Two years after govt plan for women in security, has anything changed?

Israel’s army was the first in the world to introduce mandatory military service for both men and women in 1949.

December 15, 2016 06:52
IDF Female soldiers

Female soldiers from the Caracal Battalion practice evacuating an injured soldier. (photo credit: NOA CITY-ELIYAHU / BAMAHANE / ISRAEL DEFENSE FORCES)

Wednesday marked the two-year anniversary of the government’s historic decision to adopt Security Council Resolution 1325, which called to increase women’s participation in matters of peace and security and fight violence against women.

Has anything changed since? The decision stated that an interministerial committee would be formed to draft a plan to promote gender equality, in the spirit of Resolution 1325. However, the decision was made after an election had already been called for the following month, and the committee was never formed.

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Now, there’s a social equality minister, Gila Gamilel, who’s also responsible for women’s issue.

Gamliel has taken on the goals of that committee and has started working on meeting them. Just the fact that there is a designated minister for empowering women is a step forward, she said.

“UN Resolution 1325 is very important, and it inspires the whole process we’re leading on gender equality,” said Gamliel, who spoke at the Security Council meeting marking the resolution’s 15 anniversary last year.

Still, she admitted that not much has changed in the highest-profile elements of the resolution.

“Nothing has moved forward on peace, so how can women be more integrated?” she pointed out.

As far as security is concerned, there’s only Justice Minister Ayelet Shaked in the security cabinet. The Knesset Foreign Affairs and Defense Committee is closer to being evenly split, with seven female members and 10 male.

“We need every forum to be half women. Until then, we’re far from equality. More women have to run for the Knesset, and then we will have more female members of the Foreign Affairs and Defense Committee and more female ministers,” Gamliel said.

Empowering women to take on more leadership roles is one of the goals of a new program the Social Equality Ministry launched in September that grants local authorities a budget to hold gender-equality programming.

“More than 170 municipalities signed up. This is revolutionary.

It’s the first time they’ve been able to get a budget for these activities,” she explained. “It includes a range of topics such as equal parenting, women’s health and women in the workplace,” she said.

Preventing violence against women is a priority for Gamliel, who proposed a bill against domestic economic violence, meaning cases in which a partner controls the other partner’s access to money, forcing him or her to be financially dependent and limiting his or her freedom.

Zionist Union faction chairwoman Merav Michaeli, however, said things have not changed for the better for women in the past two years.

“It’s not a linear progression,” she said. “Women are constantly making great achievements, but there is always a backlash. It’s like what we saw in the US election... where the patriarchy refused to see a woman as commander in chief.”

“Over the past two years [in Israel], there has been more exclusion of women, and that is connected to women’s security in their personal lives and in public,” said Michaeli.

Increasing women’s integration in the areas of security and peace is good for men, too, Michaeli argued, and will help “reduce violence and poverty and personal security.”

“In that framework, as a feminist, I believe the government has to act [to help women], but it comes from a faith that integrating women helps solve conflicts and create more secure, prosperous lives for all,” she stated. “But this government has no interest in solving the conflict, so it’s definitely not integrating women into it.”

Israel’s army was the first in the world to introduce mandatory military service for both men and women in 1949, but in a country where one is expected to serve in a military combat unit before rising up the military echelon to top defense decision-making ranks, it’s still an old boys’ club.

Some women are making great strides in IDF. In October, Maj. Reut (last name withheld for security reasons) was promoted to the rank of lieutenant-colonel and made commander of the Sky Rider Battalion, becoming the second Israeli woman to be appointed commander of a combat unit.

In November, Lt. -Col. Olga Polyakov was nominated to be the first woman to lead a Home Front Command district as commander of its Dan District. Col. Orli Stern was promoted to head the Logistics Directorate’s building and engineering department and Col.

M (full name withheld for security reasons) will head the Military Intelligence’s human resources department.

But, despite those high ranking women and the army’s official spokesman, Brig.-Gen. Moti Almoz praise of the IDF’s female fighters, combat units remain overwhelmingly male with female combat soldiers still accounting for only 7% of front-line troops. Nevertheless, that is still an increase from some 3% four years ago and the army expects that number to rise to 9.5% by next year.

Michaeli pointed to the situation in the IDF where there are currently debates about whether to accept recommendations to allow women in tank units.

“Reactionaries in the army are opposed to the army’s best interest to bring in more women, according to the IDF’s needs,” she stated.

Michaeli proposed a bill earlier this year to have the army assign conscripts jobs purely according to ability rather than first splitting them by gender.

“It’s bizarre that boys and girls aren’t divided by what they are good at. Rather, they’re divided between boys and girls. The US Army made this change [adopting a gender integration plan] last year after a three-year pilot, and I learned more about its implementation on a visit to the Pentagon,” Michaeli recounted. “After they put women in special forces, they found that 10% of the men who were there didn’t meet the standards and could be replaced with women who did. In Israel, we’re not there yet.”

Michaeli, a member of the Foreign Affairs and Defense Committee, expressed optimism that the IDF is moving in the direction of gender integration, but said “they’ll have to cross the Rubicon.”

Gender equality and demands by religious leaders are pulling the IDF in opposite directions and the IDF’s recent decision to reexamine the possibility of including women in the IDF’s Armored Corps. has been met with much criticism, some seemingly sexist.

Last month, war hero Brig.-Gen.

(res.) Avigdor Kahalani, a former security minister, said “a woman’s job is to be a mother and bring children into the world” and warned that “after enduring the trauma of war, she’ll be completely different.

A mother’s instinct, a mother’s embrace, that ability to bear children and breastfeed – it wouldn’t be the same, I have no doubt about that.”

IDF Chief of Staff Lt.-Gen. Gadi Eisenkot slammed Kahalani’s remarks, calling them “inappropriate” and “uncharacteristic of the IDF.”

As for the peace element of Resolution 1325, while both sides of the political divide agree that women don’t have a role because there is no peace process anyway, some still say changes can be made.

Anat Tahun-Ashkenazi, director- general of “Itach-Maachi - Women Lawyers for Social Justice,” a Jewish-Arab organization of activist lawyers that has campaigned for 1325’s implementation since 2008, said Israel must be committed to Resolution 1325 but isn’t doing enough.

“If women were involved in solving national and international conflicts, the results would probably be better as we see around the world where it was proven that women had a significant contribution to solving conflicts and promoting peace processes,” she added.

A UN report from 2015, following up on Resolution 1325, examined 181 peace agreements signed from 1989-2011 and found that they had a 20% higher chance of lasting more than two years if women were involved in the process and a 35% greater chance of lasting 15 years.

The report also found that when women were involved, for example in Northern Ireland, Liberia and the Philippines, peace negotiations were more likely to end in treaties, and the agreements were more likely to be implemented.

Activists have built on those precedents to call for more female involvement, such as this year’s protests by the organization Women Wage Peace, which included a march from Rosh Hanikra in the North to the Prime Minister’s Residence in Jerusalem.

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