State agrees to cancel gender-separate tour guide courses for Haredim

“This is the beginning of this struggle, and we have our first victory in hand,” said Israeli Women’s Network director Michal Gera Margaliot.

Haredi man in Jerusalem  (photo credit: MARC ISRAEL SELLEM)
Haredi man in Jerusalem
(photo credit: MARC ISRAEL SELLEM)
The state agreed to cancel a gender-separate tour-guide course following a court petition by the Israeli Women’s Network arguing that such separation is discriminatory and forbidden in state institutions.
In August 2017, the Tourism Ministry published a tender for a gender-separate course aimed at Haredi (ultra-Orthodox) men. The Israeli Women’s Network claimed however in its petition to the Jerusalem District Court that “the stipulation in the Tourism Ministry’s tender that the tour-guide course is conducted separately on the basis of gender harms the constitutional right to equality and contravenes the instructions of the law for tenders and the law against discrimination.”
The organization pointed out that the course is a state-provided service, subsidized by the state and the public purse, and helps define the labor market and professional networks of the country.
Judge Oded Shaham said during a hearing on Wednesday that the state would need to demonstrate “a factual basis justifying separation, because separation is discrimination and just once is sufficient to harm the right to equality.”
It is thought that the ruling could have a significant impact on similar cases, such as demands for gender separation in institutions of higher education, the workplace and other fora.
Due to the pressure of the petition and the judge’s position, the state agreed to retract the tender and republish it without reference to gender.
“This is the beginning of this struggle, and we have our first victory in hand,” said Israeli Women’s Network director Michal Gera Margaliot.
“This ruling makes clear in unambiguous terms that there is no place for gender separation under the cover of the state. Unfortunately, the state still discriminates against women and creates gender separation in different frameworks, but we intend to continue to struggle against such occurrences.”
Elinor Davidov from the Israeli Women’s Network department for gender discrimination said the organization would take its fight to other realms, such as the state civil service, academia and the army.
The organization has a pending petition against the State Civil Service for publishing a tender for a male-only cadets course last year for the Haredi sector. The Israeli Women’s Network noted that a tender for a women’s course has not been issued, and that the male course has already begun.
The organization has therefore petitioned the Jerusalem District Labor Court to halt the course and force the State Civil Service to republish the tender without the stipulation for gender separation.
The organization is also backing petitions against gender-separation in higher education and against the Haredi Agudat Yisrael political party for preventing women from running for office.
Asked whether or not the stance against gender separation could harm efforts to integrate Haredi men into the workforce, higher education and other frameworks, the organization’s spokeswoman Yuval Ofer insisted that the practice of gender separation is not universal in the Haredi world and is “an extremist perspective.”
“We are saying that we want Haredim to integrate into society, the workforce and academia but there is a principle of equality in these fields and there is no reason to harm this equality,” she continued, arguing that when frameworks are separated, women are often the ones negatively affected in terms of the quality of service provided.
Ofer added that many members of the Haredi community, both men and women, have already integrated into non-gender separated frameworks in these fields and that there is therefore “no reason to fall in line with the extremist demands.”