Analysis: More female representation needed in municipal government

If only two women out of dozens were able to win mayoral races, there's a problem that must be solved.

Netanya Mayor Miriam Feierberg-Ikar 311 (photo credit: Netanya City Hall)
Netanya Mayor Miriam Feierberg-Ikar 311
(photo credit: Netanya City Hall)
If there was one group that lost big in Tuesday’s municipal election, it was women. Only two women were elected mayor out of dozens who ran, meaning that only 1 percent of municipalities participating in the election will have female leaders.
Miriam Feirberg was reelected in Netanya with 72 percent of the vote, and Lizzy Delricce won in Ganei Tikva. Yaela Miklis is facing off against Yehud Mayor Yossi Ben David in a second round in two weeks.
MK Haneen Zoabi received only 3,812 votes in Nazareth, and Mitzpe Ramon Mayor Flora Shushan lost her reelection bid.
In Ramat Hasharon, Nurit Avner lost to Yitzhak Rochberger, who was indicted for breach of trust, fraud and falsifying documents.
Two female mayors remain in place, because their cities did not participate in Tuesday’s election: Tali Ploskov of Arad and Sigal Moran of the Bnei Shimon Regional Council.
That makes four out of 256 municipalities – 1.6%.
While the number of women on municipal councils was still unclear on Wednesday, there are plenty of examples that make it hard to imagine that the amount of female city council members will reach much more than the 376 it was before the election.
In Jerusalem, haredi woman Racheli Ivenboim had to resign from the Bayit Yehudi list after facing threats to her and her family. In Elad, a brave group of haredi women ran on their own list and got 1.8%, or 260 votes.
The only woman to lead an Arab municipality since 1948 was Violette Khoury of Kafr Yasif in 1972.
Still, the fact that for the last five years half of the population was represented by only 11% of the city council members shows that this problem is not limited to the haredi and Arab sectors.
A highly publicized campaign by WePower, an NGO promoting women’s leadership, was not enough to boost numbers. The group sought to bring in 30 female mayors and 1,000 female council members. Neither was the call by Interior Minister Gideon Sa’ar in the Knesset for citizens to boycott parties without women in realistic positions on their candidates list.
“It cannot be that there is no female presence in the places where important decisions about our everyday lives are made,” WePower executive director Yifat Zamir said this summer. “These decisions have to be made while women’s needs are not considered at all.”
This trend exists on the national level, too, but it’s not as bad, with three female cabinet ministers and 27 MKs.
There’s clearly a problem here. Women have equality under law, but people are not voting for women.
It could be that the quality of candidates is lacking, but the odds of that are pretty slim when only two of over 30 were chosen and at least one was running against someone facing corruption charges.
What’s more likely is that there is still a social stigma against women in powerful positions.
Political blogger Tal Schneider followed female candidates throughout the election season and reported that many of them faced questions like “How can you balance a job, kids and city council meetings?” Why aren’t men asked those questions? Surely most of them have jobs and children in addition to being on city council.
At least two MKs think that this is a problem that needs to be dealt with through legislation.
MK Aliza Lavie, chairwoman, of the Knesset Committee for the Advancement of the Status of Women, and MK Yifat Kariv, both from Yesh Atid, submitted a bill penalizing parties that do not have women on their lists, which is expected to be brought to a vote in the Ministerial Committee for Legislation next Sunday.
“Only two women out of 191 municipalities [that elected mayors on Tuesday] is a catastrophic number,” Lavie said. “It cannot be that over half of the public in Israel has less than 1% representation in local councils.”
MK Merav Michaeli (Labor) suggested even more government control of parties’ lists.
“These results prove what we already know from experience: There must be a law that requires equal representation for women everywhere,” Michaeli added, saying all lists should be half male and half female.
“It’s incredible how it’s natural for the public to vote for mayors suspected of crimes but not for women,” Michaeli said.
Another solution is for the parties to save spots for women, as did the Likud, Labor and Bayit Yehudi in the last general election. Of course, that didn’t bring total gender equality, but it did bring more female MKs than ever before.
Whatever the best way to solve this problem may be, something has to be done, because waiting for the electorate to realize that women, as well as men, are worthy of leading them is taking far too long.