Needed: Full opportunity for women in ‘real’ Israel

In many ways Israel is on par with Western countries on opportunities for women, but there is still room for improvement,

Supreme Court President Dorit Beinisch 311 (photo credit: Dudi Vaknin / Pool)
Supreme Court President Dorit Beinisch 311
(photo credit: Dudi Vaknin / Pool)
We are in the midst of whirlwind of gender discrimination that has no place in the post-diluvian world. While of course the headline-grabbing brutality and segregation need immediate and effective attention, I have been asking myself about the relationship between this latest crisis in women’s rights and the constant battle for gaining full equality for women in the workplace and other public spheres.
At first glance this violent incarnation of sexism is totally anomalous to our modern society. As details of incidents of bus segregation and spitting on school girls garnered increasing international attention, it became important to stress to the world that these episodes, while odious, represented a small, illegitimate sector of our society. We needed to let everyone know that in the real Israel, a woman heads the Supreme Court and there are 22 female members of the Knesset.
But is the exclusion of women by some elements of the Orthodox community completely unrelated to other manifestations of sexism? I believe that there is a connection between what we might call “primitive” sexism and what many women in the modern world confront on a daily basis.
Firstly, there is the risk that as pro-equality organizations channel their resources towards denouncing the exclusion of women by bussing in protesters, arranging concerts and launching a poster campaign declaring “women should be seen and heard,” people might conclude that this crisis is the greatest injustice ever faced by women in Israel.
It certainly is the most vulgar. But ask a divorced mother who cannot collect childsupport from her ex or a 50-year-old woman who cannot find a job about the trials of her life. And while it is incorrect to compare stories of suffering, the fear and feelings of isolation and frustration of such women are no less harrowing than the segregation and misanthropy we have witnessed of late.
WHILE WE use the full extent of the law to resolve the current crisis of gender discrimination, we must not for a moment lose sight of the broader goal: gaining full equality for women in the workplace and the public sphere.
Israel wishes not only to be on par with other Western countries when it comes to women’s rights – but to be among the leaders.
And in many ways we are: women make up 18 percent of the Knesset – a figure that compares well to the United States where women comprise 17% of Congress. But we know we can do better. There are still many battles to be won.
Why is it that while women constitute 56% of the workforce in general, they make up 65% of minimum wage workers and only 12% of the highest earners? While it is essential for our country to put an end to bus segregation, etc., it is no less essential to put an end to more intangible forms of discrimination that hold back women from full independence and from contributing their maximum to society.
There is yet another link between “primitive” sexism and the garden-variety Western form: they both persist because of society’s tacit tolerance. Perhaps the one good thing that has come out of this crisis is the unambiguous message that when it comes to segregation, communities cannot be a law unto themselves. Segregated buses and even signs enjoining women to dress “modestly” are unacceptable no matter what neighborhood they are in. For too long, we have looked the other way.
The tacit tolerance of sexism in the “more moderate” sector underpins its persistence.
How many women feel confident of a just result if they file a complaint when asked at a job interview if they have any children? How many women fear losing their job if they protest their male colleagues’ promotion while they seem to stagnate at a more junior position? Although there are many success stories of women in the workplace, there are many others, usually unpublicized, of women held back by discrimination.
Let us channel the same righteous anger at the ultra-Orthodox sexists to anyone of any community who blocks a woman’s path to achievement.

The writer is an MK with Israel Beiteinu.