Workplace discrimination against women, racial minorities may be similar, but it’s not the same


While the U.S. currently has a black president and a woman just made history by clinching the Democratic presidential nomination, both racial minorities and women still face significant barriers in professional settings.

Considering the parallels and differences in the biases that women and racial minorities face is an important way to increase our understanding of workplace discrimination and equality. By reviewing some recent work by cross-disciplinary researchers from across the world, we attempted to shed light and theorize on some ways in which racial minorities might suffer from similar biases as those identified for women. For the sake of comprehension, we narrowed our scope to research on Asian Americans.

As our starting point, we took four patterns of workplace bias that women face as identified by a 2014 study by a research team based out of UC Hastings College of the Law’s Center for WorkLife Law. Joan C. Williams, Kathrine W. Phillips, and Erika V. Hall interviewed 60 women who work in the sciences and found that 100 percent reported experiencing one or more of four gender bias patterns.

Although these biases were identified as specific to women, by comparing them to findings from research on biases that Asian Americans face in the workplace, it becomes clear that they can also apply to racial minorities.

The first bias, “prove-it-again,” refers to when women have to provide more evidence of competence than men in order to be seen as equally competent. As the name suggests, women can find themselves in situations where they have to prove again and again that they are professional, competent, and/or intelligent. For example, a woman might have to exhibit competency at her job for a longer period before being considered for promotion than a man doing an equivalent job. 

Similarly, Asians oftentimes have to provide more evidence of competence than non-Asians. A 2013 study by Lei Lai and Linda C. Babcock found evidence that Asian Americans are evaluated as less socially skilled than whites, and are therefore less likely to be hired for a job requiring social skills (like public relations) than technical skills (like information technology). A 2013 study on the leadership theories of Asian Americans and whites found that even when Asian managers are seen as equally competent as white managers in specific metrics, on the whole whites see Asian managers as less sociable, less transformational, and less authentic compared to white managers. Like women, Asian Americans must prove their competence to a greater extent than whites, particularly in areas where stereotypes and prejudices remain.

The second bias, “tightrope,” refers to when women find themselves walking a tightrope between being seen as too feminine to be competent—or too masculine to be likable. This is a difficult—not to mention unfair—balance for women to have to consider, and is often very hard to attain. Hillary Clinton is only the most recent and prominent example of a woman who has been criticized for being “too masculine” or, in more coded language, “too ambitious and eager.”

Similarly, Asians are commonly stereotyped as being more feminine and less masculine compared to whites or blacks. In 2012, Jennifer L. Berdahl and Ji-A Min examined stereotypes of East Asians (Chinese, Koreans, and Japanese) and found that they are expected to be as competent and warm as whites—but also less dominant (i.e., masculine). And a 2015 study of “gender profiling” by Erika Hall, Adam Galinsky, and Katherine Phillips found that because Asians are seen as more feminine than whites and blacks, they are seen as better fits for feminine rather than masculine positions. This could pose barriers when Asians seek positions—like police officer or banker—that are historically seen as masculine.

The third bias, “maternal wall,” refers to women finding themselves confronted with the stereotype that they lose their work commitment and competence after having kids. Men who have children don’t typically face this same stereotype in the workplace. 

There is evidence suggesting that Asian women are faced with particular biases and challenges around motherhood in professional contexts. In the same 2014 study of women scientists by Williams and colleagues, Asian women described more pressure from their families to have children than whites and blacks, and also felt more responsible to cover for colleagues who are mothers compared to Latina and white women. At the same time, Asian women were more frequently told by colleagues that they should work fewer hours after having children compared to black and Latina mothers. So Asian-American women face more pressure from their families to have children, while also experiencing more pressure from colleagues to work less after having children.

The fourth bias, “tug of war,” refers to when gender bias fuels conflict among women. In some instances, having a sexist work environment can lead women to want to distance themselves from their gender group in different ways, including by criticizing other women.

Based on the interviews reported by Williams and colleagues, Asian women had to compete with other women for a “woman’s spot” –i.e, a position intended to be filled by a woman—at higher levels than white and Latina women. This seems to suggest that for Asian women, there is more (or at least greater perceptions) of a “zero sum” situation when it comes to the workforce and women colleagues, where one woman’s gain is another woman’s loss.

Ultimately, what strikes us is that there are clear intergroup differences in how women experience and are exposed to these four different patterns of bias, depending on their racial background. Asian women’s experiences can be significantly different from black women’s experiences, and in order to create an equal and inclusive workplace for all, it is important to be aware of such differences.

Future research should look at the ways in which biases and prejudice against women compare to those against racial minorities, and study which type of interventions are most effective in reducing the effects of such biases. More study is also needed on the intersections of race and gender when it comes to workplace bias. A greater understanding and awareness of the parallels and differences between the biases that women and racial minorities face can result in more effective and efficient interventions in the workplace designed to promote inclusion for all.

Serena Does is a postdoctoral researcher at UCLA Anderson School of Management and Margaret Shih is full professor at UCLA Anderson school of Management.

This article originally appeared on Zocalo Public Square.

 

 

 

 

The Forward’s CEO salary survey: Good statistics, questionable economics


Are the salaries of Jewish nonprofit CEOs too high, too low or just right? Is there gender discrimination when it comes to the salaries of female CEOs of Jewish nonprofits?

Each year, The Forward newspaper surveys the salaries and gender composition of the CEOs of some of the nation’s largest and most impactful Jewish nonprofit organizations, and when Matt Brooks. Photo by Republican Jewish Coalition

Jay Sanderson of The Jewish Federation of Greater Los Angeles was listed as earning a salary of $460,870, and as being overpaid by 600 percent.

After these numbers had already zinged around the Internet for a few hours and sparked discussion and anger in online comment forums, The Forward corrected the glitch back to its original assessment of overpayment to 125 percent for Brooks and 6 percent for Sanderson. 

The larger and more important issue, however, and separate from the website glitch, is whether The Forward’s two key conclusions are accurate. The report — assembled by Eisner, Forward research editor Maia Efrem and University of Pennsylvania statistician Abraham Wyner — states that many CEOs of Jewish nonprofits are overcompensated (The Forward uses the term “overpaid”), and says many of these nonprofits discriminate against women in terms of position and pay.

These judgments are very serious accusations against the boards of many of the Jewish community’s premier nonprofits. The Forward asserted, for example, that the Simon Wiesenthal Center’s Rabbi Marvin Hier (2014 salary: $784,155) is “overpaid” by 103 percent; that Morton Klein of the Zionist Organization of America ($440,440) is “overpaid” by 53 percent; and that, overall, female CEOs are paid just 80 percent of what their male counterparts make.

Rabbi Marvin Hier. Photo by Michael Kovac/WireImage

“Their analysis looks kosher — very kosher,” said sociologist Steven M. Cohen, a research professor at Hebrew Union College-Jewish Institute of Religion, who has analyzed several other polls and studies for the Journal. The Forward’s formula showing a correlation between CEO salaries and the budget and staff size of a corporation is statistically sound, he said. That the output (salary) correlates with those two inputs (budget and staff size) among The Forward’s sample nonprofits is a mathematical fact.

But the economics, and the inputs and variables used for The Forward’s studies, may not be fair. UCLA economist Lee Ohanian cautioned that CEO salaries of businesses, whether nonprofit or for-profit, depend on a multitude of factors, and to determine what a salary should be based solely on the company’s budget and staff size would be simplistic.

Even Wyner, in a ” target=”_blank”>2005 study.

“Women are indeed concentrated in smaller organizations,” Wyner noted in his 2013 analysis, and “were leading organizations with average expenses of less than half” of large organizations. “Women’s pay seems to be converging with men’s, and will hopefully reach parity in the very near future,” Wyner wrote.

“If you look more broadly at issues like women’s compensation levels or women’s earnings relative to men’s, you get numbers like 80 cents on the dollar. The more adjustments you make, the more those numbers come in line,” Ohanian said in terms of the broad policy debate regarding the wage gap, referring to adjustments such as the number of hours worked, industry and the trade-off between working full time or part time and raising children.

In other words, the statistics and the number-crunching provoke a useful conversation, but the lack of inputs makes the topics of those conversations far from clear-cut.

***

Correction (Dec. 16, 11:40 a.m.): This article previously stated that the formula The Forward used to estimate its judgment of overpayment was flawed, which resulted in a glitch showing percentages of overpayment as 100 times what they should have been. It was in fact a temporary computer coding error — not a formula — that led to the inflated estimation of overpayment.

Is Obama’s presidency done?


Is it too early to declare Barack Obama’s presidency a failure?  It seems to be the talk of Washington pundits lately and a new poll showed a clear majority thinks so.

When Obama came on the scene, I like others, warned that someone who had pretty much done nothing of significance short of giving a great speech at the 2004 Democratic National Convention, and that alone did not show any gravitas, was not a good choice to be leader of the free world and commander in chief.

Before I continue, let me say this.  Although I did not vote for Obama, either time, I think it was a great thing for the country to elect a black president.  And because it was so historically significant, I even recorded his first inauguration, and I still have the tape.

But by the same token, I will also say, I get very tired of people who accuse critics of the president of being mentally deficient in some way, unpatriotic or worse, racist.  And the word “racist” continues to be the excuse du jour of those who just can’t say, “Yeah, our guy screwed up.  Again.”  Are there bigots who castigate Obama because he is black?  Of course.  Every ethnic and religious group has their haters.  There are white racists and black racists, and Christian and yes, even Jewish racists.  But the histrionics of many liberals to find the race card every time Obama is denounced, and he deserves it, believe me, is way out of control.

When Obama started his presidency in 2009, his popularity was close to 70%, even higher in some polls.  Now it is in the low 40’s, sometimes lower.  Did 30% of the country all of a sudden become stupid, unpatriotic or heaven forbid, racist?  Is Jimmy Carter – and in my opinion, Obama is mimicking his ineptitude – who just criticized Obama for waiting too long to confront ISIS, a racist?  (Wow, when even Jimmy Carter thinks you are too slow to act forcefully, Barack, you have a problem.)  Is Leon Panetta, the well-respected and highly experienced public servant (Army veteran, Congressman, Bill Clinton’s Office of Management and Budget Director and White House Chief of Staff, Obama’s CIA Director and Secretary of Defense), a racist?  It was OK to lambast both Bush’s and Ronald Reagan when they were president, and even call them racists (and a lot worse), but say Obama has screwed up, and well, you are a racist.  By the way, it is hard for some Democrats to label Panetta a racist so he is being called disloyal and even unpatriotic.  Right.  A guy who has devoted nearly his entire life to serving our country is unpatriotic.  And if he is being disloyal, good for him.  Loyalty to one’s country comes before loyalty to one’s boss.

[And I am sure we will hear more about the so-called “war on women” when Hillary Clinton finally ends her “tease tour” and officially announces her presidential candidacy.  I would like to remind all who support her of her own words, forcefully given, words that can be used now regarding the current president: “I am sick and tired of people who say that if you debate and you disagree with this administration, somehow you’re not patriotic.  We should stand up and say we are Americans, and we have a right to debate and disagree with any administration.”  Of course if Hillary becomes president, many who criticize her will be called misogynists rather than patriots.]

Look, both sides make ridiculous assertions when defending their own, and Republicans have had, and yes, do have, their own irrational and obstinate pols and supporters, but some people on the left are just so hysterically biased and unreasonable that it is impossible for them to be objective and fair.  They hurt their credibility when they yell, “Racism!” at every turn, and it only makes those who legitimately condemn the president and others, more angry and reactive, and the political discourse even more poisonous than what it should be in a normal democracy.

Has Obama done anything right?  Certainly he has.  And I will list a few things.  Ordering the killing of Osama bin Laden, even though I think any president would have, was a very good thing.  Increasing the drone attacks against terrorist targets another good thing.  Ordering the navy to kill Somali pirates back in 2009 who were holding the captain of a US cargo ship hostage, yep.  The surge in Afghanistan, although it took him way too long to approve and order it, and so, keeping and putting US troops there in danger.  Requesting funding for Israel's Iron Dome missile defense system.  And by the way, its development and initial funding was done by Israel itself.

But what else?  Our foreign policy is a mess; the list of mistakes and failures keeps growing.  And domestically, yikes.   Don’t get me started. Either Obama has done the wrong thing, domestic or foreign, not done or given up on doing the right thing, or just plain waited too long to do the right thing, as with ISIS.  And this newest mission is still confused and weak.  Obama’s incompetence is no surprise to me.  He did not have the right experience; in fact he had hardly any experience.  And he had had some very questionable associations to say the least.  Our president was just the “perfect storm” of a candidate in 2008.

As loyal as his base is to him, and the Democratic base is more loyal to their own than the Republican base, Obama has caused major damage to his party much like George W. Bush did to his.  The current president lost his House of Representatives majority because of Obamacare among other things in 2010, when the Republicans claimed victory in a landslide of 63 seats gained.  And he will lose his Senate majority, which could have already been in Republican hands had that party not fielded weak and even laughable candidates in the last couple election cycles.

In this election cycle, Democratic Senate (and other) candidates are doing their best to distance themselves from Obama.  He is so radioactive that a couple days ago, Kentucky’s Democratic Senate candidate even refused to say, when asked repeatedly, if she had voted for him.

And it’s not just Republicans chastising Obama.  Liberal pundits and other Democrats have been disapproving.  David Axelrod, Obama’s former chief campaign strategist said it was a mistake for the president to say that he may not be on the ballot this election cycle, but his policies are.  Sometimes, even the script shown on the teleprompters can be sloppy and not well prepared.

So is it too early to say Obama has had a failed presidency?  Yes, I think it is.  He has a couple more years to turn it around.  The odds are not in his favor considering how I think he just doesn’t care anymore.  I have said it almost from the start, and I will say it again, Obama wants to be president, he just doesn’t want to “do” president.  And I think the chances of him leaving as a successful leader are about as good as Joe Biden going two weeks without saying something insulting, offensive or just downright nonsensical.

Time will tell.

Israeli women’s rights moving to front of bus


Anat Hoffman, the progressive Israeli activist who made headlines two summers ago when she was arrested for carrying a Torah at the Western Wall, comes to California next week with a clear message for American Jews: What’s happening in Beit Shemesh is as big a threat to Israel as what’s happening in Tehran.

“Americans have been trained to care about Israel’s security and think of it in terms of Israel being surrounded by millions of enemies,” Hoffman said in a phone interview in advance of her Los Angeles visit Feb. 3-4, during which she will speak at shabbat services at Temple Emanuel of Beverly Hills and Temple Beth Am. “But security is not just measured by soldiers on the border. It’s also measured by an 8-year-old girl’s ability to go to school without being bullied.” Hoffman was referring to Naama Margolese, the Beit Shemesh girl who became a household name after Channel 2 TV aired a report revealing that she had been spit on and called a “whore” by ultra-Orthodox men while on her way to school. Their complaint was that the shy Modern Orthodox girl in a long skirt was not dressed modestly enough.

A native of Jerusalem, and a city councilwoman there for 14 years before becoming executive director of the Israel Religious Action Center (IRAC) — the Reform movement’s legal advocacy arm in the Jewish state — Hoffman, 57, has been fighting for decades to ensure that things like this don’t happen. Now, as the story of Naama Margolese reverberates throughout the Jewish world, Hoffman’s moment may have arrived.

For the first time, Hoffman said, issues of gender equality and religious pluralism are poised to figure heavily in the Israeli political debate. “I see this as a very important window of opportunity, because we are on the eve of an election,” she said.

Moreover, the Israeli populace is still fired up and feeling politically re-engaged by the protests of last summer, in which hundreds of thousands of Israelis took to the streets and — setting a precedent for the American Occupy movement — erected tent encampments to protest economic and social inequalities.

“The question now,” Hoffman said, “is are we going to be put to sleep again and focus only on the security bit, or are we going to focus on the internal issues?”

Hoffman is convinced that those internal issues — gender equality, religious pluralism and minority rights chief among them — pose as great a threat to Israel’s future as the prospect of a nuclear Iran. But she’s not sure American Jews agree. “Ask a hundred Israelis right now what is the most dangerous thing for Israel, and most will not say the atom bomb. Ask a hundred American Jews, and they’ll say the Iranian bomb. I say, let’s not think about Iran for a bit. Let’s ask Israel, ‘Why can’t a woman have a bat mitzvah at the Wall?’ ”

Hoffman has been fighting for more than 20 years for a woman’s right to pray and read from the Torah at the Kotel. As chairwoman of the group Women of the Wall, she has long been at odds with the Orthodox establishment that controls Jerusalem’s holiest Jewish site. But it’s not just their influence over religious sites that irks her. As extremist factions of the ultra-Orthodox minority have grown ever more brazen, their influence has spread beyond the confines of their cloistered communities.

The practice of gender segregation on public buses exploded into the public debate last December after Tanya Rosenblit and, later, Israel Defense Forces soldier Doron Matalon were harassed by ultra-Orthodox men for refusing to sit at the back of a bus.

But Hoffman has been chipping away at the problem for years. In 2007, IRAC filed a petition on behalf of five women who had been harassed on gender-segregated buses, and last January, Israel’s Supreme Court deemed the practice illegal. Since then, Hoffman has regularly led “Freedom Rides,” wherein she and other Jewish women sit at the front of gender-segregated buses to ensure the court decision is being upheld. When they are harassed by ultra-Orthodox men, bus drivers often don’t interfere, Hoffman said, deferring to the customary practice of separating the sexes. “We have 13 lawsuits against drivers for not enforcing the law, and it’s very effective,” Hoffman said. “Those suits for damages are helping to unlearn what 10 years of segregated buses have taught.”

But why have these issues only reached a boiling point in recent months? According to Hoffman, women’s role in Israeli society is changing on a broader level, and the powers that be are threatened.

In Israel’s secular world, a deeply entrenched culture of sexism is finally beginning to crack. A law protecting women from sexual harassment that passed more than a decade ago is challenging the male establishment, and 2011 saw Israel’s former president, Moshe Katsav, begin serving a seven-year prison sentence for rape. “Once the law began to be implemented, behaviors that had been tolerated in the army and government suddenly became illegal,” Hoffman said. “The bastards changed the rules and didn’t tell Moshe Katsav.”

At the same time, in the Orthodox world, women are gaining power and influence. Hoffman points out that it’s women who receive a more worldly education — and therefore pay the mortgage and balance the checkbook — while men receive only a religious education. “Women are in the world, and the kids see that the women know more. So how else can the Orthodox world keep them in their place other than to say, ‘You might know more in the modern world, but in the religious world, you should know your place.’ ”

As Hoffman — who earned her undergraduate degree from UCLA — prepares to address Jewish audiences in Los Angeles and the San Francisco Bay Area, she said she hopes that American Jews will hold Israel’s feet to the fire on social issues. “Don’t go easy on us,” she said. “Israel needs to hear the truth from its supporters. To be a Zionist is not a spectator sport.”


Anat Hoffman will be speaking in Los Angeles on:

Feb. 3, 7:30 p.m. “Between the Stones and a Hard Place: The Challenge to Gender Equity in Israel.” Hoffman will speak during Shabbat Unplugged Service-In-The-Round. Following Kiddush, she will also speak from 9:15 to 10:15 p.m. Temple Emanuel of Beverly Hills, 8844 Burton Way, Beverly Hills. Free and open to the public.

Feb. 4, 9 a.m. “Civil Rights in Israel.” Shabbat Morning Worship. Temple Beth Am, 1039 South La Cienega Blvd., Los Angeles. Free and open to the public.

Feb. 4, 4 p.m. Women’s Rights in Israel. Mincha, Seudat Shlishit, Maariv and Havdallah. Temple Beth Am, 1039 South La Cienega Blvd., Los Angeles. Hoffman will speak during Seudat Shlishit. Free and open to the public.

Man arrested for insulting female Israeli soldier on bus


Israel detained an Orthodox man on Wednesday on suspicion of calling a woman soldier a “whore” on a public bus for refusing his appeals that she move to the back of the vehicle, a police spokesman said.

The incident came days after Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu vowed to crack down on acts of harassment by religious zealots, with the publicity surrounding these cases risking upsetting his political alliances with Orthodox parties.

Much of the controversy has surrounded complaints by women against ultra-Orthodox men trying to force them to sit separately in the backs of public buses in deference to their religious beliefs against any mixing of the sexes in public.

Soldier Doron Matalon said on Israel Radio that a devoutly religious man had approached her and insisted she move to the back of a bus in Jerusalem earlier on Wednesday, after she had embarked at a station near her military base.

“It was very frightening,” Matalon said, saying the incident was not the first in which she had been asked to move to the back of a bus but that this time she felt more defiant.

Matalon said she replied to the man: “You can move to the back if you want. Just like you don’t want to see my face, I don’t want to see yours.” She added that she was “serving our country, which unfortunately means I am also defending you.”

The man responded by shouting at her “whore, go sit in the back,” Matalon said, adding that the driver later stopped the vehicle and police arrived.

Police spokesman Mickey Rosenfeld confirmed an Orthodox man was taken into custody and “questioned about his motives” for insulting the soldier, but no decision had yet been made as to whether he would be charged.

Some bus lines that serve predominantly religious neighborhoods in Jerusalem and other cities have been segregated despite complaints from women’s groups that their civil rights were being violated.

Under Israeli law women are entitled to object to sitting in the back, but they risk verbal and physical abuse for refusing to do so.

Several thousand activists demonstrated in the city of Beit Shemesh near Jerusalem on Tuesday against incidents in which ultra-Orthodox zealots have spat at and insulted women and female children, complaining they were immodestly dressed.

Some Orthodox politicians have condemned the violence as the actions of an extremist fringe but see the controversy as an effort to incite public opinion against their politically influential minority in the Jewish state.

Writing by Allyn Fisher-Ilan

Egged must pay woman forced to sit in back of bus


Israel’s largest bus company, Egged, was fined for forcing a woman to sit in the back of a bus, a small claims court ruled.

Egged was fined approximately $1,070 on Wednesday for gender discrimination and violating the High Court of Justice’s ruling opposing forced segregation of men and women in the public sphere, according to the Israel Hayom website.

In the suit, filed in July by the Israel Religious Action Center in Rishon Lezion Magistrate Court, the complainant said that a driver employed by Egged made her sit in the back while the bus was traveling to the haredi Orthodox area of Bnei Brak.

“I explained to the driver that the line was not a segregated line, but the driver dismissed my argument and said that only the rabbis can decide whether a bus is segregated or not. It was humiliating and insulting,” the complainant, who is Orthodox, said in court, Israel Hayom reported.

Egged issued a statement arguing that the driver was not representing the company’s views.

The bus company has been accused before of discrimination. In October, Egged was ordered to pay approximately $16,000 in compensation after driver Ben Yakar told a young female student that he “doesn’t let blacks ride on the bus.”

In 2006, Miriam Shear, an American-Israeli woman, reportedly was beaten by a gang of haredi Orthodox when she refused to move to the back of the bus while traveling to the Wailing Wall.

Wednesday’s ruling came a week after U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton said in a closed-session question-and-answer session that she is concerned about the direction of Israel’s democracy, prompting Sephardic Chief Rabbi Shlomo Amar to accuse Clinton in a radio interview of having “no real knowledge of a Jewish woman’s modesty.”

“The Jewish people respect women and treat them like queens and princesses,” Amar said.

VIDEO: Israel tries to sex up its image


Britains’ Sky News reports from Tel Aviv on an Israeli advertising campaign to sex up its image.

Ben-Gurion University of the Negev reaches out to Bedouin women


Every morning, Hana’a Abokaf leaves her village on the slopes of the Negev Desert, where electricity is powered by a generator and camels and goats graze near cinderblock and tin houses.

Abokaf, 20, rides the bus to the university where she is a first-year medical student. Just by attending a university, Abokaf is part of a revolution of sorts in her deeply conservative Bedouin community: She is among about 250 Bedouin female students enrolled at Ben-Gurion University of the Negev. In recent years, the school has made attracting and retaining Bedouin students, many of them female, a top priority.

“I always wanted to be a doctor,” a smiling Abokaf said, her lavender and black headscarf fastened tightly over her hair.

It’s a bold statement, because Bedouin women usually stay at home to raise children. They often are not encouraged to complete their schooling; more than half of Israel’s female Bedouin are illiterate.

Growing up, Abokaf said, she noted the need for Bedouin doctors in her community when her grandmother became ill and found it difficult to communicate with the Hebrew-speaking doctors, who were from a different culture.

Other gaps, some striking, exist between the Bedouin and the rest of Israeli society. Bedouin families tend to be large — 10 children is not uncommon — and are among the country’s poorest and most-neglected populations. In their gradual transition from a nomadic to a more urban lifestyle, they have faced major challenges.

Bedouin communities have high rates of crime and unemployment. They have considerably worse health and education services than fellow Israelis, and their infrastructure can be appalling or even nonexistent, especially in “unrecognized villages,” such as the one in which Abokaf lives.

Unrecognized villages is the term used for Bedouin areas that Israeli authorities do not officially acknowledge. Israel does not provide these areas with basic services. Authorities hope the families in these communities will agree to move to one of the “recognized” Bedouin villages and towns in the Negev.

A friend of Abokaf, Siham Elmour, also is studying medicine. Elmour, 19, considers herself fortunate because her family has supported her decision, despite the years of training.

“My father knows my life will be one of study, but the family also knows it is something that will be helpful in the world,” said Elmour, one of 11 children.

Her family also hopes that she will close some of the gaps between Bedouin society and the rest of Israel. Elmour and three of her sisters — also students at Ben-Gurion — are among the new wave of confident and educated young Bedouin women.

Elmour said she believes that growing up under difficult circumstances may foster the urge to make a difference.

“We are going to try to solve the problems because we come from within the culture,” she said.

The Center for Bedouin Studies and Development at Ben-Gurion helps to coordinate the university experience for the Bedouin students. The center is charged with advancing higher education among the Bedouin and provides scholarships, counseling and special university preparation programs for high school students and graduates.

Established a decade ago with the help of Robert Arnow, a New York City real estate developer and former chairman of the university’s board, the center also aims to promote academic research about Bedouins.

“For an American Jew to be identified with Bedouins in the Negev is very important,” Arnow said at a ceremony this month marking the institute’s 10th birthday. “It has to do with values, Jewish values.”

The university has gone from having almost no Bedouin students two decades ago to 420 male and female Bedouin students today. Before 1990, there was only one female graduate student. Since 2000, many more have gone on to do graduate work.

The university is especially proud of its first female Bedouin student to graduate as a medical doctor. Dr. Rania al-Oqbi graduated last year and is now doing her residency in obstetrics and gynecology, hoping to increase the presence of Bedouin women in the health field.

Most female Bedouin students focus on the humanities and social sciences, though the school is trying to interest male and female students in studying science and technology.

As Bedouin society becomes more integrated into the modern Israeli market, more Bedouin students need to learn scientific fields, said Ismael Abu-Saad, director of the university’s Center for Bedouin Studies and Development. The center also strives to increase the number of Bedouin students preparing for such professions as nursing, physical therapy and social work, much-needed services in Bedouin communities.

Schools in Bedouin areas can be substandard, creating a challenge for students who seek university admission. To help such students, Ben-Gurion University has created yearlong preparatory programs in fields including medicine and social work.

Abokaf said of the preparatory program: “It helped us prove ourselves.”

She and many of her Bedouin peers are often found at the university’s main library using the books and computers — electricity can be scarce in their villages. Some students described having to study by candlelight at home and being asked to help with younger siblings instead of focusing on their studies.

Saffa Algaar, 23, is one of just two female Bedouin students in the geography department. Families have been reluctant to let their daughters major in the subject, because it involves field trips, some of them overnight, to various parts of the country. Algaar said family members have backed her academic choice, though when she travels they remind her that they are only as far as her cellular phone.

“They let me go, but they don’t stop calling, asking, ‘Where are you? What are you doing? When will you be coming home?'” she said.

Yet in talking about her family’s economic plight and the work her mother has done to help fund her studies, Algaar said, “When our economic situation improves, everything else will also improve.”

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Combating Sexism in Israel


Two women are now among the most powerful leaders in Israel. But for women’s rights advocates, the appointment of two female Cabinet members doesn’t begin to address the problem of a society, culture and government dominated by men.

After weeks of protest from Israeli women’s rights groups and Jewish feminists around the world, Prime Minister Ehud Barak added a second woman to his expanded 23-member Cabinet last week. Although many women have welcomed the appointment of Yael “Yuli” Tamir as absorption minister, faxes from women’s groups continue to stream into Barak’s office with the demand that he keep his campaign promise to appoint more women than any previous Israeli government. To fulfill that promise, he would have had to appoint a total of three women to his Cabinet.

The apparent ease with which he broke that vow unleashed a barrage of criticism from women, especially since even Tamir was appointed only after male candidates declined Barak’s offer.

“This was too little too late, especially since we heard that a woman was not his first choice,” says Yael Dayan, a popular female member of Barak’s Labor Party who was passed over for a Cabinet post. “Chauvinism is built into the system. We have a big problem with politics.”

Barak has hinted that he will keep his promise in the future. But women such as Dayan are not holding their breath.

“It is disgraceful that there is not a single woman participating in the peace talks. It is disgraceful that there are not more directors general of ministries and chairpersons of government companies,” she said. “All we hear are promises, promises, but I hope something will change.”

Feminists say their underrepresentation in politics reflects wider social problems. Discrimination, they say, is caused by the dominant role the military plays in society and politics and by the rising power of fervently Orthodox groups. Serving as a general is often a springboard to the Knesset.

In Israel’s recently elected Knesset, women hold only 13 of 120 seats. Although this is a slight improvement from nine in the previous Knesset, some women say their situation has actually deteriorated because the fervently Orthodox Shas Party, which is exclusively male, grew from 10 to 17 seats.

According to the Adva Center, an independent Tel Aviv social research institute, Israel ranks 53rd out of 94 countries in representation of women in the legislature. This is based on data from the U.N. Development Program. The center reports that most developing countries, including sub-Saharan Africa, have a better record of women’s representation in politics than Israel.

“Israel’s low ranking with respect to representation of women in political life is inconsistent with its high ranking in terms of per capita output,” the center said in a recent report, pointing out that Israel’s economy is in the upper one-fifth of the world’s developed countries.

For Shelley Yacimovich, a popular Israel Radio political talk show host who has pushed feminist issues into mainstream discourse over the past five years, the closed political boys club is merely a symptom of a wider problem.

“The political representation reflects a very grim social situation,” she says. “Israel is both a militaristic society with militaristic values and a clerical society with very conservative values.”

Yacimovich still remembers how her editors frowned when she launched her first morning show with a full hour dedicated to discussing the case of a man who burned his girlfriend to death.

“They said: ‘How can you do this? This isn’t worth an entire hour,'” she says.

Despite the criticism, Yacimovich has pressed ahead in raising women’s issues, with special emphasis on boosting public awareness of violence against women.

“Feminism is a social revolution,” she says. “There is no magic formula, and it will take many years, but we must press on.”

Na’amat, Israel’s biggest women’s organization, says violence against women has reached epidemic proportions. The group says some 200,000 women have been beaten by their husbands or boyfriends, making one out of every seven Israeli women a victim of violence.

Israeli newspapers have been recently inundated with horrific headlines, including the story of Amnon Cohen, who last month allegedly murdered his wife, Leah, and his two children, Yael and Yair, and then set them on fire. Cohen had suspected that his wife was having an Internet affair.

Since 1990, 123 women have been murdered by their partners.

Aside from the violence, Yacimovich says, the more widespread problem Israeli women face is discrimination in wages and employment. Women earn about 30 percent less than men in the same jobs in many fields. In the civil service, that figure can climb as high as 50 percent. Only a tiny proportion of senior positions in the civil service and the private sector are held by women.

“This is the most urgent issue because, at the end of the day, money is power,” Yacimovich says.

At least, says Yacimovich, public awareness about violence against women is increasing.

Barak himself once rejected criticism of his alleged chauvinism by saying that he understands women because he has three daughters at home. Feminists say this comment patronizes them.

But what about the late Golda Meir? Israeli men commonly dismiss criticism by pointing out that a woman served as prime minister. Yet just as common is a joke that Meir “had balls,” a reference to her toughness.

Feminists say this proves that Israeli men think only people with male qualities can reach positions of power. Yet at least one male member of Barak’s Cabinet is dismayed by the lack of female representation — and he is an Orthodox rabbi.

“One of the things lacking here is the female aspect of politics,” said Rabbi Michael Melchior, recently appointed to the Cabinet as the prime minister’s representative for social and Diaspora affairs. Scandinavian countries boast the highest proportion of women in politics, with women accounting for 37 percent of the legislature, and Melchior, the outgoing chief rabbi of Norway, thinks Israel should go the same way.

“This is the only way to change the aggressive nature of Israeli politics,” Melchior says.

“The problem,” says Dalia Itzik, Israel’s minister of environment and Barak’s first female appointee, “is that [chauvinism] is so deeply entrenched in Israeli society, that I’m afraid we have a long, long way to go.”

Itzik says Barak’s attitude may have unintentionally helped the cause. “The prime minister pushed himself into a corner and inadvertently raised the issue onto the public agenda,” she says. “We may yet come to thank him.”