Panel sees results in fight against gender discrimination

New gov't c'tee sees tangible steps to combat religious discrimination against women; Transportation Ministry begins operation of 24-hour hotline for complaints.

Haredi bus protest with women 311  (photo credit: Marc Israel Sellem)
Haredi bus protest with women 311
(photo credit: Marc Israel Sellem)
A new government committee formed less than a month ago to take on the increasing incidents of gender discrimination by some members of the haredi (ultra-Orthodox) community has already started to see some tangible results.
At a Wednesday meeting of the interministerial committee formed and headed by Culture and Sport Minister Limor Livnat, members heard that the Transportation Ministry has already started operating a 24-hour help line to field complaints about gender discrimination on public transportation, and the Religious Services Ministry declared it was ready to take on the phenomenon of preventing women from participating in burial ceremonies at public cemeteries.
In addition, a young woman who made headlines last month for refusing to move to the back of the bus at the request of an ultra-Orthodox male passenger told the committee that since speaking out against the ordeal, she had received multiple death threats.
Labeled the “Israeli Rosa Parks,” Tanya Rosenblit described at the meeting the threats she had received via phone, email and on Facebook, which she’d had to report to the police.
The story of how she stood up to pressure from the haredi man on a bus ride from her hometown of Ashdod to Jerusalem has made her one of the main symbols of the struggle against attempts to eliminate women from public life.
“We live in a state governed by civil law, and not in a state controlled by religious law,” stated Livnat during the meeting.
While the death threats Rosenblit has received caused a stir, the steps that the Transportation and Religious Services ministries have taken so far were warmly received.
In addition to the Transportation Ministry reporting its help line (1-800-800- 355), the Religious Services Ministry notified the committee that it was set to release a clear statement to all cemeteries that keeping women from eulogizing their loved ones or from accompanying them on their final journey to the grave was prohibited.
The latter ministry’s director-general, Avigdor Ohana, said the notice would be sent out in the coming days and emphasized that “no one can tell a woman that she is not allowed to mourn” and that “each family should be free to chose its own way of mourning.” He added, however, that according to his own data, the practice of preventing women from participating was not widespread.
“Even one case is one too many,” responded Livnat, adding that according to her own information, “we are talking about dozens of incidents in various cemeteries countrywide.”
She said there was “significant evidence” of such exclusion, and highlighted that “each family should be able to act according to its own choice.”
The committee also welcomed a new set of guidelines drawn up by the Civil Service Commissioner, to be distributed to the general managers in government ministries and the heads of various departments, on all matters concerning the elimination of women within the government framework.
The new committee is a direct response to a recent spate of incidents in which women were attacked physically and verbally for not moving to the back of public buses or were forced to walk on a particular side of the street.
Gender segregation issues have also become visible in both civilian and military public ceremonies, where women’s roles have been either diminished or completely removed after requests or complaints from some members of the haredi community.
At one army event, religious male soldiers refused to attend because there were female singers, and in another case, a Health Ministry award ceremony, the sole woman recipient was excluded because her presence offended religious individuals. In addition, some cities with a large ultra-Orthodox population have started to refrain from posting billboards with images of women.
Livnat said the committee would continue to monitor this matter closely.