Continuing with the theme from the our event, Girl Rising, we are focusing on gender and opportunities for improving equality with our event on November 21st, Women and Politics in Israel.
Our first reading by Ghada Zhugayar, entitled “Women in Israeli Society: An Overview” offers us a review of the short history of gender exclusion in Israel, how things are beginning to improve and how far women have yet to go to reach true equality in Israel. Zhugayar starts by recognizing how essential women were “in the pre-state struggle… women did indeed assume roles more or less equal to those of men. Once statehood was achieved, however, more traditional norms dominated the national psyche…” Women in Israel did increasingly work outside of the home but they largely remained in stereotypically “female professions” and Israeli women and men have been working hard to address these issues ever since. However, significant barriers remain for women in Israel. The author points to three major barriers: 1). building real awareness for women’s inequality 2). the religious establishment (and in particular its continued political power) and 3). the military and Israel’s prolonged “state of war,” which “is the quintessence of patriarchal institution, reinforcing and perpetuating the stereotypical role of women as subordinate, subservient and superfluous.” Therefore the author sees the issues of achieving peace in Israel and women’s equality as highly intertwined and dependent.
Our second reading is a CBS article and video on renowned Hollywood star and “icon of Jewish entertainment,” Barbra Streisand’s visit to Israel for President Shimon Peres’ 90th birthday. On that trip, Streisand criticized some more obvious examples of women’s lesser treatment in Israel. She claimed that “it’s distressing to read about women in Israel beign forced to sit in the back of the bus… or when we hear about ‘Women of the Wall’ having metal chairs thrown at them when they attempt to peacefully and legally pray.” Streisand was referencing the treatment of some women by ultra-Orthodox men who are outright sexist towards women, but certainly do not make up the majority in Israel.
Our final reading, by Donna Dasko, entitled “Why so many female premiers?” brings the issue home, looking at women in Canadian politics. In 2011, Ms. Kathy Dunderdale won the election to become Premier of Newfoundland. Since that election, Canada now has five female premiers and a woman leader in Nunavut. News outlets in Canada and the United States, such as the Atlantic, are writing and publishing polls that show many people may welcome women political leaders, as they are seen stereotypically to be more trustworthy and less corrupt than their male counterparts. Does this mean that sexism in Canadian politics is gone? While obvious achievements have been made by women in politics, Dasko doubts that sexism is really gone. She argues that “women still face barriers from that 2 per cent (or more) of voters who do not want them in politics, and from those in the political parties who still believe that voters are skeptical and from those in the media who still want to talk about hairstyles and wardrobes.”