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update on status of women issues

Aviva Kohlmann, Adv., Vice President of the Council of Women’s Organizations in Israel and ICJW Vice President, reports on the notable events surrounding the status of women in Israel during 2011-2012.
 
She expressed her appreciation for the concern and support that the Council of Women’s Organizations in Israel has received from ICJW and its affiliates, and pointed out that there is a huge gap between what the majority of women in Israel experience, concerning their active involvement in the public space and what appears in the international media.
 
Nevertheless, we should not ignore the phenomenon of the attempted limitation of women’s rights that we have seen in Israel recently, which are trying to bring us back to the Dark Ages. Indeed, it was shameful and hurting to witness incidents of exclusion of women in the public space – women in Israel were shocked!
 
“We are living in the only democratic country in the Middle East. We are proud of our achievements in the field of gender equality, of the equal opportunities women have reached, we are proud of our women ministers, women members of the Parliament, women heading big political parties, high rank women - officers in the Army, women judges, a woman
presiding over the Supreme Court, women medical doctors, women university professors, directors of banks and so on. Women and men have built this country together, as equals.
 
The incidents that we have experienced this year do not fit in this picture. Under the influence of an extreme Orthodox minority group, we witnessed the most unsuitable demands, such as gender segregation in buses, in cemeteries, in the Army, exclusion from public ceremonies, from official committees, and from certain radio stations.
 
We cannot let women be erased from the public eye. That is a dangerous erosion of the status of women.  It is a slippery slope and that is unacceptable. The Ultra-Orthodox should  know that religious pluralism and women’s rights are integral to a free and open society. Women in Israel should be seen and heard!
  
Women’s organizations that are members of the Council of Women’s Organizations in Israel (CWOI) protested by calling on the Knesset, the government and the judicial system, to hold firm and to stop occurrences of women's exclusion from public spaces and decision-making bodies. We also called on the citizens of Israel to be aware of this phenomenon and protest against it, so that decision-makers understand. We issued and signed petitions out of deep concern to the nature of public space and the place of women within it, in order to alert against this trend.
 
We voiced outrage at the political deal that has left the Commission to Appoint Dayanim (Rabbinical court judges) without a single female member for the first time in 12 years. Emunah and other NGOS filed a petition with the Supreme Court of Israel which resulted in a court order to stop the Commission’s proceedings pending its decision on the constitution of the Commission.
 
The CWOI also initiated an emergency meeting with Member of Parliament, Zippi Hotobely, who is the Chairperson of the Committee for Status of Women in the Knesset. This Committee held a meeting on the subject of exclusion of women from the public space in Israel and proposed a bill to introduce into the criminal law prison punishments for anybody who violates the equal public rights of women. The Knesset is also increasing punishments against those who are breaking the Law of Gender Equality. We trust our judiciary bodies to implement the law in Israel.
 
Ministers and Members of the Knesset are very much aware of and worried about this situation and, have established an ad hoc inter-ministerial committee headed by Limor Livnat, Minister of Culture and Sports and Chairperson of Ministerial Committee on the Advancement of Status of Women, to deal with this new phenomenon, saying we should show zero tolerance towards any violation of Gender Equality.
 
The Minister said: “The exclusion of women is a form of violence.  
Since the establishment of the State of Israel, women have struggled for equality in terms of career opportunities, employment conditions and salaries, as well as social status and in professional respect. This is happening in addition to fighting for effective legislation dealing with violence against women, including domestic violence, sexual harassment and sexual abuse. Progress has been painfully slow – but progress has been made. We have today 24 women Knesset members – more than ever before – and more women in senior management positions. But there is a worrisome deterioration in the Status of Women in the public space. The exclusion of women is a type of violence against women." 
 
The Minister was particularly outraged by a practice in certain cemeteries where the Chevra Kadisha (burial society) prevents women from eulogizing the dead and walking behind bodies brought for burial. 
 
Action being taken
 
One of the decisions calls for the Ministry of Religious Affairs and the Justice Ministry to draft a clause in Chevra Kadisha's license, clearly stating that women can mourn the dead and walk behind the coffin of their lovedones in cemeteries. 
 
The minister also noted an incident where two female-professor- researchers, who won an award as part of a Health Ministry event, were not allowed to get on the podium to accept it, while a man had to accept it on their behalf.
 
Minister Limor Livnat has asked Civil Service officials to publish strict instructions forbidding any exclusion of women from official ceremonies.

Gender segregation on public streets in Jerusalem has been declared illegal.

Gender segregation on public buses is illegal and punishable.
  
Israeli lawmakers criticized ultra-Orthodox radio station for keeping women off the air.
 
Even the Chief Rabbi of Israel, Rabbi Yona Metzger said: “Haredim have no right to force segregation on buses.  This country does not belong to the haredi community. The public domain must be kept “open and safe”
for all Israeli citizens.”


The CWOI’s Plan of Action


We are calling on the Knesset, the government and the judicial system to hold firm and prevent occurrences of women's exclusion from public spaces and decision making bodies. 
 
Our plans include:
 
1.     Introducing new education programs in kindergartens and schools concerning gender equality.
2.     Implementation of the existing law of Gender Equality and increasing the punishment for violations.
3.     We are acting as “Watchdogs” on the status of women in Israel
4.     We are running  Anti-Violation campaigns,
 
We thank ICJW and our sister affiliates for their support.