Glass ceilings and cement walls

We must do everything to promote equality and ensure that next 100 years will see balance of talented, worthy women in all fields.

Tuesday marks the 100th International Women’s Day – 100 years of promoting social change and equality.
Every year, awareness of the issues grows around the world, and with it comes an increased understanding that only truly equal opportunity among all its sectors leads to a diverse, prosperous and successful society.
Unfortunately, these notions are not yet common knowledge. In 2011, we still hear such things as the Psalms’ passage “The king’s daughter is all glorious within” (a reference to modesty), “a woman’s thought [mind] is light” (in reference to a view in the Talmud that Torah should not be taught to a woman, as her mind is not developed) and “it’s too much for her.”
Some of us are still subject to separation on buses and sidewalks. As a woman, as a public servant, as a legislator elected to the Knesset, I deal with these issues daily.
THE CONCEPT of equality is relative, albeit significant change has occurred over the years. Women have ventured out of their homes and into public life – the workforce, the army, the economy, academia and so on. Nevertheless, there is a long way to go. Every day, I work alongside women’s organizations to eradicate discrimination, and remove barriers to equality (including the wage gap, the dismissal of pregnant women, the “glass ceiling,” sexual harassment, get refusal and so on).
Although this country’s legislation on these issues is some of the most advanced in the world, the laws remain mere passages in law books.
These gaps and barriers are more emphasized when it comes to occupations perceived as “masculine,” and ones that require discretion and judgement. When it comes to politics and security, the gap is even wider.
The active participation of women in such forums could be the impetus for expanding the narrow view that national policies should be shaped almost entirely by military personnel and those in the security establishment.
Iran, after all, is not the only strategic threat. Our security awareness should include such issues as our water supply, energy sources, the environment, the economy, our educational system and so on. Yet many of these are not even mentioned in debates.
The military prism through which we currently evaluate, examine and analyze events is much too narrow. Only the inclusion of persons from various fields in general, and of women in particular, can bring about a thorough reevaluation of the reality in which we live.
THIS INSIGHT was reached a decade ago, with UN Security Council Resolution 1325 calling for all nations to increase the representation of women at all levels of decision- making for war prevention and conflict resolution. Since then, only one of every 50 people to sign a peace agreement has been a woman, and one in 13 in a negotiating team has been female. Only two Israeli women have participated in the past 20 years of negotiations and peace discussions. On the Palestinian side, it’s been five.
Israel was the first country to legislate on this issue: In 2005, an amendment to the equality law was passed by which representation of women in public committees and in policy-shaping teams – including those dealing with security and foreign affairs – would increase. And how is this law enforced? We were all witness to the Turkel Commission affair, in which the High Court issued an order to include a woman in the composition of the team investigating events on the Mavi Marmara.
In a recent study in honor of the 10th anniversary of Resolution 1325, it was found that efforts to end regional conflicts were unsuccessful due to the exclusion of women. In reference to women in the Middle East, the study found that women were the first to declare a willingness to participate in peace talks, but were relegated to the sidelines by central figures in both the national and international spheres.
One of the central issues I chose to focus on as a public servant is the promotion of awareness among Israeli women of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, and of the other conflicts we must deal with to bring peace.
I attend forums which include participants from all over the region, and which focus on social activism for the promotion of peace.
In cooperation with the organization Critical Pedagogy, I have initiated lectures, seminars and tours of the security barrier for leading women. For many, it was the first encounter with the conflict.
Women’s participation in negotiations does not guarantee an agreement, but the skills and tools women bring to the table are too easily passed up.
Today, not one woman holds a key government position. The responsibility lies with our prime minister, who appointed only three female ministers, none of whom serve in the “septet.”
Only intensive activism and political pressure on decision makers to include women in the security and decision-making fields will shatter the glass ceiling and dismantle the cement walls.
In the end, it’s been proven that the one person who conducted negotiations on a pragmatic level to safeguard Israel’s interests was a woman – former foreign minister and leader of the opposition Tzipi Livni, shattering the illusions of those who expressed doubt that she could “answer the phone at 3 a.m.,” or who felt that this was “too much for her.”
Our work is far from over. We must do everything we can to promote equality and to ensure that the next 100 years will see balanced representation of talented, worthy women in all fields.
The writer is a Kadima MK. She is a member of the Knesset Committee on the Status of Women and the Foreign Affairs and Defense Committee.