Moving forward

Haredi, secular, Ethiopian and Arab women have joined together in a new campaign by the Yerushalmit Movement to stop women’s exclusion from commercials, billboards and signs around the capital.

The new Yerushalmit Movement campaign poster reads, ‘Women of Jerusalem, Nice to Meet You.’ (photo credit: COURTESY YERUSHALMIT MOVEMENT)
The new Yerushalmit Movement campaign poster reads, ‘Women of Jerusalem, Nice to Meet You.’
‘Four years ago, I participated in a protest at the Gerard Behar center,” recalls Miriam Engel, now the manager of Jerusalem dance company Angela. “I was a dancer and a rehearsal manager in the Kolben Dance Company. Haredim knocked on the windows of the studio and wanted us to close the curtains. Our act of protest was to open all the curtains and windows while we rehearsed. Suddenly I noticed that there were no pictures of women in public spaces, not even a poster with a picture of a woman on it.
Since then, I’ve been an active participant in this struggle.”
The struggle in question is against the phenomenon of women’s exclusion from the public sphere, which takes place almost everywhere in the country – and in response, a new campaign called “Women of Jerusalem, Nice to Meet You” has begun. Taking the lead are the Yerushalmit movement and the National Council of Jewish Women, along with haredi, secular, Ethiopian and Arab women. The campaign signs, which show, among other things, pictures of smiling Jerusalemite women, appear on 50 buses around the city.
“My story began in the municipal elections of November 2008,” recalls Yerushalmim Party leader Rachel Azaria, the city’s deputy mayor and holder of the portfolio for women’s issues on the city council. “The week before the elections, I wanted to advertise [my campaign] on buses around the city.
I had arranged everything with the PR company, the graphics and prices, everything. Right before we finished signing the contract, he said, ‘I just want to make sure there are no women on the posters.’ I told him that my picture was on the posters, but only a head shot.
He laughed and replied, ‘No women on buses – not three years old and not 80 years old. The haredim will burn the buses.’” Afterward, she continues, “I went out to the street in central Jerusalem and looked at the different advertisements on the buses passing by. There was an ad for a wedding that had only a groom in it. A few days before the elections, we appealed to the High Court of Justice on the grounds that this was a violation of the right to equality in elections. The court ruled in our favor, and the posters went up the day before the election.”
She was also involved in a widely publicized case in Succot 2010.
“We realized that the sidewalks in Mea She’arim were [gender-]separated during Hol Hamoed. Again we appealed to the High Court, which ruled in our favor again and stated that you cannot separate sidewalks on a gender basis. The phrase ‘exclusion of women’ became a familiar one around the country. This year, the Transportation Ministry understood that it had to find a solution. It was decided that the state would compensate the advertising companies for any damages resulting from the defacement of women’s pictures. That ended the ad companies’ excuses not to put up ads [with women in them].”
The state is obligated to fund replacements of vandalized posters.
The campaign was launched on the evening of Monday, May 6, and over the following week 10 posters were vandalized.
“The fact that a number of the campaign posters were vandalized does not surprise us, does not bother us and does not deter us,” said a Yerushalmit Movement statement. “Our aim is to create a precedent that will allow as many companies and organizations as possible to display photos of women in the city... We are already aware of additional campaigns including women that are due to be launched in the coming weeks.”
Yerushalmit Movement head Shira Katz-Vinkler said she had already filed a police complaint and would begin the process of receiving compensation from the government “to redisplay complete posters.”
Adds Azaria: “We can’t let a few radical people who vandalize buses decide how the public will fare in Jerusalem.”
BECKY LEVINE, one of the haredi women participating in the campaign, says that due to the increasing trend of extremism in the city, she avoids going into certain neighborhoods and taking buses that haredim tend to take, in order to steer clear of gender separation.
“I’m completely against the extreme ‘haredization’ that is happening in the city,” she declares. “I hire Arab women in my manicure-pedicure business and I fully support equality.”
She recounts how she came to realize that as a woman, her rights in the public sphere were different than men’s.
“I noticed that advertisements that were published in Tel Aviv were different than the ones in Jerusalem,” she says. “Suddenly I realized that the ads of every large company were different in Tel Aviv than in Jerusalem, and that there were no women [in the Jerusalem ones]. Me, for instance, I wear a wig, but [also] a short skirt – modern clothes, but modest. I live in Betar Illit, and at the local supermarket there is a register for men only, and that’s really outrageous, so I don’t shop there. I don’t take buses that separate men and women. Regardless of the separation itself, a women gets on the bus and just feels uncomfortable.
Maybe they feel that I’m not religious enough for them, and that makes them upset.”
Asked how those around her feel about her joining the campaign, she replies, “I don’t care what people think.
I have a son in the army and a daughter who doesn’t go to school in the haredi education system, but in a [religious Zionist] girls’ high school. The main problem is that haredi women might want to speak up, but their children go to haredi schools that scrutinize everything they do, and they’re afraid to speak up. My children do not attend these schools, so I’m free to say what I want.”
Every woman who decided to join this campaign has a story. For Dana Hochstein – a religious businesswoman who works in finance – the story began a few years ago during the Shavuot prayers at the Western Wall, when a haredi woman commented about the way Hochstein was dressed. She has since decided not to pray there during the holiday. However, unlike some of her friends, she never considered leaving the city, because she was impressed with the burgeoning social activism in Jerusalem against such treatment.
In her daily life, she says, “I exclude myself from places where there is exclusion of women, because it makes me feel very uncomfortable. I grew up in a very pluralistic and equality-minded home, and I feel very uncomfortable in situations where women are excluded.
I don’t go to neighborhoods where the way women dress is an issue, I don’t go to haredi events like Four Species markets [ahead of Succot] or down haredi streets during Simhat Torah, because I’m concerned I’ll find myself in a position of defiance, even if I feel it’s important to be defiant. The exclusion of women from ads was a red line for me and set off a lot of warning lights. That was why I joined this battle.”
Asked how Jerusalem is different from other areas of the country in this regard, she says that “there is unequal treatment of men and women in many different populations around the country, not just in Jerusalem. But here we manged to stop it.”
THE CAMPAIGN by the Yerushalmit Movement is not the first initiative created as a result of this problematic reality.
In December 2011, as big companies decided to exclude women from their ads, a group of female artists – among them Ania Bukstein, Aya Korem, Yael Deckelbaum, and the band Tarantina – gathered in downtown Jerusalem’s Talitha Kumi Square for a special performance. They declared, “We won’t stop singing until this ugly phenomenon of excluding women disappears from the public sphere.”
In January 2012, the Jerusalem Municipality’s legal adviser sent a letter to a billboard company, stating that the municipality could not agree to a policy that prevented advertising campaigns with women’s images in them.
Meanwhile, signs depicting women were vandalized around the country, there were gender-designated sidewalks in Beit Shemesh and other cities, and even some health clinics installed separate entrances for men and women. Charly Roden, a resident of French Hill, decided to photograph 10 women who lived in the neighborhood and hang their pictures on lampposts. He got the organization Tze’irim Bamercaz, the community council and a volunteer photographer to join him in the endeavor. He hung all the pictures up by himself each night. At the beginning, it was hard for him to find volunteers; today there is a waiting list.
In February 2012, culture and sport minister Limor Livnat, who was heading an interministerial team on fighting the public exclusion of women, submitted her panel’s recommendations to the cabinet for approval. The main suggestion was to impose sanctions on exclusionary practices at cemeteries during funerals, on public transportation, in the public spheres of local authorities, and in broadcasts on the haredi Kol Barama radio station.
In the summer of the same year, a sign showing a flying Mary Poppins from the International Film Festival, which was taking place at the Jerusalem Cinematheque, was vandalized.
A few months later, students in Tel Aviv University’s political science department published a thesis showing that the number of streets named after women was negligible compared to the number named after men – including in Rishon Lezion, Tel Aviv and Haifa.
In May 2013, Attorney-General Yehuda Weinstein adopted the recommendations of a panel he had appointed on the subject of women’s exclusion. Based on those recommendations, Justice Minister Tzipi Livni instructed her staff to draft a bill that would define any act of excluding women from the public sphere, in either the private or the public sector, as a criminal offense.
The main recommendations included prohibiting gender segregation at official ceremonies, in health clinics and on public transportation; banning street signs that called for women to use separate sidewalks or to dress modestly; and considering it a criminal offense to prevent women from receiving public services on equal terms.
This past January, Livnat made “Women’s Time: Achievements and Challenges” the central theme for Independence Day, and initiated the issue’s placement at the top of the state’s public agenda. Shortly afterward, she and Livni asked the cabinet to approve a requirement that government agencies report the steps they were taking to deal with the exclusion of women.
The latest news came in June, when the government approved a reform to bridge the gender gaps in public-sector wages and deal with the inadequate representation of women in senior management positions.
But despite government initiatives, none of the participants in the campaign are naive. Neither are legislators. So what will it take to achieve victory? Asked whether it’s about reeducating haredi society, Azaria replies that “in the past couple of years, haredi society has undergone radical changes. There has been [an increasing] openness in Israeli society that has caused an opposite reaction from extremist groups. The extremists have invented new ways of excluding women in order to deliberately close off haredi society from the positive processes it is undergoing. It is our job, the religious and the secular communities, to fight the war against extremists that many haredim are afraid to fight. This is what solidarity means.”