Advancing Gender Equality, Reproductive Freedom
Like every year, the UN’s recently noted annual International Day for the Elimination of Violence Against Women elicited the usual array of condemnations, decisions and promises. The day passed, and – as expected – the global discourse moved on to the next burning issue.
Of course, the struggle to advance gender equality (SDG 5) continues whether or not it’s in the headlines. What about in Israel? Well, since our last look the Government set up a Gender Equality Cabinet, headed by one of its nine female Ministers, to advance policies on issues such as curbing violence against women and closing gender pay gaps. Soon after its establishment, the new Cabinet decided on a $50 million allocation to fight violence against women. Not bad.
While promoting women’s rights needs to be an across-the-board effort, Israel’s multi-cultural society can pose special challenges; for example, a recent “Haaretz” report illustrates the unique situation in the Arab community in this context. Referencing the traditional hesitation of Arab women to speak up about sexual harassment, the item points to the activities of various local organizations such as the Haifa-based “Assiwar” – the Arab Feminist Movement in Support of Victims of Sexual Abuse – as an indication that an increasing number of Arab women may now be more inclined to go public.
The Jewish community is also not without its own unique challenges. This fact was recently accentuated by a celebrity marriage in which a music star received religious court permission to marry his TV personality bride even though his first wife refuses him a divorce (polygamy is illegal in Israel on the whole). In the view of an organization like “Mavoi Satum”, the issue once again exposes the ongoing plight of Jewish women whose husbands refuse them a divorce – and the inherent inequality between Jewish women and men in this context.
Meanwhile, in another significant gender equality development the Health Minister announced his intention to introduce reforms in abortion policies to remove obstacles in the existing system.
“It should be a given that the rights to a woman’s body are the woman’s alone,” the Minister said. “Any decision, or medical procedure, such as the choice of whether to perform an abortion, must be in the hands of the woman. We have no moral right to decide for her how to deal with an unwanted pregnancy.”
Abortion is fully legal under Israeli law, subject to relevant criteria, and approximately 92%-96% of all applications are approved. Abortions are free for all women aged 20-33, regardless of circumstance, and are also fully funded by the state for women serving in the Israel Defense Forces. The envisioned reforms are expected to focus particularly on various aspects of the approval process itself.
As we’ve emphasized many times before, no society – Israel included – is perfect. We draw optimism from the fact that gender equality issues remain among the top public discourse issues on the country’s agenda even after this or that international day comes and goes.
Gender Equality The current COVID-19 pandemic has led to a severe increase in domestic violence in many societies around the globe and in Israel. In