The proportion of Israeli Arab women who go to work outside the home has for many years been much longer than that of Israeli Jewish women. There have been cultural and educational problems causing this. Many conservative Arab men prefer to keep their wives at home to cook, clean and take care of the family. In addition, the women’s educational level has been low.
But the times are changing, and more Arab women want to go out and work. However, it has been hard for them to get to do so even if they are hired, as few have their own cars, and public transport doesn’t always reach their destination in reasonable time.
Now, researchers at the Transportation Research Institute (TRI) of the Technion-Israel Institute of Technology in Haifa, in collaboration with the non-profit feminist organization Kayan – supported by the Office of the Chief Scientist in Israel’s Transport Ministry – is trying to help.
They developed a smartphone application to help solve the problem of Arab women’s access to the workplace in the absence of adequate public transportation, thereby increasing their participation in the job market.
The application was developed by Prof. Yoram Shiftan, Dr. Robert Ishaq, and Ebtihal Shety of TRI at the Technion’s Faculty of Civil and Environmental Engineering, in cooperation with Kayan’s general director Rafah Anabtawi and Mona Mahajneh, the director of the community department.
The research team developed a unique, ride-sharing application which supports Arabic and is adapted to the Arab sector in general and to Arab women in particular. It connects drivers with passengers who need to reach the same destination. The application also features a package-delivery scheduling system.
To develop the app, the research team held focus groups with the participation of 117 women from 10 communities in northern Israel . They concluded that the participants support the values of mutual assistance and responsibility expressed through their willingness to implement travel-share and to benefit from convenient and time-saving travel at low cost.
The participants also discussed various challenges and concerns, especially concern for their personal security. Most of the participants said they would prefer to travel only with drivers whom they know. Another disadvantage that arose in the focus groups was the loss of flexibility and privacy.
Ishaq and Shety said: “We knew that we were facing a major challenge, but we believed that a ride-sharing application could only improve the limited public transportation in Arab communities. Our main target audience was women who suffer from lack of transport options both inside and outside their villages. The application’s main potential is that the majority of these women (98%) have access to a smartphone and 73% have a driver’s license.”
It was “clear to us that we had to offer a simple and intuitive application that fully supports the Arabic language,” said Shiftan. We chose a simple and meaningful name – Safarcon – which means ‘Your Travels,’ and a logo designed in both Arabic and English. While the application is also available for men, its main goal is to increase transport mobility among women. This is a non-profit application, and the financial accounting takes place between the driver and the passenger.”
Referring to the importance of the application for Arab women, Anabtawi said, “The problem of accessibility to public transportation is considered one of the most significant barriers that women face and which hinders women’s integration into the job market and their involvement in the public arena. This application, which was designed according to their needs – taking into account gender and cultural sensitivity – may provide a solution, if only partially, to the inter-locality and inter-city mobility limitations.”
The researchers believe that Safarcon can help Arab women cope with the lack of adequate transport and mobility solutions and that via the use of the application the number of Arab women entering the workforce is likely to increase.