Israel works to shrink Arab unemployment

Monday, May 07, 2012 |  Ryan Jones

Despite claims to the contrary, Israel wants its Arab population to be successful and happy. In line with that general policy, Israel's Ministry of Industry, Trade and Labor and the government-owned telecom company Bezeq have launched a new initiative to get Bedouin Arab women into the workforce.

The Ministry of Industry, Trade and Labor identified Bedouin women as the sector of society least involved in the workforce. At the same time, Bezeq was looking to more to periphery communities for new call center customer support representatives, a position that traditionally sees a high turnover. The two joined forces and approached Bedouin communities in southern Israel about letting local women work.

It's not that many Bedouin women don't want to work. They do. Many have expressed a desire to contribute more financially to their large families. But community traditions prevent women from working outside the village, and opportunities within are largely confined to teaching.

Bezeq and the Ministry of Industry, Trade and Labor solved the problem by opening a new call center inside a local mosque. Now, dozens of women from one Bedouin town are earning a competitive salary without breaking societal norms.

In interviews with Saudi news agency Al-Arabiya, a number of the women said they are very happy working for Bezeq. "As a Bedouin woman I am so proud of myself because as a Bedouin girl I started from zero," said one young woman who has since become a manager, while another praised Bezeq for being so flexible with working mothers.

Many of the women see the new opportunity as a stepping stone, and plan to use their newfound income to fund university studies. And many more Bedouin women are likely to get a similar opportunity very soon. Bezeq has been very pleased with the new call center and intends to expand the initiative. A number of other Israeli companies have also taken note, and are reportedly planning to target the Bedouin community with new jobs.

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