Gender Equality: Unfinished Business – Part 2
As emphasized in part 1 one of this series, “distortions that discriminate against women” in Israel has been a matter of intense public debate addressed across the spectrum – including by its most senior officials – for some time now.
A recent interview to local TV by the Head of Israel’s Authority for the Advancement of the Status of Women (part of the Social Equality Ministry) is a good case in point. In the interview she emphasized that in addition to the broad issue of gender equality, the country still has work to do in a number of very specific areas. These include gender equality education among preschoolers; in this context, she noted that a new program to this end will be implemented in the fall in partnership with the Education Ministry.
The Authority’s head also made reference to sexual harassment. She said that while the Justice Ministry conducts training for judges to better sensitize them to the issue, the police need to do more so that women feel sufficiently comfortable to file complaints (she estimated that currently only about 5% of Israeli women who are victimized sexually actually approach the police afterward).
Combatting domestic violence is no doubt the most sensitive and urgent issue of all. Recognizing this challenge, the Ministers of Finance and Social Affairs just reached agreement on a 55 million shekel budgetary supplement (the latter recently conducted a Hebrew-language social media campaign focusing on verbal, economic and sexual violence, as well as forced social isolation).
According to a Social Affairs Ministry report issued in March, monthly domestic violence complaints rose by 250% during 2020. A more recent study by Israel’s State Comptroller stated that 13 women – Arab and Jew alike – were killed by their partners in 2020, a 160% increase over 2019. The report pointed to a number of discrepancies among the various bodies handling the issue, including with regard to definitions and statistics, adding that from 2017-2020 less than half of the budgetary allocation to fight domestic violence was actually spent.
The Social Affairs Ministry, for its part, emphasized the importance the office attaches to this issue and cited obstacles to program implementation due to the lack of a new State budget during the past two years.
Clearly much more work needs to be done in Israel in this most critical of issues. Genuine success depends not only on budgets but also on commitment and cooperation among the various bodies.
A final word: There’s been much excitement in Israel surrounding the announcement that a Barbra Streisand-produced TV series will feature Shira Haas as Golda Meir. We’re thrilled for the celebrated Israeli actress, of course, but let’s be honest: the country’s first and so far only woman prime minister left that office way back in 1974 (and the jury’s still out regarding her performance in the job). Perhaps the time has come to focus more on our women’s future and less on their past.
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