Invisible women

Education Minister Naftali Bennett has responded to criticism of women being slighted in prize nominations with promises to name more of them to the vetting panels next year.

Yehudit Bronicki (photo credit: ELI DASSA)
Yehudit Bronicki
(photo credit: ELI DASSA)
There are a few Israel Prizes on the stack left to be awarded, in the coming days. But so far the women have all but been denied the top honor this year, with men accounting for all but one of the winners of the prestigious prize awarded for cultural, scientific and economic achievements.
The sole exception has been Yehudit Bronicki, a winner of this year’s award in industry, but alongside her husband, Yehuda, a co-founder of Ormat Technologies, a renowned renewable energy firm.
Education Minister Naftali Bennett has responded to criticism of women being slighted in prize nominations with promises to name more of them to the vetting panels next year. But the problem predates his tenure. In Israel’s 70 years of independence, the state has given its highest prize to only 106 women, compared to 755 men, according to figures compiled by the WIZO organization.
It’s time to balance that equation and make sure that women get their proper 50% share of the nation’s top prize each year. Granting women full equality is not only the right thing to do, it is essential to the health of democracy and the key to building a thriving economy.
The inequity in how the Israel Prize has been awarded is symbolic of the many obstacles women face in Israeli society. It is all the more unnerving since in honor of the landmark 70th anniversary of statehood, you would expect Israel to be celebrating women’s achievements rather than warding setbacks and struggling to come up with an adequate report card. Israel was a country whose military was long admired as one of the first to give women an active role, and whose political system gave rise to one of the first women prime ministers, half a century ago. Yet today it has fallen behind other democracies in some respects. For example, Israel ranks only 57th in the proportion of women serving in parliament.
Other deficiencies loom as well. In the IDF, women have in recent decades knocked down many barriers, by stepping into combat duty and winning appointments as senior officers. A woman was named as a deputy air defense commander for the first time this past week, The Jerusalem Post’s Military Correspondent Anna Ahronheim reported. The IDF has also taken high profile steps to battle sexism and sexual harassment in its ranks.
But the progress faces threats from extremist religious clergy clamoring for greater gender segregation in the military. The campaign has been dubbed as a drive to “make women disappear” (hadarat nashim in Hebrew). Worrisome reports abound about women soldiers admonished for supposed tight clothing or kicked out of mess halls while men are eating. Angry lectures admonish women at pre-military academies to focus on seeking marriage and motherhood, as though these roles are incompatible with equality in the IDF or in society at large.
In civilian life, there are also signs of setbacks to the status of women that fly in the face of past achievements. No woman has followed in the late Golda Meir’s footsteps to become prime minister. The number of women lawmakers hit an unprecedented 33 in the latest Knesset. But women hold only 17% of ministerial posts.
WIZO figures show that just 34.5% of the nation’s senior managers are women, and it’s less than half that at the top tier, with only 15% holding a director-general or CEO role.
Women earn 35% less than men, and the higher the education level the greater the gap, with college educated women taking home 39% less than the men.
We read all the time about women getting higher test scores and grades than men, and there are numerous examples of high achieving women in academia, and the sciences. Yet only 17 % of Israeli professors are women, according to WIZO, while women account for just a third of higher education faculty.
Post reporter Lidar Gravé-Lazi reports that WIZO chairwoman Rivka Lazovsky says the organization’s data show “a gloomy picture that is not appropriate for the year 2018” and point to a “long road ahead” to achieving gender equality in Israel.
Leveling the playing field for the Israel Prize by rewarding women in equal numbers to men would be a good way to advance toward that goal.