for women. It’s health reform that has been achieved on the backs of women and at the expense of women.”

The anger also stems from language in the legislation that allows abortion to be covered by health insurance plans offered on new “exchanges,” but requires buyers to make two premium payments — one for most of their coverage and a second, far smaller one, for abortion coverage.

Abortion opponents complain the language did not go far enough to keep federal money from subsidizing abortion.

“The statute appropriates billions of dollars in new funding without explicitly prohibiting the use of these funds for abortion, and it provides federal subsidies for health plans covering elective abortions,” the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops said in a statement.

But abortion rights groups and health-care analysts predict few plans will end up covering abortion because the requirement of two payments would be cumbersome for insurers and objectionable to customers.

“We’re very disappointed,” said Vicki Saporta, president of the National Abortion Federation. “Health-care reform was supposed to expand health-care coverage for women. Now women will be worse off under health-care reform.”

It is too soon to tell whether the president’s decision to sign the executive order has affected his standing among women, but recent polling shows that their views on abortion more generally, and on the president, are holding steady. In a January Washington Post-ABC poll, half of adults, including 53 percent of women and majorities of Republicans and independents, said they preferred a “more restrictive” option, where “insurance plans in which the government is involved [are] forbidden from covering abortions.”

Among some women, the disappointment fuels earlier misgivings about Obama, who ended the prospect of the nation electing its first female president when he defeated Hillary Rodham Clinton in the Democratic primaries.

“I’ve heard women complain very loudly, ‘This would never have happened if Hillary had been president,’ ” O’Neill said.

Several advocates said they were especially bitter because at one point during the intense negotiations over the abortion provisions in the health-care legislation they had agreed to a compromise that they thought would resolve the issue without either side giving ground.

The frustration over the language on abortion was compounded by the executive order, which Obama signed out of sight of cameras on Wednesday, in stark contrast to an elaborate ceremony when he signed the legislation a day earlier. Some abortion-rights advocates fear the order will make it more difficult to achieve one of their biggest priorities: elimination of the Hyde Amendment, which prohibits the use of federal funds for abortions.

“What we had hoped for when the president was elected was that this would be an opportunity to break down the many obstacles to abortion,” said Nancy Northup, president of the Center for Reproductive Rights. “That instead, one year into the Obama presidency, we have moved the line further away is just stunning.”

Obama took a number of steps immediately after his election pushed by abortion-rights advocates, including removing restrictions on funding for international family planning groups that support abortion, allowing the morning-after pill Plan B to be made available at military hospitals and announcing plans to rescind a new federal regulation designed to protect health-care workers who do not want to deliver care they find objectionable, including abortion.

But disappointed abortion rights groups also pointed to a seemingly minor provision in the legislation designed to protect health-care workers who did not want to be forced to violate their personal beliefs related to abortion. Originally, the language extended that protection to those who were both “willing” and “unwilling” to perform abortions. In the end, the protections for those willing were dropped.

“We thought it was a modest, evenhanded proposal to have it go both ways, and we couldn’t get even that,” said Helene Krasnoff, a senior staff attorney for the Planned Parenthood Federation of America.

But others said they considered it a significant victory that the final legislation did not incorporate a proposal by Rep. Bart Stupak (D-Mich.) to ban coverage of abortion in plans offered in the exchange.

Several advocates noted that the legislation contains many elements that will benefit women.

“All in all, this is a historic accomplishment and is a response to women who have been crying out for help in dealing with the failings of the health-care system. It will have immediate and long-term benefits for women and their families,” said Amy Allina of the National Women’s Health Network. “But it clearly came at a cost.”


We are a group of feminist who aim to advance the status of women in the Israeli-Palestinian society. We believe that social change can be achieved if women are empowered to take a more active role in private and public life, encouraged to contribute their experiences and perspectives and to confidently demand recongnition of their needs and realization of their rights.

Empowering Arab Women to Be

The word Kayan comes from the Arabic word for being or existing. Our name reflects the guiding belief of Kayan that social change can be achieved when women are empowered to exert influence and make decisions about their own lives as well as society as a whole. In order for this belief to be valid women must have the knowledge and confidence required to become proactive and self directed. The activities of Kayan lay the foundation for this process of women`s empowerment to take place.

Kayan was founded in 1998 by Arab feminist women with the goal of advancing the status of Arab women in Israel and protecting their rights. Kayan`s singular approach is to focus on grassroots capacity building that has a transformative effect on individual women as well as throughout society.

The founders of Kayan are interested in issues that tackle the tension between nationality and gender, feminist concepts and ethics in feminism as it relates specifically to Arab-Israeli women. As women who belong to an unrepresented minority we often experience double discrimination, as a woman and as an Arab. It is from this place that we engage in grassroots work to bring about social, legal and economic equality for all Arab women in Israel.


In 1990, Arab Feminist women from Haifa and the northern region of Israel were actively working with women`s services, battered women`s shelters and crisis centers for injured and sexually assaulted women. These women helped create programs, meetings, workshops and crisis-services specifically for Arab women. The meetings evolved into a place for Arab women activists to work together and discuss common concerns. Through these meetings the idea emerged to establish an organization by and for Arab women in Israel.

In 1999 Kayan became registered as a non profit and has been responding to the distinct needs of Arab women since that time. Through the creation of unique programs, forums and services delivered in a culturally aware manner there continues to be a surge in Arab women eager to become activists, participate in workshops, receive legal services or simply engage in an exchange of ideas with other women.

In the ten years since it was founded, Kayan achieved significant improvements in the status of Arab women in Israel, most notably:

The Childcare Workers Program (2002-2004) addressed the violation of workers` rights of female childcare workers in Arab villages and towns in Israel, whose salaries were not transferred because of municipal debts. Kayan succeeded to organize 1300 childcare workers, who had not been organized before, in a workers` union, and supported them in their confrontation with local and national authorities. The project was a big success, with an unexpectedly high number of women joining the efforts from the very beginning. At the first national childcare conference in 2003, 450 women attended, among them Bedouin women from the Negev. The union, with the help of a big public and media campaign, eventually succeeded in its demand that salaries were paid directly to the childcare workers and not to the local municipalities.

The “Women Demand Mobility” Program (2004-2008): Kayan facilitated a grassroots campaign that is bringing public transportation to Israel`s Arab towns and villages in 2009. The project started as a local initiative in the village of Maghar, out of Kayan`s empowerment course. Participants of the course were exhausted trying to find ways to get to a weekly Kayan meeting, as no form of public transport existed in this large village spread out or most other Arab towns and villages in Israel. They decided to change their situation, and the situation of women in most Arab localities who are isolated in their homes, unable to move beyond a certain radius outside their homes without male accompaniment. In 2006, the first report on “Mobility among Arab women in Israel” was published, which served as a major advocacy and media tool. The program achieved its aim of installation of public transportation in 2008, when Kayan worked with the Ministry of Transport in a joint work-plan for the installation of public transportation in two major clusters of Arab villages.

The Arabic Leaflet on the Law against Domestic Violence: In 2007, Kayan has published excerpts of the “Prevention of Domestic Violence Act” of 1991 in Arabic. The act is designed to offer fast and not bureaucratic help to women in emergencies. 2000 leaflets were distributed to Arab women in social welfare offices, universities, schools, and other public places. This was the first publication of an Arabic version of the legislation at all. Most legal information in Israel is distributed to the public in English only, despite the fact that Arabic is an official language of the State and despite the fact that many Arab citizens and especially Arab women can not understand this language and are thus deprived of their right to know the legislation which they are subject to. The need to inform Arab women about their legal rights against domestic violence, and the lack of any Arabic information about it, brought up the idea at Kayan to create this publication. Kayan was surprised by the big public storm raised by this project, with unprecedented media attention. It was debated in most major Arabic and Hebrew newspapers in Israel, as well as on the public television and radio broadcast. It thus reached a very high number of women, among them the direct beneficiaries, women who face domestic violence.

Community Action

The focus of Kayan`s work is to engage in grassroots capacity building by bringing together Arab women in order to raise awareness, increase knowledge, and foster personal development so that women become proactive and self directed in their personal lives and in society.

Kayan organizes workshops, lectures and community meetings about women`s rights and issues so that participants are prepared to advocate for themselves and create social change in the community. Out of these workshops many women have intensified their community activism and remain involved in self governed local initiatives ranging from installing Public Transport in rural villages to creating a community women`s center.
Kayan`s staff trains, mentors and advises local leaders in the community in addition to raising funds and support for various women`s initiatives.

Legal Aid

Kayan gives legal aid, assistance, and advice to low income Arab women. As members of an unrepresented minority, Palestinian-Israeli women often have their legal rights disregarded on two fronts, both from within the community and within the national arena. Kayan focuses on informing women of their legal rights, raising awareness about legal recourse and ensuring women have access to legal aid.

Policy change

Kayan has developed relationships with policymakers in the government in order to be effective in bringing about policy change primarily in Arab villages and communities. Through an ongoing dialogue among women in the community about the areas most in need of improvement, and collaboration with policy makers on how to address these issues, Kayan continues to progress. Some recent policy changes include:
* The creation of a National Childcare Workers Union
* The establishment of an Arabic language option in the police departments emergency phone line
* Installation of Public Transport in Arab towns and villages


Kayan engages in ongoing public discourse, comprehensive data collection, publishing of reports and dialogue in order to advocate for ourselves and other Arab women by bringing key issues to the public arena.