Celebrating women

March 8 marks International Women's Day - a time to reflect and revere. Women in Israel may have come a long way, but they still have a long way to go.

golda meir 88 (photo credit: Courtesy)
golda meir 88
(photo credit: Courtesy)
nternational Women's Day, which is celebrated worldwide on March 8, transcends national borders, religious beliefs, ethnic and political differences. It links women around the globe in a common desire to advance their status and achieve their full potential through educational programs, equal opportunities and the elimination of slavery and human traffic. Although women have made considerable gains in academia, business, the arts and politics, their ratio in the decision-making process is still a long way from representative. In many countries it was very difficult for them to influence change because they had no voting rights. Women in Israel may have come a long way, but they still have a long way to go. Although women were elected to the first Knesset, and to every subsequent Knesset, the sum total of women who have served as Knesset members since 1949 is 66. Of those 66, there has been only one Arab woman. Israel has had only two female foreign ministers - Golda Meir and Tzipi Livni - and has never had a woman finance or defense minister. While Israeli women are still trying to catch up in the political field, they have developed prominence in other areas. WIZO - the Women's International Zionist Organization headquartered in Tel Aviv - has among its many activities a leadership course to train women for political leadership in their communities and the wider sphere. Women from many other organizations - both secular and religious - attend these courses so they can springboard into decision-making bodies. Naamat, which as an organization is more politically oriented than apolitical WIZO, has long been in the forefront of women's rights activities and is likewise headquartered in Tel Aviv. The Israel Women's Network, whose main focus is the advancement of the status of women, was founded in Jerusalem but now has its headquarters in Ramat Gan. The Israel Manufacturers Association and the Israel Federation of Chambers of Commerce both have active women's forums. Many other women's organizations in and around Tel Aviv concern themselves with a variety of issues, not all of which are aimed at promoting women's rights. Many have taken over the role of government in providing for social welfare needs, through fundraising and contributing, and through hands-on involvement. Israel was a little later than most countries in celebrating International Women's Day - possibly because Israel already had Purim, celebrating the delivery of the Jewish people from annihilation in ancient Persia due to the courage and wisdom of Queen Esther, the central figure in the Purim story and great heroine of little girls who used her as their role model. It just happens that Purim is also in March. Although technically Purim is a one-day festival - two days if one also counts the Fast of Esther - in Israel it is often celebrated for a week. Any excuse to have a Purim party is a good one. Similarly, International Women's Day has been extended through the annual Women's Festival in Holon. Among the visiting participants at this year's festival (March 6 - 11) will be Hollywood actress Sharon Stone and Romanian poet Ana Blandiana.