Israeli women 'still have a long way to go' to equality

Despite making up 50.6% of the population, only 15% of Knesset members are women.

biz women 88 298 (photo credit: Ariel Jerozolimski)
biz women 88 298
(photo credit: Ariel Jerozolimski)
Women's rights groups and experts in women's studies on Wednesday painted a grim picture about the status of Israeli women. They made public various studies and statistics that indicate Israeli women fair much worse in the areas of economics, employment, family status and violence than their male counterparts. International Women's Day, which takes place Thursday, is marked annually by demonstrations and discussions to highlight the discrimination, inequality and violence faced by women. "The status of women in Israel is an issue for the whole of society to address, not just the women," said Women's International Zionist Organization (WIZO) director Sarit Arbel. From studies conducted by WIZO over the past few months, it became clear that most people in Israel did not understand the significance of International Women's Day, she said, adding, "Most people see it as a day of fun, but it is not." As part of WIZO's program to raise awareness of women's issues, the organization planned to run workshops in high schools to explain to students how they could improve the situation of Israel's women, Arbel said. While 50.6 percent of the population is female and women tend to have a higher level of education, only 15% of Knesset members are women and only two women are city council heads, according to statistics compiled by WIZO. "There are some [female] government ministers, such as [Foreign Minister] Tzipi Livni, but it is only a drop in the ocean," Arbel said. "The political situation is in a regression. It is in the interest of the nation to raise the status of women and let young people know that the voice of the woman is no less important than a man." "The advancement of women still has a long way to go," said Israel Women's Network director Rina Bar-Tal. While women made up 46.5% of the workforce, only 9% of women held top management positions in the private sector, she said. "With only 9% of women in management positions and 65% of women receiving income support, it is impossible to talk about real equality," said Bar-Tal. "Our statistics note that not much has changed for women in the last 10 years." "From a socioeconomic perspective, there is a severe lack of resources for implementing the advancement of women and accommodating motherhood and work," said Dr. Ruth Halperin-Kaddari, chairwoman of the Rackman Center for the Advancement of the Status of Women, a member of Bar-Ilan University's Faculty of Law and Israel's representative on the UN Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination against Women. In divorce proceedings, where the law is governed by rabbinic courts, women's rights were much weaker, she said. In its annual summary on the status of woman in Israel, the Rackman Center found that the Rabbinate imposed sanctions on men who refuse to grant divorces in 1% of cases. In 78% of divorces, the couple managed to complete the proceedings in less than two years, 7% of the cases took five years and 99 divorces took at least 10 years. Amnesty International focused its campaign this year on the rise in violence against women, particularly domestic violence. "It's a phenomenon that continues to happen all over the world," said Amnesty International in Israel director Amnon Vidan. "And it signifies one of the basic attacks on a person's human rights. In Israel, despite there being clear laws and equality on a formal level, we still see it happening all the time." While sexual violence grabbed headlines in Israel over the past year, he said, domestic violence, honor killings and increased trafficking in women were also pressing issues that needed to be brought to public awareness for International Women's Day.