Leading women pledge to battle against gender segregation

Livni: We must increase struggle and wake up those who are asleep

Opposition women's rights rally 311 (photo credit: Itzik Edri/Dover Kadima)
Opposition women's rights rally 311
(photo credit: Itzik Edri/Dover Kadima)
Top female leaders vowed Friday to step up the battle against any attempts by ultra- Orthodox factions to exclude women from public life.
“We must increase this struggle and wake up all those who have fallen asleep or become numb to this problem,” said opposition leader Tzipi Livni during the one-day conference that included MKs from across the political spectrum, journalists, professionals and academics.
“This is not only a struggle for the place of women in society but also a struggle for the State of Israel.”
Livni said Israel’s democracy and the freedoms women have here should never be taken for granted because the situation can change in an instant.
“Anyone who thinks all these things are not connected is out of touch with reality,” she said, highlighting a recent Health Ministry ceremony where a female scientist was honored for her work but not allowed on stage to accept the prize.
“If we do not stand at the front of the stage today, then it’s possible at some point we will not be able to stand on the stage at all,” Livni said. “We must immediately challenge this situation and make sure things change.”
She said this was a struggle over the country’s core values, and “anyone who believes Israel’s Jewish and democratic values should be connected but not collide with each other, should join the struggle.”
Over the past few weeks, media reports have highlighted the growing frequency of gender-segregated bus lines, supermarkets, as well as public events – both military and civilian – where women were barred from attending or their appearance caused uproar among male ultra-Orthodox attendees.
Livni was joined at the event by Labor leader Shelly Yacimovich, Likud MK Gila Gamliel, who currently serves as deputy minister for the Advancement of Young People, Students and Women, MK Tzipi Hotovely, chairwoman of the Knesset Committee on Status of the Woman and television journalist Orly Vilna’i.
Also included in the roster of speakers was Adina Bar- Shalom, the eldest daughter of Sephardi Chief Rabbi Ovadia Yosef.
Bar-Shalom has been extremely vocal in recent weeks against attempts to “eliminate” women from public life. On Friday, she said it was haredi (ultra-Orthodox) women who had built the world of Torah and it was women who had worked hard to allow their husbands to study full-time.
“According to the Torah, the women hold a very high status, and if we were following the words of the Torah like they are written then there would be no need for us to be at this meeting at all,” said Bar-Shalom, highlighting that not one haredi rabbi has advocated gender-segregation on buses although she did theorize that the practice stemmed mainly from the overcrowded public buses that go between the ultra-Orthodox neighborhoods of Jerusalem to the Western Wall.
However, she said, the problem was not about the buses or the segregation, rather the issue is about the respect that is being given to women.
“If it was not for us, then our men would not be allowed to sit and study and become knowledgeable,” Bar- Shalom said.