International Women’s Day is a day of promise and celebration and we are encouraged and inspired by the extraordinary achievements of Israeli women in every sector of society, achievements all the more impressive in a region where women are widely disenfranchised and silenced. It is also an opportunity to reflect on the achievements of the New Israel Fund and on challenges that remain.
NIF has been a leader in supporting Israel's women's rights organisations and networks, dating back to establishment of Israel's first Rape Crisis Centre network more than twenty years ago. It has lobbied for landmark legislation, including the Equal Employment Opportunity law, and has supported parties in precedent-setting court rulings. Its programmes empowering economically disadvantaged women are well established in inner cities, development towns and unrecognized Bedouin villages.
Two weeks ago, the popular Israeli magazine 'La'Isha' ('For the Woman') announced its shortlist of 15 women for the prestigious Rappaport Prize, which recognises the achievements of a woman who has done the most to promote social change. Seven of the nominees came from the NIF/SHATIL family, demonstrating the important role NIF has played in advancing the status of women in Israel.
As examples of NIF’s ongoing efforts, you may be interested in two important achievements last month. First, the Tel Aviv Magistrates' Court struck down the statute of limitations in certain sexual assault suits, following a case brought by a woman represented by NIF grantee Tmura. Second, following a petition led by NIF grantee Mavoi Satum, the Supreme Court helped a woman demand civil damages from her husband for refusal to grant a Get (Jewish divorce).
As in other OECD countries, there are still many challenges. Israeli women in minority and disadvantaged groups experience disproportionately high rates of unemployment, poverty, health problems and abuse of basic rights. Women make up close to 50 percent of the workforce in Israel, yet are paid an average of only 62 percent of men's salaries. And women also constitute 70 percent of those earning the minimum wage or less.
The Orthodox religious monopoly over marriage, divorce and other issues of personal status impinges on the rights of Jewish women in matters of marriage and divorce. Religion and tradition also often disadvantage Arab women, with polygamy and under age marriage illegal, but still taking place in Bedouin households, and domestic abuse and even honour killings still occurring.
The New Israel Fund has played a critical role in building civil society in Israel, as is abundantly evident in this arena. In the spirit of International Women’s Day, we thank you for your support as NIF continues to champion women’s rights.
Ilona Lee, Karen Loblay and Mandi Katz
Directors, NIF Australia