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equality in practice: bringing about gendered change in organizatoins

Sharon Shenhav, Chair of the ICJW's Status of Women In Jewish Law Committee, attended a Seminar at the Van Leer Institute in Jerusalem on October 29, 2015 ,about  bringing about institutional gender equality in Israel. 

Participants included politicians, academics, lawyers, high tech workers, educators and journalists. The seminar was organized by The Center for the Advancement of Women in the Public Sphere (WIPS) of the Van Leer Institute in Jerusalem. The center is committed to the idea of gender mainstreaming as an overall strategy for promoting gender equality in Israel. The center aims to advance the democratic and civil status of women from diverse social groups.

The morning sessions were devoted to political and sociological methods of mainstreaming gender. Professor Naomi Chazan, former MK, spoke about the importance of gender in advancing and strengthening democracy in Israel. Professor Alexander Kolb of the Sociology and Anthropology Department at Tel Aviv University spoke about gender equality in the work place and how to bring about organizational change. Professor Chana Herzog, Director of the Center for Advancement in the Public Sphere at the institute spoke about bringing about social change and strategies for mainstreaming gender equality.

Gender Budgeting was the title of a one hour session that focused on municipal and national budgets. Questions to be asked in looking at these budgets include:
How much budget is allocated to women's activities, especially sports? It was clear that local budgets were overwhelmingly given to men's sports with women's sports activities receiving a small fraction of these budgets.

How much budget is allocated to women entrepreneurs? Research and evidence show that women small business owners receive much less financial support than men. Women have more difficulty obtaining bank loans as well as support from other private financial institutions and investors.

The afternoon sessions were devoted to practical activities promoting gender equality in unions, universities, high tech workplaces, television and radio and in educational institutions.  The speakers all discussed specific actions which have resulted in increased gender equality in all of these spheres.

A pamphlet entitled "From Gendered Practice to the Practice of Equality: A Field Guide" was distributed to all of the participants. This publication can be used to duplicate successful efforts for mainstreaming gender equality.

The final session included a talk by the first Arab woman to head a Knesset Committee. M.K. Aida Touma-Sliman, a personal friend and colleague of over 20 years, spoke about the Committee for the Advancement of Women which she now chairs. Aida has been an active feminist and has been a major voice against domestic violence in the Arab community. She has been particularly outspoken on the issue of "honor killings" which take the lives of so
many Israeli Arab women. 

Aida spoke about her goal to return the discussion of feminism to the committee. Issues she intends to focus on include equal representation of women in the public sphere, violence against women and equal employment for women.

During the day there was a lively discussion with the youthful audience participating actively. 

While a great deal of progress in gender equality has been achieved, including the largest number of women Knesset members in history (30), it is clear that there remains much hard work ahead in order to achieve full gender equality in Israel. I was encouraged by the large numbers of young women in their 20's and 30's who attended this seminar and spoke of their experiences. 

As I recall the discrimination I faced as a young woman lawyer over 50 years ago in the US, I am a bit frustrated to listen to the young women working in high tech who seem to be facing the same kind of gender discrimination today. It's often subtle, but can prevent advancement in one's career and requires a certain amount of courage, aggressiveness and tenacity. I thought that my generation of feminists had succeeded in changing the approach to gender, but we obviously didn't bring about enough change! Our daughters and granddaughters have their work cut out for them.