WIZO, the Women’s International Zionist Organization founded in 1920
in Great Britain with the prime aim of improving the lives of women in the
fledgling Yishuv, has fought for the advancement of the status of women in the
home, in society and in the workplace for over 90 years.
Last week, as
800 delegates from Jewish federations throughout the world met in Tel Aviv at
the 25th Enlarged General Meeting of the movement, we celebrated the power and
strength of our movement, and of Jewish women in their communities around the
It is therefore hard to explain why there has been a backlash just
recently against a growing phenomenon in Israel, that of the exclusion of women
in the public arena. As WIZO women, we strongly believe that women should not
have to sit at the back of the bus, nor in the middle of the bus, but should be
driving the bus – and deciding in which direction that bus should
Gender equality education has to begin at a very early age, and
carry on through the whole schooling system, giving girls and boys the same
When they enroll in the army, every girl and
boy should have an equal chance to proudly wear the uniform of a pilot, or steer
No woman should fear violence from her partner, and every
woman should know that she is equal in the eyes of the law, deserving an equal
salary for the same job as her male coworker.
The problem is far deeper
than being told where to sit on the bus, and could have a long-term effect on
every aspect of life here – although it is the result of a minority enforcing
its ways on the majority.
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Every Friday night, when the family comes
together, loving Jewish husbands praise their wives reciting the “Eshet Chayil
prayer, which tells of the woman who decides which field to buy, the woman who
plants a vineyard, and who is like a merchant ship, bringing bread from afar.
Our biblical woman had the deepest respect and love of her husband, and was an
equal partner in the finances of the family. Yet over the centuries, women’s
rights have been continually eroded, until today women are expected, in some
societies, to ride at the back of the bus, not to sing in public, and to walk on
Women today, who represent slightly more than half of
Israel’s population, are struggling for for equal rights in the Jewish nation,
and it is the result of that struggle which will determine whether we are viewed
as an enlightened, modern state.
Women are a vital component in the
economy of the country. The nation’s economy gains when mothers are free to
establish careers and earn salaries, but today, many women who could be earning
salaries have to stay at home because they can’t afford trustworthy care for
their small children. They are being punished for choosing to become mothers!
Only legislation can stem the loss of women’s self-esteem, and improve family
finances, by supporting early age education and the construction of more child
care facilities across the country.
In addition, when a woman has the
independence that comes from earning her own salary, domestic violence is less
We still have a long way to go. Job discrimination based on
gender is still evident and women often have no choice but to accept less
payment than men for the same work.
Women don’t have equal representation
in politics, or public and government offices, and have to be empowered so that
they, too, can hold key positions.
WIZO believes that society as a whole
will benefit when women have respect and equal opportunities.
always been WIZO’s watchword. Accordingly, WIZO’s country-wide legal advice
bureaus give legal aid and advice to any woman who is a victim of gender
discrimination or harassment at home, or in the workplace.
is standing at a historical crossroads. We must move forward into the light and
not retract into the dark. We are full, contributing partners in a democratic
society. Each one of us is a true Eshet Chayil
, as envisioned by King
Today, the power, and strength, of 800 WIZO leaders from 50 WIZO
federations around the world, coming together, will help shape Israel’s future,
and the future of Jewish women, wherever they may be.The writer is the
the new president of WIZO.
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