It’s customary for various equality- oriented organizations to present an index on the state of women in society in tandem with International Women’s Day.
While several countries currently have or recently had female presidents, governors-general and prime ministers, relatively few could boast overall parity in their governments. In most countries, the number of male ministers is significantly higher than that of female ministers.
The exceptions are the Nordic countries where parity or near parity has been achieved. In fact, in Finland, in 2014, the female proportion in government was 63%.
As new information came to light in the allegations against Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, there was increasing talk of an early election, and on Tuesday, President Reuven Rivlin sat down with a different type of government – in which all 22 portfolios were held by women.
Not only that, but several were held by Arab women, both Muslim and Christian, and the prime minister, Isca Shaki, is haredi.
Admittedly, it was a mock government. But Rivlin treated it very seriously, especially after Shaki pointed out that in Israel’s 70 years of statehood, only 17 women have served as ministers. Some held different portfolios from one government to the next, held two or three portfolios within the same government, or have been ministers without portfolio. Nonetheless, in the final analysis, the total number of female ministers came to 17.
The idea to establish an all-female government had been conceived by Rivlin in cooperation with the Israeli Hope for Integrated Education, which was also his brainchild in his ambition to create cohesion between the haredi, Arab, religious and secular members of society, or what he calls the “four tribes.”
The IHIE contacted schools in different parts of the country. Each school was presented with the criteria for the different ministerial portfolios, and sent female students who best met the stated qualifications.
The 22 pseudo ministers were presented as an alternative to the present government, whose future is threatened by a coalition in disarray. Each introduced herself to the president. All had proven leadership qualities, were engaged in a variety of volunteer activities – which in some cases they themselves had initiated – and most were between 17 and 18 years old.
Shaki who is studying at a haredi girls high school, is also studying political science and international relations at the Open University.
RIVLIN WAS particularly impressed by “science minister” Maya Arieli, a student at the interdisciplinary school in the Harod Valley who is also part of the Alpha Program for gifted students at the Weizmann Institute where she is researching artificial intelligence. She is also studying cybertechnology at the Jezreel College. Among the many projects in which she is involved, is one that encourages women to study scientific and technological subjects.
“No science minister to date, has been as well prepared for the job as you are,” Rivlin told her.
A student from the Abu Talul Beduin High School, Diana Alhamidi was the “minister for the development of the Negev, the Galilee and the periphery” and had met Rivlin once before when he visited her school. “When I meet you for the third time,” she told him, “I hope to be studying at an academic institution.”
She said that it was rare in her community for women to be educated, and very few went as far as 12th grade. Things have improved a little, she said, but not enough.
Rivlin was also pleased with the level of Hebrew of the Arab “ministers,” two of whom spoke Hebrew without any trace of an accent.
“Education minister” Fahima Amarin, who is multilingual, studies at the Arab ORT School in Ramle and started a project for illiterate mothers that teaches them to read and write Arabic and Hebrew. She organizes activities for their children to ensure that the mothers will come to class.
She is also studying violence against women and the different forms and reasons that violence erupts in the Arab and Jewish communities.
A strong believer in the need for people from different backgrounds to know and understand the other, she has organized a small group of students from different backgrounds who meet regularly and discuss all the subjects that interest them.
Rivlin had a big smile on his face when “culture and sport minister” Emi Silora from Hod Hasharon told him that she loved to play soccer and fought hard to be allowed to do so.
Rivlin was not exactly surprised when “communications minister” Noga Shtir, who is a student at the celebrated Blich High School in Ramat Gan, told him that she edits and writes the school newspaper and organizes students to work with her. A former communications minister himself, Rivlin said that he had come to the Communications Ministry knowing nothing about the work there.
As far as is known, there has never been a minister or member of Knesset from Israel’s Circassian community. So in an oblique way, Dana Seges, the “minister for agriculture” who is a student at the Kadoorie Agricultural High School – whose alumni include Yitzhak Rabin, Yigal Allon, Haim Gouri and comedian Eli Yatzpan – made history.