Put women in bus ads, state demands

Gov’t tells High Court that exclusion from public sphere affects women’s "dignity, right to equality, freedom of expression."

Cavalier restaurant ad at bus stop, Jerusalem_390 (photo credit: Courtesy, saybrand.co.il)
Cavalier restaurant ad at bus stop, Jerusalem_390
(photo credit: Courtesy, saybrand.co.il)
The exclusion of women from advertisements on buses and in public places is “a violation of the fundamental rights of women,” according to an opinion the state submitted to the High Court of Justice on Wednesday.
The opinion was filed in response to the Yerushalmim movement petition to the court over the Egged advertising company’s refusal to place ads featuring female models on buses in Jerusalem for fear of vandalism from ultra-Orthodox extremists.
“The exclusion of women from billboards and announcements on the basis of sex violates public policy, the basic principles of our transportation, and the fundamental rights of women and advertisers,” the state wrote in its opinion, in cooperation with the Israel Police and the Transportation Ministry.
“Restricting freedom of expression and the contents of advertising enables gender discrimination to succeed and perpetuates the social stereotype by improperly excluding women and weakening society, instead of contributing to its eradication simply by including women in advertisements and on the public stage where they can have wider resonance,” the state’s opinion continued.
It added that “eliminating all traces of the female sex on billboards affects women’s dignity, their right to equality and to freedom of expression. It even affects the rights of the advertisers to freedom of expression.”
The opinion from the state is not a legally binding document. The court will issue a decision after the matter comes to trial at a later date.
City Councilor Rachel Azaria, who appealed to the High Court in 2008 when Egged’s advertisers refused to use a bus ad with her face while she was running for the city council, said she was delighted with the state’s opinion. She noted that the women’s rights organizations usually won in the courts because the discrimination was so blatantly illegal.
“What’s really important is noticing when women flee from the public sphere,” she said. “Nobody announces it; these things just happen, and... you don’t pay attention to it because it’s not sudden. When I went to the courts, I was really surprised they didn’t want to put my picture [on a bus].”
Yerushalmim director Uri Ayalon also welcomed the state’s opinion, and expressed optimism it might have a ripple effect and make a marked difference in the exclusion of women. He stressed that while the violence in Beit Shemesh in December had brought the issue to the forefront of the public’s conscious, there was still a lot of work to be done.
“We’re still working on this with all our strength, because now is exactly the time that’s the most important, when it’s come down from the media spotlight,” he said.
Yerushalmim, a political group whose aim is to promote pluralism and equal rights in Jerusalem, tried to launch an advertising campaign in December called “Women of Jerusalem, Nice to Meet You.”
The group purchased advertising space on Egged buses and photographed women of various ages and backgrounds wearing modest clothes, with the goal of “reclaiming the public sphere,” said Yerushalmim community organizer Marik Shtern.
Jerusalem and Bnei Brak are the only two places in the country where women are not featured on bus advertising, according to Cnaan, the marketing company that handles Egged advertising across the country.