Disappointed but not dispirited

WePower founder Michal Yudin says there have been substantial gains, but the empowerment of women has not progressed to the extent that she envisaged when she set out on her mission.

Michal Yudin 521 (photo credit: courtesy)
Michal Yudin 521
(photo credit: courtesy)
The extensive media attention devoted to the large number of women running for office in last week’s municipal elections gave Michal Yudin cause to believe that 13 years of dedicated work was finally coming to fruition.
Yudin, the founder of WePower (Women’s Electoral Power) – known in Hebrew as Koah Nashim, with an acronym that means yes – was convinced that most of the 50-plus women wanting to serve on municipal councils, including those who were running for mayor, would get in. The time seemed ripe. Following the Knesset elections earlier in the year, more women than ever before – a total of 27 – took their places in the national legislature.
Yudin and others who have been working with her thought this was a good omen for qualified women to be part of the decision-making process within their own cities.
But politics are always about expecting the unexpected, and that’s what happened with so many women candidates. This includes several who had already been in office, and now find themselves out in the cold – such as Mitzpe Ramon Local Council head Flora Shushan, the sister of Environment Minister Amir Peretz, who was defeated in her bid for a second term.
On the other hand, Lizi Delaricha triumphed in the race for local council head of Ganei Tikva, reaping 64 percent of the votes and winning six seats on the city council. This is somewhat better in both respects than Mayor Nir Barkat did in Jerusalem, where women fared rather badly in the elections – with the Ometz Lev party, comprised of mostly women led by Deputy Mayor Naomi Tsur, failing to get a single mandate, and women’s representation on the council reduced from eight seats to four.
“There were ups and downs,” Yudin says philosophically, citing some of the examples of increases in the number of women on local councils.
Hod Hasharon, which previously had only one woman, now has six. Modi’in rose from three to five, and Ashkelon went from one to four. Beit Dagan increased from one to three and Pardesiya, which had no women on the previous council, now has three. Tel Mond advanced from two to five, Gedera from three to five, Kadima from none to three, Rehovot from two to four, Kfar Yona from none to four, Tel Aviv from eight to 11, Haifa from five to six, Or Yehuda from one to three, Beersheba from five to eight, and Haifa from five to six.
There are other examples, but the above-mentioned indicate there are some places where women are judged on merit and not on gender.
Yudin and her team are now focusing their energies on Yaala Machlis of Yehud, who won sufficient votes to be permitted another chance in next week’s second round for mayor.
Women candidates in Herzliya, where for almost 15 years Health Minister Yael German served as mayor, largely fell by the wayside. This leaves Zvika Hadar and Yonathan Yassour – who each scored more than 40% of the vote – to battle it out next week to determine who will be at the helm of the city for the next half decade. Hadar, for his part, has gone on record as saying it was greatly to his benefit that he has the same name as a popular television personality.
There were more women candidates in Herzliya than almost anywhere else. Yudin attributed their failure to the fact that there were too many candidates courting the same people, with the result that only two or three did relatively well.
Once the second round of elections is over, Yudin and her team will turn their attention to female candidates in the upcoming regional elections in December.
After 13 years of battling for women to be given an equal footing in decision-making bodies, especially those in the political arena, Yudin is disappointed but not dispirited.
Looking back, she says that there have been substantial gains, but the empowerment of women has not progressed to the extent that she envisaged when she set out on her mission.
“We have to do more at the grassroots level,” she said, mentioning a trip to Kfar Tavor to give encouragement to a group of women there.
She is frustrated by the degree of public ignorance about the importance of the ballot, and intends to lobby MKs to adopt legislation that will make voting in Israel compulsory – the way it is in Australia, Belgium and Argentina. “That’s the only way to have a true democracy, when everyone has a vote and everyone has a say,” she avers. “Voting is not just a privilege – it’s a duty. It should be compulsory in the same way as national service or going into the army.”
This kind of civic responsibility should be taught in the classroom, long before young people reach voting age, she said.
When Limor Livnat was education minister, Yudin had no problem persuading her to include political debates in school curricula. Livnat’s own political career had received a boost from the Israel Women’s Network, which preceded WePower by 16 years, and she fully understood the importance of having politically informed, concerned citizens going to the polling stations.
Some of those students later became leaders in campaigns for social justice, says Yudin, who plans to approach Education Minister Shai Piron on the reintroduction of political debates into the school curriculum, and Interior Minister Gideon Sa’ar on the issue of compulsory voting. •