Why do Jewish women still need to demand equality?

We are well into the 21st century and Jewish women are not only the majority of the Jewish people, they are highly educated, articulate and well organized.

ALIZA LAVIE 370 (photo credit: REUTERS)
(photo credit: REUTERS)
We are well into the 21st century and Jewish women are not only the majority of the Jewish people, they are highly educated, articulate and well organized. So why haven’t they achieved equality? The International Council of Jewish Women, an umbrella organization with affiliates in 43 countries, held a demonstration at the Knesset on Sunday, entitled “Jewish Women Worldwide Demand Equality.”
Dressed in white and carrying placards with the flags of over 20 countries, women from the US, UK, Israel, France, Switzerland, Belgium, Australia, South Africa, Canada, Columbia, Uruguay, Slovakia, Croatia, stood silently but powerfully. They reminded us that despite the remarkable progress made by women in the “Feminist Revolution” of the past 50 years, women in general and Jewish women in particular still suffer from inequality in almost every area of contemporary life.
• Decision-making in government is still dominated almost entirely by men. Yes, the recent elections in Israel have resulted in the largest number of female MKs serving in the Knesset – but that number is 27.
Certainly not 50 percent and therefore not even close to equality. Several female ministers hold important portfolios, but the cabinet is clearly male-dominated and decision making at the highest levels of government is controlled by men.
• Economic equality, as recently shown in several studies, does not exist. Women earn over 30% less than men, even when they hold executive positions. This inequality exists despite the fact that in Israel women are more highly educated than men. Somehow, the academic achievement of Jewish women does not translated into economic equality.
While this economic inequality is found in the public as well as private sectors, it is particularly prevalent in Jewish communal organizations worldwide. Jewish women are rarely hired as CEOs of major Jewish organizations, and when they do break through that glass ceiling they are paid less than their male colleagues.
• Religious inequality is perhaps the most glaring and painful form of inequality. The Jewish divorce process is completely controlled by male Orthodox rabbis. We are all aware of the tragic and shameful existence of agunot, women trapped in an unwanted or non-existent marriage because their husbands refuse to give them a get, or bill of divorce.
Women cannot be appointed as rabbinical court judges (dayanim) and the statutory Commission to Appoint Dayanim is currently unable to function because for the first time in almost two decades not even one woman has been appointed or elected to the commission. Women’s organizations petitioned the Supreme Court to rectify this situation and the case is pending. Legislation has been proposed which would guarantee three places on the 10-member commission to women and add another position which would be held for a woman. Even if this legislation should pass, which is doubtful, women would still be in the minority on the commission.
The Women of the Wall have shown us that Jewish women are barred from praying according to their wishes, though Jewish men seem to be able to pray in any manner they choose. The shocking photos of women being arrested for wearing a tallit or carrying a Torah are a source of shame to the State of Israel and the Jewish religion worldwide.
The recent Jerusalem District Court decision made it very clear that Jewish women have the right to pray as they wish at the Kotel and cannot be arrested for wearing a tallit. These heroic women will be celebrating Rosh Hodesh on Friday, May 10, and the world will be watching to see if those religious fanatics who attack the women will be arrested or allowed to continue their verbal and physical abuse unheeded by the authorities.
• Domestic violence and other forms of violence against Jewish women continue to exist, despite good legislation and more robust enforcement of these laws by the criminal justice system. Almost weekly the media reports still another case of a woman murdered by her husband or partner. Rape continues to be a regular occurrence and Jewish women are not safe in their own homes.
• Sexual harassment in the workplace seems to be rampant. The current spotlight is on the media with the case of Emanuel Rosen dominating the daily news.
However, as Seth Frantzman pointed out in a recent article in this newspaper (“Institutionalized harassment of women,” April 30), the male-dominated workplace has been much too tolerant of sexual harassment, whether it is in universities, government offices, private companies or the army. Women who complain to their superiors are likely to become ostracized and their careers shattered. If they file police complaints they will be considered saboteurs.
• Equality in the Jewish home is still unfulfilled.
Even when a woman has achieved a successful career, she returns home to take on the major role in child-rearing, cooking, shopping, car-pooling and cleaning.
Her modern, liberal, educated husband or partner seems blind to the need for him to take on an equal share of the work at home.
Yes, despite a great deal of progress in the last 50 years, Jewish women have not yet achieved full equality.
We should all be joining efforts to achieve this goal.The writer is a Jerusalem-based lawyer and director of the International Jewish Women’s Rights Project of the International Council of Jewish Women. She was the only woman who served two terms on the Commission to Appoint Dayanim as the elected representative of the Israel Bar Association from 2003 to 2009.