Supreme Court President Dorit Beinisch 311.
(photo credit: Dudi Vaknin / Pool)
We are in the midst of whirlwind of gender discrimination that has no place in
the post-diluvian world. While of course the headline-grabbing brutality and
segregation need immediate and effective attention, I have been asking myself
about the relationship between this latest crisis in women’s rights and the
constant battle for gaining full equality for women in the workplace and other
At first glance this violent incarnation of sexism is
totally anomalous to our modern society. As details of incidents of bus
segregation and spitting on school girls garnered increasing international
attention, it became important to stress to the world that these episodes, while
odious, represented a small, illegitimate sector of our society. We needed to
let everyone know that in the real Israel, a woman heads the Supreme Court and
there are 22 female members of the Knesset.
But is the exclusion of women
by some elements of the Orthodox community completely unrelated to other
manifestations of sexism? I believe that there is a connection between what we
might call “primitive” sexism and what many women in the modern world confront
on a daily basis.
Firstly, there is the risk that as pro-equality
organizations channel their resources towards denouncing the exclusion of women
by bussing in protesters, arranging concerts and launching a poster campaign
declaring “women should be seen and heard,” people might conclude that this
crisis is the greatest injustice ever faced by women in Israel.
certainly is the most vulgar. But ask a divorced mother who cannot collect
childsupport from her ex or a 50-year-old woman who cannot find a job about the
trials of her life. And while it is incorrect to compare stories of suffering,
the fear and feelings of isolation and frustration of such women are no less
harrowing than the segregation and misanthropy we have witnessed of
WHILE WE use the full extent of the law to resolve the current
crisis of gender discrimination, we must not for a moment lose sight of the
broader goal: gaining full equality for women in the workplace and the public
Israel wishes not only to be on par with other Western countries
when it comes to women’s rights – but to be among the leaders.
many ways we are: women make up 18 percent of the Knesset – a figure that
compares well to the United States where women comprise 17% of Congress. But we
know we can do better. There are still many battles to be won.
is it that while women constitute 56% of the workforce in general, they make up
65% of minimum wage workers and only 12% of the highest earners? While it is
essential for our country to put an end to bus segregation, etc., it is no less
essential to put an end to more intangible forms of discrimination that hold
back women from full independence and from contributing their maximum to
There is yet another link between “primitive” sexism and the
garden-variety Western form: they both persist because of society’s tacit
tolerance. Perhaps the one good thing that has come out of this crisis is the
unambiguous message that when it comes to segregation, communities cannot be a
law unto themselves. Segregated buses and even signs enjoining women to dress
“modestly” are unacceptable no matter what neighborhood they are in. For too
long, we have looked the other way.
The tacit tolerance of sexism in the
“more moderate” sector underpins its persistence.
How many women feel
confident of a just result if they file a complaint when asked at a job
interview if they have any children? How many women fear losing their job if
they protest their male colleagues’ promotion while they seem to stagnate at a
more junior position? Although there are many success stories of women in the
workplace, there are many others, usually unpublicized, of women held back by
Let us channel the same righteous anger at the
ultra-Orthodox sexists to anyone of any community who blocks a woman’s path to
The writer is an MK with Israel Beiteinu.