International Women's Day: Women and the local question

If 50 women candidates for leadership of local councils still sounds like “wow,” it is only because we have become accustomed to a distorted reality.

March 7, 2018 21:26
3 minute read.
International Women's Day

Panel of female politicians at WIZO event on International Women's Day event in Jaffa. (photo credit: CHEN ERAN)

The upcoming local authority elections are the next milestone on the road to increasing women’s involvement in public activity.

They demonstrate why the situation is so good, yet still so bad.

The onset of International Women’s Day, marked annually on March 8, brings with it soul-searching and questions. It is a day filled with discussions on the place of women in the leadership of the state, the public sector, the employment market and the business elite. We ponder the role of women in the courts, in street names, on our money (with their faces on our bills), as Israel Prize winners and in every area imaginable.

Inevitably, these discussions always lead to the same conclusion: progress has been made, yet the distance to full equality between the sexes is still as distant as the moon. This year I decided focus on the local authorities. 2018 is a municipal election year, and such elections are a representative measure of the extent of women’s involvement in public activity.

Immediately after the last local elections in 2013, if I had to set a bold and presumptuous target for the 2018 elections I would have hoped there would be 30 candidates to head local municipalities. It is well known that at WIZO (Women’s International Zionist Organization) we are not only hopeful but also active in the training of women for political careers. We have successfully trained and encouraged women to run for office within their municipalities.

So let me share with you the wonderful situation today: 25 women across the country have already put their names forward to run for office and about 40 others are about to do so very soon. It sounds like the coming of the Messiah, doesn’t it?

Indeed, who would have believed it? In Yeruham, there are two women running opposite each other, in Ra’anana, the two female deputy mayors are among the favorites to win and in Ramat Yishai a brave and charismatic IDF widow is running an inspiring campaign against the current head of the municipality. We also have a courageous woman running for office in a local religious municipality. What more can we aspire to?

So that’s exactly the point – there is much to aspire to. In fact, the situation is very bad. Out of 257 heads of local authorities in Israel, only six are women (2%). The percentage of women in local councils is 13%, and many cities only have a single representative out of 17 or 19 council members, women included. If we spoke about the goal of 50 candidates for leadership as a worthy achievement, we must remember that this is out of about 1,000 candidates in all the municipalities combined. This makes the women candidates, even after the “breakthrough,” only 5% of the total. Indeed, now it no longer sounds like we have achieved very much.

If 50 women candidates for leadership of local councils still sounds like “wow,” it is only because we have become accustomed to a distorted reality in which the political sphere is essentially masculine. The big change in the field will follow a mental change that has already begun. Today, women are no longer “decorations” for lists, and many of them can and are interested in leading and taking responsibility, raising expectations and smashing glass ceilings. The centrality of local government in our lives makes it an excellent springboard for the idea that women can lead – and lead as well as men.

If in the next elections of 2023 there are 100 women candidates for the leadership of the various municipalities, we will reach hundreds of women candidates in the future, and when the gaps narrows down, we will no longer seek to equalize or entrench women, but rather have the power to do so by virtue of our right. We progress steadily, and on a clear day the moon no longer looks so far away.

The writer is the chairperson of World WIZO (Women’s International Zionist Organization).

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