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A government proposal to levy taxes on housewives as part of the 2008 Economic Arrangements Bill was harshly criticized and potentially stopped Wednesday during a joint session of the Knesset Committees of Finance and the Status of Women, with politicians calling for that element of next year's budget to be immediately removed.
Currently, a nonworking woman's spouse covers the cost of her health insurance, whereas under the proposed arrangement, the women would have to pay this fee separately.
"The 2008 budget will significantly hurt women," commented MK Gideon Sa'ar (Likud) chairman of the Status of Women Committee. "On one side, there are the cutbacks to the day care center subsidies, which will prevent women from participating in the workforce; on the other side, there is this proposal to place a health tax on housewives, who do not participate in the labor market."
Representatives of both committees, including Finance Committee chairman Stas Meseznikov (Israel Beiteinu) and MKs Reuven Rivlin (Likud), Ronit Tirosh (Kadima), Haim Oron (Meretz) and Orit Noked (Labor), said they would not support such a tax, which would end up hurting some of the country's weakest communities.
"The success and improvement of women's economic and social standing is an important part of the country's overall economic development," said Meseznikov, adding that he would continue to fight against such a plan.
The budget is expected to pass through his committee for approval within the next few weeks.
Ifat Matzner, legal advisor for the Israel Women's Network, welcomed the committee's tough position and highlighted that a woman who chooses to stay home and care for her family is still working "in every sense of the word."
"We are feeling positive that this tax will not come into effect for the forthcoming year," Valeria Seigel Shaifer, an advocate at the Adva Center for Equality and Social Justice in Israel, told The Jerusalem Post following the meeting. "However, that does not mean that the subject will not be raised again in the future," she added.
She said she did not know of any other country that had a tax on housewives.
While officials from the Knesset's Research and Information Center presented the committee with data on certain segments of the 2008 budget earmarked specifically for women's issues, such as the emergency fund for victims of sexual abuse, battered women and trafficking, the Adva Center's Executive Director Barbara Swirski pointed out to the committee how budget cuts in other areas would directly affect women.
"Any cutbacks to public services will have a serious impact on women," said Swirski, who also heads the Women's Budget Forum, a coalition of 30 women's organizations.
The report she presented to the committee outlined that two-thirds of those employed by the public sector are women, with women accounting for 78 percent of those working in the education system and 73 percent of the workers in the health service. Any cutbacks in those areas would deeply affect women, she said.
The report also noted that women in general relied more on health and social welfare services, as well as the education system; therefore any reductions in those areas would be hurtful, too.
"We want to make clear that cuts in child support are also harmful to our children," added Siegel Shaifer, highlighting that the postponement of increasing the minimum wage, which was scheduled to have happened in June 2007 but will now take place next summer, also impacts the female population because two-thirds of those earning low salaries are women.
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