Thirty-nine year old Amal Alnasasra grew up among the poorest of the poor in Rahat’s neglected Neighborhood 20, where the residents are, like her, “dark skinned” as she puts it. (Israel is home to thousands of Arabs of African descent who arrived here throughout the centuries in a variety of ways.)
Today, as co-director of Sidre, which works for Bedouin women’s advancement and equality, she is well-positioned to make change. And her ambitions are high: She wants – and is being encouraged to – run for Knesset on an independent women’s list in 2023.
Amal’s road to leadership included participation in Shatil’s U.S.-funded Bedouin women’s For our Rights project (2009-2012.) Amal said participation in the project showed her that change is possible – and women can bring it on. That belief still accompanies her.
Within the rights project, Amal led an initiative that educated black Bedouin women agricultural workers about their rights – something no one had done before. When Shatil’s’ Bedouin women’s project field worker left for another position, Shatil recruited Amal, who clearly had leadership potential, for that position. A year later, she was hired as an economic development project coordinator by Sidre and 18 months after, she became it’s co-director.
Amal keeps on doing things no one has done before. As a community worker in Rahat, she founded the first Neighborhood 20 Women’s Committee that fought for women’s and children’s rights and got a women’s club established.
“The neighborhood is in a different place now. We have doctors, lawyers, social workers, 12 teachers,” says Amal. “One of our residents is a city councilman. You can feel the difference.”
And in her role at Sidre, she founded the first Negev Bedouin Women’s Council.
What kind of change is she working toward?
“To improve the status of Bedouin women,” says Amal without hesitation. “To give legitimacy to Bedouin women’s right to strive, to dream, to realize their desires, to achieve what they want…”
Although Bedouin women are making strides, the majority still live in a patriarchal, traditional society that dictates just how far they can go – from home, in their studies and work lives – and whom they can marry. Polygamy and so-called “honor killings” are part of life for Bedouin women.
But Amal is optimistic. “I see many women who stared with zero – and today are in a place of decision making,” she says. “There are Bedouin women who are heads of municipal departments and school principals. In our neighborhood alone there are now three women lawyers and a school principal. In our society, people usually don’t believe that dark-skinned people can succeed. So this reinforces my belief that yes, it is possible to change.”
“Like you?” NIF News asked her.
“Like me,” she answered.
Amal credits Shatil Negev Director, Sultan Abu Abaid, for believing in her and pushing her toward leadership.
“Sultan wasn’t just my boss, he was a significant, facilitative leader who wants to advance Bedouin women,” she says. “He always supported me and gave me a feeling that Bedouin women must believe in themselves, that we can succeed. He was a huge influence on me. I will never forget him. Today, when I invite him to Sidre events, he respects the invitation and always does his best to come. He really believes in the strength and potential of Bedouin women and does the maximum to encourage us on our road.”