Social Affairs: Tziona Koenig-Yair: Lady liberty

Her experience, first as a legal adviser on women's rights for the Israel Women's Network (IWN) and more recently as its executive director, stands her in good stead.

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September 25, 2008 09:51
2 minute read.
Social Affairs: Tziona Koenig-Yair: Lady liberty

Tziona Koenig-Yair 224.88 . (photo credit: Esteban Alterman )

 
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Tziona Koenig-Yair seems like an obvious choice for the country's first equal employment opportunities commissioner. Her experience, first as a legal adviser on women's rights for the Israel Women's Network (IWN) and more recently as its executive director, stands her in good stead to spread the message that any form of discrimination or bias should not be tolerated. "I don't want people to think that discrimination against women is my only concern, however," says the 38-year-old mother of three. "I have always been a feminist, but there are many other areas of discrimination in the workplace for us to focus on and there is no shortage of work." Despite the challenges, Koenig-Yair is optimistic about the new commission and has high hopes for it becoming the main address for tackling all work-related discrimination, including bias against Arabs, new immigrants, the disabled and those older than 45. She also has plans for the office to generate essential research, which is currently lacking in this area, and instigating groundbreaking litigation to challenge people's misconceptions. "Israel is a very diverse society and to profit properly from its population, it has to be mandatory for employers to adopt non-discriminatory business practices," she says. Born in Brooklyn in 1970, Koenig-Yair immigrated with her family in 1981. She grew up in Ra'anana and in the mid-1990s enrolled to study law at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem. Following a short stint in a private firm, she soon found her way into the public forum, first as a district attorney in Tel Aviv and then in IWN's legal department. Her initial interest in workplace discrimination was sparked in 2003 when she was sent by the British Council to Northern Ireland to observe how such issues are tackled there. Upon her return, Koenig-Yair started to work with Ruth Ben-Israel, winner of the Israel Prize for Law, on drafting the bill establishing the new commission. From initial conception to implementation it took more than four years, and the EEOC finally opened its doors in January 2008. Koenig-Yair's Challenges After only eight months on the job, Equal Employment Opportunities Commissioner Tziona Koenig-Yair says there is no shortage of work for her. "We launched our hot line in July, and last month alone we had more than 100 complaints," she says, adding that at least three of the cases are already being prepared for litigation. In addition to fielding complaints from the public, Koenig-Yair has been shaping the commission and outlining some of its goals. According to a recent document she prepared, the department's main aim is to "ensure equal employment opportunities that will enhance the feeling of security in the workforce." In a recent interview, Koenig-Yair explains that the country "has excellent laws but they are just not always enforced, and I am now here to see that this happens." Those laws cover a wide range of possible injustices, including equal pay for men and women in the same job, prevention of sexual harassment in the workplace, hours of work and rest, legislation for discharged soldiers, the Civil Service Law pertaining to appointments, the Employment Service Law and the Protection of Workers Law. "Many employers don't realize that they can't discriminate based on people's gender, race or ethnic identity," she says.

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