An abundance of laws, a lack of implementation

Equality will be reached when women’s representation goes from being a woman’s issue to being a social issue.

On March 8, we celebrate International Women’s Day. We have come a long way since 1893, when New Zealand was the first country to give women the right to vote. But it was to be long fight. One by one, countries granted women the vote – some earlier, some later; Swiss women only received full voting rights in 1971, and today, in some countries, women still do not have this basic right.
Zionist women’s organizations began to appear in the 1900s. The fruits of their efforts led to their being represented in the Elected Assembly (1920), in which six delegates were elected, and in the Second Elected Assembly (1925) in which there were 13 delegates.
The resolution in the meeting of representatives, calling for equal opportunities for women in all civilian, political and financial matters in the Jewish homeland, was a major achievement. Political activity was extended to include the right to be elected to local authorities.
With the establishment of the State of Israel in 1948, women immediately had the right to vote. The Declaration of Independence calls for complete equality, irrespective of gender.
This is one of the cornerstones of a democratic society.
In the elections for the first Knesset, WIZO formed a women’s list to look after the unique interests of women, and one candidate, Rachel Kagan, was elected and signed the Declaration of Independence.
The struggle for gender equality has continued throughout the existence of the state.
The status of women in a democratic society is reflected, first and foremost, in their status regarding decision making. In Israeli politics, this basic democratic principle is lacking due to a significant absence of women in top leadership positions.
On the issue of gender equality, there has been a spurt in legislation.
In 1991 a number of laws were passed – the Law for Equal Opportunity in the Workplace and the Law for the Prevention of Violence in the Family, a ratification of the UN pact to abolish all kinds of discrimination against women, and an amendment to the Law of Women Working in the Public Sector.
On September 7, 1995, the civil service commissioner was given the authority to intervene in a tender to ensure appropriate representation.
In 1996 a law for equal pay was passed, as was a law against sexual harassment. In 1998, a similar law was passed by the local authorities.
The common denominator among all these laws is that they are not enforced, or only partially enforced.
Unfortunately, there is a gap between the support of a political network for gender equality and the implementation of this policy.
There is apparently no intention to implement an effective policy based on the legislation, due to an unclear understanding of the aims, objectives and messages, and the absence of resources for implementation.
Policy-makers declare their intentions in order to improve their image or gain the support of an interested party, despite their not having the ability to implement the policy.
AS WELL as raising awareness and legislation, women’s organizations prepare women to take their place in public life and contend in politics.
Na’amat, Emunah, the Women’s Network, the We Power organization and other organizations have developed programs to prepare women for public work.
For more than 10 years, WIZO has operated a school for politics which supplies support and encouragement to improve administrative and leadership talents, and to adapt these talents for work in the public sector. Through legislation, women have to be brought into key positions, since the balance of male and female standpoints benefits decision making.
Equality will be reached when women’s representation goes from being a woman’s issue to being a social issue.
The writer is chairperson of the World WIZO Executive.