Sentenced to commute: indigenous young women at a city university.

Author:Blumen, Orna
Position:Report

Daily commuters and the multicultural city

Multiculturalism is a term mentioned with regard to non-hegemonic groups, most commonly: immigrants, national minorities and indigenes. It refers to the decent response to the socio-cultural heterogeneity of the demographic composition in specific places (Song, 2010). Most typically, cities are such diversified places attracting many who seek to benefit from their qualities as trading hubs, marketplaces, industrial complexes, transportation nodes, governmental cores, foci of political activity and centers of service provision. Cities are also the location of many institutes of higher education--the pivot of the current study. Urban multiculturalism is largely evaluated by spatial separation into neighborhoods so that social groups, usually ethnic and racial, are sorted into various parts of the housing market. This is largely explained by prejudice and discrimination against such groups and by own-group preferences to maintain distinctiveness within specific urban parcels (Clark 2002; Krysan and Farley 2002; Massey and Denton 1993; Yinger 1995). This common focus on spatial segregation dismisses the temporal impact of daily dynamic, misreading additional forms of segregation across the urban space. Some recent research has noted that racial and ethnic transformation of urban tracts occurs through employment. As many urbanites move to their places of work, where they meet people from different socio-cultural groups who live in other neighborhoods, their commuting disrupts the known segregated order of the housing market, yielding additional urban patterns of segregation (Blumen and Zamir 2001; Ellis, Wright and Parks 2004).

However, as a focal point for various activities, the city also attracts many, employees and others, who reside beyond the metropolitan limits. Not only does this flow of incoming people increase the city's day-population, it also intensifies its diversity, portraying new, short-lived, hard to measure and unexplored spatial patterns of interactions and segregation. One well-acknowledged familiar daily influx is that of ex-urban employees who re-enter the city for employment purposes. Another relatively ordinary flow of incomers is that of university students who have not located to the city and commute regularly from their remote, often rural, neighborhoods. This study explores such a case, tackling multiculturalism from the less common perspective of daily migrants. It turns the light on their reality, focusing on the experience of indigenous young women who, in their pursuit of higher education, re-enter the city and experience its spirit while adding to its multicultural characteristic.

In the last decades, in most developed societies as well as in many developing ones, a remarkable boom in higher education has been largely centered on women. Higher education increases the chances of women to upgrade their earning potential and enhances their social capital as well as that of their family and community (Becker, Hubbard and Murphy 2010). In developing societies in the Arab world these advantages often provoke a paradox, challenging the traditional confinement of women to the home environment and the strict supervision over their movements and social contacts. This study explores the experience of young women, undergraduate students, who live in this paradox. It conveys the perceptions of Israeli Druze women who dwell in remote, semi-rural, traditional communities and commute to a city university. Previous research on Arab Palestinian women in the Israeli system of higher education focused mostly on long-term processes of identity re-construction after their university period and homecoming. The current study highlights their university period, exploring their present actuality as students. Following their commuting to and from the city, this study seeks to unveil their accumulative experience of frequent urban encounters and habitual fluctuations between these two, traditional and modern, gendered worlds. After considering the status of Israeli Druze women and methodological issues, this experience is conveyed and then analyzed with reference to multiculturalism in the city.

Druze in Israel

The Druze people of the Middle East reside in Syria, Lebanon and Israel where they exist as small minorities with no national aspirations. They make up a small, traditional and religious community whose origin is unclear. Today it is common to identify Druze with Arabs because of some similar ways of life: customs, popular beliefs, dress, food and language. However, alongside some unique cultural traits, their esoteric religion (evolved in Egypt about one thousand years ago) separates them from their neighboring Arabs. To protect their mores and maintain their distinctiveness the Druze tend to live in isolation, mostly in small, mountainous villages away from national centers. Solidarity with the Druze collective is very strong and includes powerful ties between patriarchal, patrilineal clans that rank women at the bottom of social hierarchy (Dana 1998, 49; Farraj-Falach 2005; Firro 1992; Katz 1990; Layish 2000). In Israel, some 123,000 Druze comprise less than 2 per cent of the national population and only 10.1 per cent of the Arab citizens minority (82% Muslim), residing in 16 mountain locales. Living in isolation, Israeli Druze have shaped a rural, conservative and close-knit community that strictly preserves its religious and traditional values with strong clan solidarity (Al-Krenawi and Graham 2001; Dana 1998; Hassan 2011).

Israeli Druze are a recognized, autonomous religious group with a separate education system where Druze heritage is integral in the curriculum. Unlike the majority of Arab-Palestinian citizens who are exempt from military service, military conscription for Druze men is compulsory following agreement between the state and the community. As a result, individuals and locales are entitled to some lawful privileges, such as, subsidies in housing, infrastructure investments, construction and welfare benefits. Existing research has tended, mostly, to illuminate Druze involvement in the Israeli political system. Studies of Druze multiple-identity in connection with their Israeli and Arab identities show that the majority adheres to the Arab identity component and dissociates itself from the Palestine narrative, while considering Druze Israeliness as a real, non-instrumental identity (for detailed discussions see Nisan 2010; and Yiftachel and Segal 1998). Unlike many Arab citizens who live in cities and in semi-urban locales close to urban centers, Druze tendency of separatism confines most of them to isolated, rural locales. As a result, the ability of Druze women to rely on modern ideas of equality and negotiate the traditional gender regime and the patriarchal constraints it imposes on their daily lives barely exists. The effect of this dissociation from urban life has been noted, though not researched, by few scholars and only with regard to Druze involvement in the Israeli labor market (Kirschenbaum and Goldberg 1992; Hassan 1992) and not with their level of education. In recent years, however, Druze emphasis on schooling has yielded a rapid increase in schooling, including tertiary education for women.

Druze women

The patriarchal nature of the Druze community in Israel has been meagerly researched and, similar to other characteristics, much information has been extrapolated from research on Muslim women which attenuates Druze distinctiveness where, for example, religious proscription of polygamy most prominently singles out Druze women. Nevertheless, women's status is low and social control over them is especially tight. They are obliged to obey the men of their extended family and to assume housework and child-rearing (Farraj-Falach 2005; Hassan 2008; Layish 2000). Women's behavior greatly determines the reputation, "honor", of their entire family and hence their chastity must be demonstrated by modest clothing, limited individual mobility, male chaperonage in public places and, in many cases, also by refraining from driving and physical exercise (Dwairy 1998; Lewin-Epstein and Semyonov 1992; Farraj-Falach 2005; Weiner 2004, 2008).

Although in Israel, higher education is considered important and has raised self-awareness among indigenous women (Pessate-Schubert 2003), cultural barriers still constrain Druze women's access to institutes of higher education (Weiner 2004 and 2008). Adherence to traditional cultural practices is greatly affected by locales' distance from the metropolitan center of Haifa. This cultural geography has determined the expansion of higher education among women in recent years. In the late 1980s, despite stringent forbidding by religious traditional leaders, several Druze women from the two Carmel vicinities, on the outskirts of Metropolitan Haifa and a ten minute drive from the University of Haifa, broke through patriarchal hindrance and attended higher education. Leaving their home neighborhoods, often unescorted, and studying in the company of men, these women contravened traditional norms and they encountered powerful opposition, at times even ostracism of their families and excommunication from the Druze religion (Falach 1991; Weiner 2004)--a punishment ordinarily reserved for murderers and adulterers. Approximately a decade later these trailblazer women were followed by young women from their Carmel vicinities and, a few years later, young women from the more remote, rural and traditional locales in the Galilee joined them. Over the years, higher education slowly gained legitimacy, yet some Galilean communities still disapprove of higher education for women. Today some 80% of high school Druze female students aspire to higher education (Farraj-Falach 2005, 61) and, within higher education, female Druze students outnumber their male peers.

Most research attention to Druze women is centered on...

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