Israel should adopt a policy of affirmative action and create a ministry for women's affairs, according to the Israel Women's Network, which published its annual report earlier this week. In an interview with The Jerusalem Post on Thursday, Network Director Rina Bar-Tal said the 800-page report highlighted "three things that needed to be done to improve the status of women in Israel." "First, affirmative action can only be achieved via new legislation; second, a special office for women's affairs must be created; and third, we need to pay closer attention to how government budgeting affects women in general," she said. Such laws should be modeled on legislation passed in Scandinavian countries 20 years ago, she said. Bar-Tal gave the example of a Scandinavian law governing parliamentary elections: "Each party was forced to included an equal number of men and women on their election ballots," resulting in a dramatic increase in female political representation. "Today, all Third World countries have [government] offices for women's affairs," continued Bar-Tal. "I used to consider Israel a Western country but perhaps we need to be following the model of Third World countries to improve the situation for our women." While the NGO's document, which will be presented to the Knesset Committee on the Status of Women on Monday, did not report any startling revelations, it did delve deep into some of the difficulties faced by women here, said Bar-Tal. Based on data from the National Insurance Institute, the Central Bureau of Statistics, the Israel Police, the IDF and numerous social activist organization, the report covers all areas of life, including the status of women in politics, business, media portrayal, the family and society as a whole. Israeli women are underrepresented in politics, business and the media, despite holding more than half of all academic degrees, according to the report. And the salary gap between men and women had not changed since 1967, with women earning two-thirds of what men do for the same job, even when they have the same level of experience and education, according to the report. More than 20,000 women joined the cycle of poverty between 2004 and 2006, bringing the number of women below the poverty line close to half a million. The report's editor, Israel Women's Network information coordinator Tal Tamir, said she had great difficulty finding information on poor women. "It just shows that this issue is rarely raised in a public or political forum," she said. "There is much more to this report than the statistics," Bar-Tal said, emphasizing the increasing number of Arab women gaining higher education and Orthodox women opening their own businesses. "These are all issues that were raised in the report and that need to be monitored over the next few years," she said.