Ministers to adopt women's rights measures

Steps include new guidelines, a hotline for women hassled on gender segregated buses and penalties for religious exclusion.

Limor Livnat 311 R (photo credit: Reuters)
Limor Livnat 311 R
(photo credit: Reuters)
New guidelines for public ceremonies, a hotline for women hassled on so-called gender-segregated buses and penalization for religious authorities if women are excluded from burials are just a few of the measures the government committed to adopt Tuesday during a special meeting of the Ministerial Committee on the Status of Women.
“There is no room for exclusion of women in Israel,” said the committee’s chairwoman Minister of Culture and Sport Limor Livnat, at the start of the meeting.
“This phenomenon contradicts the principles of democracy tradition and so I have decided to act to end it,” she said, adding “I know it will not be easy, it is a long path – a very long path – but we have to take steps that will bring an end to the shameful cases that are preventing women from taking part in various public activities and receiving equal treatment only because they are women.”
Livnat was referring to a series of public events, both civilian and military, where – after requests or complaints from some members of the ultra-Orthodox community – women were sidelined or left out completely because of their gender. In addition to this there has also been a growing prominence of gender-segregated public transport and other public spaces, including streets.
In the military, there have been several cases where religious male soldiers have refused to attend an event in which women were singing or take commands from female officers. And in civilian life, a Health Ministry awards ceremony excluded the sole female recipient last September and several high profile companies have even started to refrain from posting billboards with female models.
Among the steps proposed by the committee Tuesday is for the Civil Service Commission to adopt clearer guidelines to prevent the exclusion of women in from the stage and audience in state ceremonies or special events. This will also ensure that women are able to receive awards.
In addition, the Ministry of Religious Affairs, with guidance from the Justice Ministry, will be forced to amend the license granted to companies that facilitate burials to ensure that women can give obituaries and participate in the ceremony of their loved ones at cemeteries.
Regarding gender segregated bus lines, the Ministry of Transport committed to establishing a special helpline to field complaints from women who find themselves under attack, or upset during travels, and the department on the Status of Women in the Prime Minister’s Office will run a similar hotline to hear complaints about the exclusion of women from other areas of public life.
Finally, Livnat proposed the establishment of an inter-ministerial committee that will offer even more ways to deal with exclusion of women from public space.
Headed by the minister, the team will include representatives from the ministries of transport, religious affairs, interior, defense and justice among others.
Gila Oshrat, chairwoman of the Women’s International Zionist Organization (WIZO), said following the meeting that the problem of hiding women from the public view “has to stop immediately.”
“Removing the presence of women from buses, sidewalks, billboards and jobs – banning women from leadership roles, singing and all other kinds of prohibitions imposed by certain rabbis – constitute a flagrant violation of human rights in general and women’s rights in particular,” said Oshrat.
“Today we are fighting for the character of Israeli democracy and call on the government to a take firm action against any party that discriminates against women.”
Also present at the meeting was Jerusalem Mayor Nir Barkat, who said in a statement released from his office: “We will not allow the exclusion of women from the public sphere in Jerusalem and we will continue to do all we can to eradicate this phenomenon.”
A week after he was caught on tape making light of women singing in the army, IDF Chief of Staff Benny Gantz came out Tuesday in complete support of full female participation in the army, including in the singing troupes.
It was important, Gantz said, for the IDF to be “a people’s army,” and not the army of “only half the people.”
Gantz, speaking at an Israel National Defense College alumni event in Jerusalem, said that it was important for all segments of the population to serve – religious and secular, men and women.
“The IDF does not not exclude women from any place or any position,” he said. “There is no prohibition to women singing.
The IDF has wonderful female soldiers and officers who can be proud of their contribution, and – yes – also of their singing.”
Meanwhile on Monday, Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu also condemned steps taken by some ultra-Orthodox groups to impose gender segregation and sideline women from public life.
“The place of women in public spaces must be ensured and equal,” said the PM speaking at a conference on human trafficking held at the President’s Residence in Jerusalem.
“The segregation of women clashes not just with the democratic principles that we know and cherish – it also clashes with Jewish tradition,” he said.
At the same event, President Shimon Peres said that men should be free to avoid the company of women to whom they are not related, “But no man has the right to force a woman to sit in a place that he decides on.”
JTA contributed to this report.