Why are women absent from Israeli, Palestinian leadership? – opinion

Israel is a militaristic society, and it is difficult for women to break through all of the glass ceilings that exist in military life. But that is what we need, now more than ever.

An empty Knesset Plenum  (photo credit: MARC ISRAEL SELLEM/THE JERUSALEM POST)
An empty Knesset Plenum
Honestly, I am fed up of male leaders in our region. Netanyahu, Gantz, Lapid, Ashkenazi, Nissenkorn, Katz, Odeh, Tibi, Mansour, Abbas, Rajoub, Faraj, Alsheich, Al-Qudwah, Haniyeh, Sinwar, Sisi, Abdallah, MbS, MbZ, and so on – all men!
Where are the women of this region? Where are the intelligent female politicians, leaders, stateswomen that we so badly need? I know that they are around, but why don’t we see them in leadership positions? Why don’t we have leaders such as Germany’s Angela Merkel, New Zealand’s Jacinda Ardern, Denmark’s Mette Frederiksen, Taiwan’s Tsai Ing-wen, Iceland’s Katrin Jakobsdottir, The Marshall Islands’ Dr. Hilda Heine, Finland’s Sanna Marin, Namibia’s Saara Kuugongelwa-Amadhila, or Estonia’s Kersti Kaljulaid?
These past and present female leaders have demonstrated, unlike the male leaders in our region, that they are first and foremost risk-averse with regard to our lives. They have a more complex view of reality and of possibilities. They are less reactive and spend a lot more time listening before acting. We have seen this recently. Some of them have proven to take and implement the world’s best decisions regarding the COVID-19 pandemic.
New Zealand’s Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern, just reelected with a large victory for a second term, powerfully and gracefully led the country during its time of grief after a mass shooting terrorist attack. She made a big splash when she announced a first-of-its kind “well-being” budget to tackle mental illness, family violence and child poverty.
The government of Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina of Bangladesh (a Muslim country) made headlines in 2017 after providing assistance and refuge to 700,000 citizens of Myanmar who were fleeing genocide. Hasina announced in February 2019 that, at 71 years old, she wouldn’t be running for reelection so that the country could make room for young leaders. Why don’t we have leaders like that who know when it is time to step down?
Estonia’s President Kersti Kaljulaid led her country to become a leader in business start-ups, especially impressive given the country’s small population of just 1.3 million people. Kaljulaid also helped to implement the world’s first ever “digital nomads visa” in 2019, allowing technology workers from other countries to work in Estonia for a year.
Norway’s Prime Minister Erna Solberg’s impassioned commitment to the environment led to her being appointed co-chair of the Sustainable Development Goals Advocacy Group (a global “to-do” list to improve humanity and the planet) by the UN secretary-general.
Women make up 60% of Israel’s university students. Among the Palestinian citizens of Israel, women made up 68.9% of all undergrads, meaning that for every three male Arab university students, there were seven female Arab students. In West Bank universities, the numbers are similar.
Already in 2015, statistics issued by the Saudi Ministry of Education revealed there were more Saudi women studying in universities than men. The United Arab Emirates’ official Bureau of Statistics reports that 95% of female high-school graduates pursue further education at tertiary-level institutions, compared with 80% of males.
I receive an extraordinary daily newsletter from the “Women of Egypt Mag” (womenofegyptmag.com) detailing the achievements of the outstanding women of Egypt. Women of Egypt is a platform for change to empower Egyptian women, reinvent the advocacy movement, and bring into focus important issues and positive change. It is so refreshing to read of these women’s struggles and remarkable achievements in such a male-dominated region.
WE MOST definitely need more women in positions of leadership in Israel and Palestine. The men have done such an unremarkable job. The women of Israel and Palestine need to have a much higher political profile. I know that young women in Palestine are struggling to assert themselves in their society. Their numbers in universities are increasing dramatically.
They are studying engineering, computers, science, mathematics and business – all aimed at developing themselves and their careers in order to achieve financial independence so they can be freer to make decisions for themselves about themselves. Israeli women have largely achieved that, but the gaps between men and women in Israel still exist, for instance, in unequal pay. And the corona epidemic has hurt women a lot more than men.
There is a severe lack of women in national leadership positions in Israel. Israel’s political arena has always been distorted by the over-emphasis on the military. Israel is a militaristic society, and it is difficult for women to break through all of the glass ceilings that exist in military life. But that is what we need, now more than ever.
It is not easy to jump into public life and to have very strong elbows and even stronger determination to climb the ladder of success when men are constantly pushing them down. Both Israel and Palestine would benefit greatly from having women in decision-making positions. We have had far too many generals leading us. Both Israel and Palestine are crying out for change. Women in leadership positions in Israel and Palestine would also bring us a lot closer to the possibilities of making peace.
An example of where to find strong, dynamic and worthy women in Israel is Women Wage Peace. This is an Israeli grassroots movement with tens of thousands of members from the Right, Center and Left of the political spectrum, Jews and Arabs, religious and secular, united in the demand for a mutually binding non-violent agreement between Israelis and Palestinians, involving women in the process (in the spirit of UN Resolution 1325). The movement works throughout the country to raise awareness and engage the public in a discussion about the feasibility of a political resolution.
Women Wage Peace creates opportunities for dialogue with individuals and groups through formal and informal meetings within the community. The movement also organizes national events, such as demonstrations and protests, in order to pressure decision-makers to work toward reaching a viable peace agreement. That is what they did on Monday of this week in front of the Knesset and around Jerusalem with thousands of women and supporters joining in.
The American people did us all a great service by expelling the number-one misogynist from the White House. President-elect Joe Biden is not only a decent man (which Trump is not), he is also a leader by example, selecting Kamala Harris as his vice president. We have now also seen a number of prominent, intelligent and extraordinary women chosen for key appointments to his cabinet and other senior positions. The world will be a better and a safer place with such women in these important positions. We would all be so much better off if we saw more women leaders in the Middle East. Let’s start with Israel and Palestine!
The writer is a political and social entrepreneur who has dedicated his life to the State of Israel and to peace between Israel and her neighbors. His latest book, In Pursuit of Peace in Israel and Palestine, was published by Vanderbilt University Press.