Three generations of Jewish and Arab female Jerusalem residents on Wednesday expressed mixed feelings about how women are faring in the capital on International Women’s Day.
While women’s rights groups such as Israel Hofsheet cite religious coercion and segregation as ongoing impediments to equality, Chen Rubenstein, a 25-yearold human resources manager and new mother said the capital has come a long way over the last 15 years.
“You can see that women here are doing much better at work and getting jobs – that they have more rights and can take time off work after their children are born, and have a lot of help now in the workplace if their children are sick; so things are for sure much better,” she said.
“I had my son and was able to take off from work and return when I was ready.”
Rubenstein’s mother, Aliza Paniri, a 58-year-old kindergarten teacher in Jerusalem living in a moshav just outside the city, echoed her daughter’s sentiments.
“I think that things have improved here over the last 15 years,” said Paniri. “More women are going to work, while my mother had to stay at home to raise children. My sisters and I all found work outside and have been able to help support our families.”
Paniri continued: “In Israel and in Jerusalem we have more opportunities to work at different jobs. I have another daughter who is an engineer, and you couldn’t even think about doing that 20 years ago, so it’s great.”
While conceding that the perception of women in Jerusalem is that many are treated as second-class citizens, she said, “Personally, I don’t feel that.”
However, Sara Abecasis, a 21-year-old new immigrant from Spain, who is studying at the Hebrew University in Jerusalem, said she has found the treatment of women in the capital to be jarringly different than her home country.
“There are many extreme religious people here from different faiths, both Jewish and Muslim, and I don’t understand why women have to cover their bodies while men are given more freedoms,” she said.
“Women are treated as if they are inferior, like they are children,” added Abecasis.
“So, for me it’s very difficult to see that kind of treatment, because in Spain they are very liberal. I wish religious women here were given more opportunities and choices.”
Abecasis’s friend, Amber Rosenberg, a 19-year-old student at the Interdisciplinary Center Herzliya, cited the segregation of women at the Western Wall as a point of contention.
“It can be very difficult for less religious women here to be a real part of what’s going on during a celebration of a bar mitzva at the Wall for our brothers or families, because we are not allowed to celebrate with them there,” she said.
“I also hate that there is a wall separating men and women at synagogue. We should be allowed to be a part of it.”
Lara Litvin, a 42-year-old jewelry saleswoman, mentioned pay inequity as a major injustice.
“Today is nothing special; it’s just a usual day,” she said.
“I’ve lived in Jerusalem for 19 years and I think we are paid much less than men for the same jobs, and it’s very, very bad. We don’t have the same rights.”
Litvin continued: “This is a big issue because women have to work in the workplace and at home. Why are men paid more? They are not better than us, and in my experience, usually women work more responsibly than men, and complain less.”
Meanwhile, two young Arab women from east Jerusalem said they enjoy equal rights as men, and have been encouraged to pursue higher education and professional opportunities.
Moreover, Amani Maali, 23, and Duaa Najjar, 22, both students at Hadassah College where they study health management, noted that the perception of Arab women being subservient to men is false.
“I think a lot of people don’t know that many Arab women are educated,” said Maali.
“They finish high school and university and they go to work, drive, and do everything they want. We’re in a good situation compared to other Arab countries.”
Indeed, Najjar said Women’s Day events were held at her high school in the Beit Hanina neighborhood, where female students were encouraged to excel academically and professionally.
“They celebrated Women’s Day and empowered us,” she recalled. “It’s totally not true that women are subservient to men in Arab homes and society. I finished high school and now I’m finishing college, have a job, and soon am getting my driver’s license.”
Najjar added: “I’m living my life and have never been held back because I’m a women. It’s not true that women have to obey their husbands. There is nothing in Islam that says women can’t study or work. It’s just a stereotype. People don’t know how open-minded we are about women’s issues.”