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Women in Israel: Recent achievements

Religious law, social institutions and traditions in Israel have kept girls and women at a disadvantage in schools, in the workplace, in divorce cases, and as victims of violence.  Israeli women in minority and disadvantaged groups have disproportionately high rates of unemployment, poverty, health problems and abuse of basic rights. The recent “modesty revolution” and increasing gender-segregation are of great concern to proponents of a pluralistic and democratic Israel.

At the same time, increasing public awareness is now mobilizing public action across the political and social spectrums, engendering new organizations committed to religious freedom and women's rights, and galvanizing veteran ones.  

Women in the public sphere in Jerusalem
Before and After: Following a public campaign led by NIF grantee Yerushalmim, women's faces are returning to billboards in Jerusalem. Hongiman's CEO said the protests gave them the courage to make the change, despite threats of vandalism.

Select recent achievements of the NIF family include the following:

  • Challenging Segregated Buses: NIF-grantee IRAC secured a precedent-setting court ruling in July 2012 ordering a bus company to pay NIS 13,000 in compensation to a young girl who was forced to sit at the back of the bus. IRAC will file additional suits and continues to run its "freedom riders" project with female volunteers sitting at the front of segregated buses.
  • Protecting Sexual Assault Victims: In January 2013, the Tel Aviv Magistrates' Court struck down the statute of limitations in sexual assault suits, in a precedent-setting case represented by NIF grantee Tmura.
  • Cooperative Business Ventures for Poor Women:  Shatil helped establish a new Community Kitchen business run by Bedouin women in Hura.   The project enables disadvantaged women to use their skills to earn an income and to compete against established industrial caterers in supplying hot meals to schoolchildren, in compliance with the School Lunch Law.  Shatil is working to ensure that the Kitchen will become a model and inspiration for similar initiatives around the country.
  • Freedom for Agunot: NIF grantee Mavoi Satum successfully advocated for a new law stating that every divorce decree issued by a rabbinical court must include a date by which the get (divorce writ) is to be arranged, and requiring the court to reconvene and consider imposing sanctions in cases of noncompliance. The new law will reduce the number of women whose husbands refuse to give them a get, and has already helped a woman demand civil damages from her husband for get refusal.
  • No State Funds for Sex-Segregated Classes: Following pressure from Orthodox NIF grantee, Ne'emanei Torah v'Avodah (NTV), the State Comptroller declared that public elementary schools diverting funds for sex-segregated classes will no longer receive state funding.  
  • Ending Early Marriage: After a seven year campaign, a bill initiated by NIF grantee Working Group for Equality to raise the minimum age of marriage from 17 to 18 passed its first reading in the Knesset. 
  • Advancing Arab Women: Following pressure from Women Against Violence (WAV), five local authorities in the Arab sector have begun employing female advisors to promote women's rights in their communities.
  • Amplifying Women's Voices:  NIF sponsored a first of its kind Israeli women's poetry anthology entitled The Naked Queen, gaining wide exposure through public events and social media.  NIF also held a 'Rising from the Benches' conference with leading sportswomen and celebrities, exploring the reasons few women attend sports events although a majority of them regularly follow sport   Experience from around the world proves that the more women attend sports events, the less violence and racism in the stands. 

Perhaps the most significant and unprecedented success of NIF's public campaigns in the past year was the inclusion of the fight against women's exclusion in political parties' platforms, and most importantly in the coalition agreement between the Yesh Atid and Likud parties. The clause, stating that "the government will address the issue of women's exclusion and will assess legal tools to prevent its manifestation in the public space" will now bind all governmental decisions, actions and policy. A parliamentary lobby is now being formed, to include MKs from across the political spectrum, to encourage and monitor the implementation of this historic agreement.

The Shatil-led Coalition Against Women's Exclusion – which unites over 30 organizations – had advocated intensively for this achievement, launching a social media blitz on the issue during the negotiations.  Concrete steps included in the negotiations included placing inspectors on buses to ensure women's rights and safety, amendments of burial services licenses enforcing women's full access to cemeteries, and more.

May, 2013


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