By Noga Shavit
Dr. Sarab Abu-Rabia-Queder is the first female Bedouin PhD recipient in
At 33-years-old, Abu-Radia-Queder is a mother of three young children (ages 6, 4, and a newborn, all boys), a full-time lecturer at the Department of Man in Desert at
Her personal story is inspiring; the voice she became to other groundbreaking Bedouin women is fascinating. These “tragic heroes”, as she calls them, are women who consciously decided to stay within the social structure of their tribe by marrying within it, to be able to pursue higher education and professional careers. Doing so, they allow more women to do the same and become more than wives and stay-at-home moms. The personal sacrifice can be very painful, as Abu-Rabia-Queder quotes one woman who told her that she had to “kill her feelings and give up the man she loved,” to gain her father’s trust.
While Abu-Rabia-Queder herself was defiant to the tribe rules and insisted on marrying outside of her tribe, a struggle which was extremely hard, the choices other Bedouin women make are described by her as “heroic.” “They act out of responsibility to their fellow women. This is true feminism. They give up something so they can gain something else, which helps not just themselves but others. By maintaining an ‘honored behavior’ they secure options for the next generation of Bedouin women.”
In her book, which is being translated to English, she describes a process in the Bedouin society which is very similar to what the Jewish ultra-orthodox sector is experiencing, with more and more women seeking higher education and “secular,” prestigious professions. “The Bedouin society respected the value of education and was never opposed to what might be perceived as ‘secular’ knowledge,” Abu-Rabia-Queder explains. “The fear was from whatever came with gaining higher education.” For that reason, Bedouin female students hardly ever enjoy student life to its fullest: they have to return home before dark, they can’t get too involved with the other students and some must be accompanied by a male family member.
Abu-Rabia-Queder is full of praise for Ben Gurion University for creating special opportunities and providing assistance, on many different levels, to encourage Bedouin women to obtain university degrees. When I ask her about the future, she tells me that she is pessimistic and optimistic at the same time (an observation not uncommon by many Israelis when asked the same question). “On the national level I’m very worried. I look around and things are mostly deteriorating. But when I think about the community I live in, about the fine people I work with, my partners in the bi-lingual school, my students and many others who share my concerns and hopes, then I feel encouraged. There is so much good out there, things just have to get better,” she says.