Beduin Women Pursuing Study in Israeli Universities

As has been the custom for generations, Beduin women get married at an early age. However, education has begun to change that in recent times as young, strong, ambitious and vibrant women pursue more goals — which usually starts with school. Presently, many Beduin young women are standing tall and making their own decisions regarding their lives bending their traditions.

According to Linda Gradstein of The Jerusalem Post, Eman Abu Ammar, 24, is studying language and literature at Ben-Gurion University of the Negev. Unlike many Beduin girls her age, she’s in no rush to get married.

“Beduin usually get married young,” she told The Media Line. “People ask me, ‘Why aren’t you married, don’t you have anybody?’ It does pressure me, but I plan to choose a partner who will allow me to keep studying.”

Eman Ammar, who is the youngest of eight children, says that her parents encouraged her to study at the university but to continue living at home. She says that she does talk to fellow male students at the university but would not meet them outside of class.

“The Beduin society is still very traditional,” she says. “I can be friends with men in the context of school but not more than that.”

Her married friend, Reem al-Amrany, says that it is important for women to get education and be employed so that they can support their husbands in difficult economic times.

“Today, when a man wants to marry, he looks for a working woman because of the hard life and the economic situation,” she told The Media Line. “He needs someone to help him make a living.”

However, Reem says that her biggest challenge is striking the balance between studying and family responsibility, a dilemma of many Western women as well.

“My biggest challenge is the balance between studying, working, my home, my husband and my daughter,” she said.

There are an estimated 350 female Beduin students at Ben-Gurion University, as well as 150 men from that community. There are dozens of others in other institutions of higher education. Many of these students receive generous scholarships to study. These young women speak Arabic at home and in school, and often need special tutoring before they can take classes in Hebrew. The university has worked hard to integrate Beduin students into university life, says Ben-Gurion University President Rivka Carmi.

“Ben-Gurion University is helping hundreds of Beduin students realize their potential,” Carmi told The Media Line. “The University is able to offer counseling, tutoring and scholarship support that has enabled hundreds of students to benefit from higher education.”

In Israel there are an estimated 250,000 Beduins, with most living in the area around Beersheba. Tens of thousands live in “unrecognized villages,” meaning their claims to land are not recognized by the Israeli government, but the Israeli Supreme Court has ruled they must be given education and medical care.

For Beduin, it is unacceptable for women to be out at night without a male family member, so most of the women continue to live at home during their studies. However, a majority of them have no computers at home or electricity by which to study at night.