Sexual harassment victim [Illustrative].
(photo credit: INIMAGE)
Soon after he was sworn in as Canada’s 23rd prime minister, Justin Trudeau introduced his newly appointed cabinet, composed of 50% men and 50% women. Asked to explain his gender parity promise and delivery, he paused briefly as if to indicate that he did not understand the question, and then answered: “Because it’s 2015.” Plain and simple.
It may be the Canadian in me; the mother in me; the daughter in me; or the humanist, equal opportunist in me, but a simple reality check leaves the Israeli in me deeply disappointed and troubled. Time and again, whether at academic symposia, professional workshops, entrepreneurship clinics or international, timely news conferences, a quick glance at the program exposes a grim reality. The 5:1 (at best) gender ratio looks more like the 1950s than a reflection of our time, one of supposed equal opportunity.
At times, to make matters worse, the list is decorated with women who are asked to serve as MCs or to introduce the main (male) speakers... because it’s 2017.
One might argue that there simply aren’t enough women who can be asked to address serious matters or pressing issues. To this I answer that the many male “experts” who are called on to respond to difficult questions were not born that way.
They were given opportunities, time and again, their opinions respected, heard and quoted, thus becoming “experts.” There are plenty of intelligent, thoughtful, experienced women who, if asked, would competently address issues challenging and ailing both our own society, and the world at large. There are many impressive women developing professional knowledge; conducting relevant academic research; launching entrepreneurial ventures; driving economic processes; publishing thoughtful articles on timely topics, whose voices could and should be heard, enhancing and broadening the scope of the current, predominantly male echo chamber... because it’s 2017.
Having served as a commissioner for the prevention of sexual harassment, I was invited to participate and speak at several important gatherings intended to inform, support and equip those serving in this challenging role with necessary knowledge and tools. As opposed to any other public forum or conference in any other realm, the female gender was highly (if not solely) represented.
With few men in the room, “we” were talking to ourselves about a phenomenon plaguing our entire society – men and women alike. Sexual harassment cannot be truly understood or addressed until it is contextualized as part of a much broader reality and exposed for the abuse of power that it is. Online campaigns and slogans, public exposure of powerful individuals and even their ultimate bringing to justice, are but first steps toward addressing the underlying issue of which sexual harassment is but a manifestation. True, deep, cultural change will occur only when all the leading platforms, well-meaning and important as they may be, uphold the very same gender parity principle...simply because it’s 2017.
This is not a female or feminist issue. Rather, it is an all-encompassing, societal and cultural ailment that stalls the development of Israeli society, with far-reaching negative consequences.
The multitude of significant voices currently absent from the discussion should concern us all, from the highest echelons of government, through mid-level company management and right down to every community leadership role.
Ironically, the “macho,” military comprehension of this challenge has received much attention. The results can and will continue to be debated, but at the very least the military has given this subject some thought, enabling and encouraging female leadership and development. The optimist in me that has been privy to the IDF’s ability to lead social change in many significant arenas and ways, hopes that this may be the beginning of a wider process.
However, and for a multitude of reasons, the realist in me recognizes the imperative that this reality be publicly exposed and given overdue, serious consideration by the many other structures, agencies, organizations and platforms that can effect and hasten change, if for no other reason, because it’s almost 2018...Adv. Michal Cotler-Wunsh is a PhD candidate in law at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem, researching the topic of free speech as part of the “Human Rights under Pressure – Ethics, Law and Politics” doctoral program. She is a research fellow at the International Institute for Counter-Terrorism and a former commissioner for the prevention of sexual harassment at IDC Herzliya.