In Israel, the battle for gender equality continues to rage. Despite being the third country in the world to have a female head of state, women were forced to sit at the back of the bus as recently as 2018. In the face of gender equality legislation, religious figures continue to promote and enforce gender segregation in public spaces.
Israel, a fairly new country in the Middle East, identifies as a democratic state. The country gained its independence in 1948, passing the Women’s Equal Rights Law in 1951 to ensure gender equality. The Israeli Declaration of Independence states that the nation “…will ensure complete equality of social and political rights to all its inhabitants irrespective of religion, race or sex.” However, the Israeli government has found it difficult to combat gender segregation.
Women’s Rights in Israel Today
Presently, Israel ranks 25th on the Gender Inequality Index. Although the Israeli Declaration of Independence sought to establish gender equality, there has been an increasing demand for enforcing gender segregation in public spaces by Ultra-Orthodox Jewish communities. There have been instances in which women have been denied access to a public bus for wearing shorts deemed “immodest.” In many situations, if women can access a bus, they are forced to sit in the back. In some universities, women are even forced to drink from separate water fountains.
Many lawsuits in Israel have been filed in the name of gender inequality. Although gender segregation in cemeteries is illegal, the Israeli government and the Ministry of Religious Affairs do not uphold the law. As a result, women sit separately from their male family members and are not permitted to be a part of funeral ceremonies.
Women hold esteemed positions in Israeli society. As of 2017, women comprised 59% of the university student population and 53% of the Ph.D. student population. Israel’s Supreme Court has had three female presidents, with women comprising 54% of judges in Israel as of 2017.
Despite the prevalence of female leaders, female lawmakers have been deemed “indecent” by their religious associates and admonished for wearing sleeveless dresses. Although the majority of college degrees are held by women, women academics are not allowed to instruct ultra-Orthodox men at universities. Female lawyers are seated separately and at the back of the room for training programs. Female army cadets are separated from their male counterparts by partition during graduation ceremonies. However, several organizations are advocating for equal treatment.
The Future of Women’s Rights in Israel
Many organizations are fighting for gender equality in Israel. For example, the Israel Religious Action Center (IRAC) fights gender segregation and religious extremism. IRAC has made great progress in the field of anti-segregation legislation, including filing a class action suit against public radio stations for refusing to put women on-air. IRAC’s work has also lead to a Supreme Court ruling making gender segregation on public transportation illegal.
Founded in 1984, The Israel Women’s Network advocates for gender equality through education and awareness. They are currently advocating against gender segregation in public transportation and gender violence. The Women of the Wall are fighting to secure women’s religious rights to pray at the Western Wall through education, empowerment, and advocacy. When gender equality laws will be upheld, the visions for gender equality can be achieved.
The Future is Equality
As the first woman to serve as president of the Israeli Supreme Court, Dorit Beinisch said, “We are commanded to act with tolerance and to promote the protection of human rights.”
The gap between the visions for gender equality and the reality women face is vast. Gender inequality is crucial to the advancement of Israel and the rest of the world, being essential to peace and development. Ultimately, the work of organizations such as IRAC and The Israel Women’s Network continues to empower women and allows Israel to look toward a brighter future.
– Tara Hudson