Mosque doubles as work haven to Israel's Bedouin women

Wed Jun 27, 2012 11:23am EDT
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By Ori Lewis and Naama Shilony

JERUSALEM (Reuters) - Attired in traditional dress, Bedouin women gather in a desert mosque in Israel. They find their seats in a room near the prayer hall and then, speaking confidently in Hebrew, take calls from customers seeking help with phone problems.

The mosque also doubles as a call center and is a joint venture between Israel's largest telecoms group Bezeq Israel Telecom and Rayan, an organization working to promote employment among the Bedouin community.

It is an indicator of the slow changes taking place in staunchly traditional Bedouin society in the Middle East, as women begin to venture to work outside the home. For years, most Bedouin women who do work have been limited to child care and teaching, close to home and out of contact with strangers.

The impetus comes also from government, seeking to combat high poverty and low education levels in the Bedouin community.

"Most Bedouin women would like to work in order to contribute income to their household alongside their husbands, but because there are no workplaces in the villages and they won't venture outside, many can't find a job," said Rayan director Mahmud Alamour.

Bezeq originally considered placing the call center in an industrial area in Hura, one of seven Bedouin townships in Israel's Negev desert. But Rayan officials knew this would make it difficult to persuade community leaders to allow women to work there, and so sought their views.

"We knew the families would not agree, so the head of the local council and Rayan came up with the idea of the mosque," said Naifa al-Nabari, Rayan's women's vocational coordinator.

Bezeq now employs 75 Bedouin women in the call center and plans to expand the scheme, the success of which has prompted more women to apply for places.   Continued...

A woman from the Bedouin community works at a call centre housed in a mosque in Hura, southern Israel April 18, 2012. REUTERS/Amir Cohen