Dr. Miriam Zucker - The Role of the State in the Intra-Group Vulnerability of Women: The Case of Polygamy Among the Bedouin-Arab Indigenous Community in Israel


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The talk will examine the intra-group vulnerability of minority women, focusing on the context of polygamy among the Bedouin-Arabs in Israel to explore two questions: 1) should the liberal state address concerns about the oppressive potential of minority cultures’ practices for women? 2) if so, what approach should be taken to this end?

Critical work discussing liberal multiculturalism has generated different proposals for addressing these concerns. But if we attempt to practically implement these proposals, we find that they come down to a binary choice between heavy-handed interventionism and a laissez-faire approach. Looking into actual cases of intra-group vulnerability to critically reflect on this scholarship reveals that it suffers from a striking gap– it overlooks the state’s role in this problem. This oversight can explain the tendency of scholars to fall into this binary. Viewing the state as a bystander restricts these scholars to ‘response strategies’, either intervening against other community members, or holding back from acting at all.

Investigating the vulnerability of Bedouin women to oppressive marriage arrangements highlights how the state is implicated in this problem on different levels. This investigation illustrates how Israel’s policy of pushing the Bedouin out of their traditional land has reinforced this vulnerability. It further reveals how discriminatory barriers to public resources, including family courts and welfare assistance, have made it harder for Bedouin women to resist oppressive marriage arrangements. Ultimately, this investigation allows to see why recognizing the responsibility of the state for this problem provides the key to escaping the laissez-faire/heavy-handed interventionism binary.



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