In 1990, Arab feminist women from Haifa and the northern region of Israel were actively working with women's services, battered women's shelters, and crisis centers for injured and sexually assaulted women. These women helped create programs, meetings, workshops, and crisis-services specifically for Arab women. The meetings evolved into a place for Arab women activists to work together and discuss common concerns. Through these meetings the idea emerged to establish an organization by and for Arab women in Israel.
In 1999, Kayan became registered as a non-profit and has been responding to the distinct needs of Arab women since that time. Through the creation of unique programs, forums, and services, there continues to be a surge of Arab women eager to become activists, participate in workshops, receive legal services, or simply engage in an exchange of ideas with other women.
Kayan has achieved significant improvements in the status of Arab women in Israel since its foundation, notably:
The Childcare Workers Program (2002-2004): This program addressed the violation of female childcare workers' rights in Arab villages and towns in Israel. These employees' salaries were not being paid because of municipal debts. Kayan successfully organized 1,300 childcare workers, who had never been organized, into a workers' union, and supported them in their confrontation with local and national authorities. The project was quite a success, with an unexpectedly high number of women joining the efforts from the very beginning. At the first national childcare conference in 2003, 450 women attended, among them Bedouin women from the Negev. The union, with the help of a public and media campaign, was eventually granted its demand that salaries be paid directly to the childcare workers and not to the local municipalities.
The "Women Demand Mobility" Program (2004-2008): Kayan facilitated a grassroots campaign that brings public transportation to Israel's Arab towns and villages. The project started as a local initiative in the village of Mghar, and was a product of the group that went through Kayan's empowerment course. Participants of the course were exhausted trying to find ways to get to a weekly meeting at Kayan's office, as no form of public transport existed in this village or in most other Arab towns and villages in Israel. In 2006, the first report on "Mobility among Arab women in Israel" was published, which served as a major advocacy and media tool. The program achieved its aim of installation of public transportation in 2008, when Kayan worked with the Ministry of Transport on a joint work-plan for the installation of public transportation in two major clusters of Arab villages. The mobility project was finally implemented in 2009.
The Arabic Leaflet on the Law against Domestic Violence (2007): Kayan published excerpts of the "Prevention of Domestic Violence Act" of 1991 in Arabic. The act is designed to provide quick and efficient services to women in emergencies. Two thousand leaflets were distributed to Arab women in social welfare offices, universities, schools, and other public places. This was the first publication of an Arabic version of the legislation; most legal information in Israel is distributed to the public in English, despite the facts that Arabic is an official language of the State and many Arab citizens (especially Arab women) cannot understand English. This conundrum deprives women of their right to know the laws they are subject to and to understand the legislation put in place to benefit them. The need to inform Arab women about their legal rights as domestic violence victims, and the lack of any Arabic information about it, motivated Kayan to create this publication. Kayan was surprised by the public fervor raised by this project, as it drew unprecedented media attention. The publication and its contents were debated about in most major Arabic and Hebrew newspapers in Israel, as well as on public television and radio. The publication's reach was vast, and we hope it will continue to inform Arab women about their legal rights in situations involving domestic violence.