Gender identity is an important part of Mabat’s dialogue groups. It’s always rises at some point of the discussion, but rarely gets the sole spotlight it’s deserves. However, last week on International women’s day, our two spectacular moderators, Hila and Osama, has decided to dedicate the whole meeting to the topic. They have decided that the most officiating way to moderate the conversation would be splitting the groups by gender for the main part of the meeting.” We’ve felt that the group really needed to speak on this issue,” Hila told us,” so we’ve decided to dedicate an entire meeting to the topic”.
Hila tells us about the experience in the women’s group. ”I’ve tried to understand whether they had any previous experiences with spaces that are exclusive for women. Some of the Jewish members came from religious homes so they had lots of opportunities, and for some it was the first time ever.” She tells us. “We’ve opened with a short musical movement game, in order to shake things up a bit, then started the conversation. We’ve talked lengthily about society’s expectations of women, the realization of myself as a woman and the meaning of that to me. We’ve also talked about dress code, in the Arab society and generally, and of the career glass ceiling that we’ve broken or surrendered to as women.
Osama told us about his experience with the men’s group as well, in which the atmosphere was tenser. “I’ve suggested that we will seize the day to look closely on the gender gaps in society, and especially in the Arab society. I’ve asked the guys what have made them the men they are today, what are the society’s expectations from men? I’ve also asked about their own expectations from women, and specifically the women in our dialogue group.
And how they reacted?
“There was a severe opposition. Mostly from the Arab guys. They haven’t fully understood the importance at the beginning. They feel that things change and witness the Arab women getting careers and academic education, but they don’t understand their part in this tendency. Some asked why there isn’t an international men’s day and said that women’s emancipation come at their expense. I’ve tried to explain this by telling them about domestic violence, the wage gap, sexual harassments at the workplace and dividing the burden of household maintenance. They were agitated by that. A significant part of the group are 18 years old guys that have just got out from their parents’ homes, and it’s hard to neutralize the customs that they been educated by at home.
What was challenging for you in the discussion?
“I was absolutely shocked when one of the Arab participants justified domestic murders. He said that if a guy comes back home and finds his wife cheating on him, he can’t control his temper. As a father to two girls, that felt like a punch to the gut. I’ve asked him to look in the eyes of the girl he will one day marry, and to think if he would be able to murder her one day. I’ve asked him that if the answer would be positive, to not marry at all. He deserves to live as a positive and honest man, and she is definitely deserving to be safe.”
“Finally, we’ve gathered back together, and it was fascinating to see how the amount of time different participants spoke reflected the power division in the society.” Hila tells. “Even though at some point we’ve asked the women to share, the male verbal dominance was remarkable.”
What issue that were talked about stuck to you?
“One of the Arab guys told about his sense of obligation to defend the women in his family.” Hila answers, “from that we’ve talked about gender roles in the family, the limits of what is considered defence, and when it becomes illegitimate coercion.
“I’m very optimistic towards further work on this issue with the group.” Osama recaps his thoughts on the meeting, “now, after the issues are on the table, and with them oppositions, we can work about them seriously and responsibly.”
We are very proud of our moderators, that courage opened the most intimate and sensible issues. We hope them the best of luck in their further work with the group. We also hope to use that model in our other dialogue groups.
‘Mabat’s activities in Kinneret College is sponsored by the U.S. Embassy of Israel. Our meetings are happening online for now, more updates on this will come out soon 🙂