Women in Israel

   Israel has had its share of prominent women, such as Golda Meir, who was an important figure from the beginning of the British mandate through the independence of the Jewish state and later served as foreign minister and prime minister. At the same time, feminist movements have argued that because of the extensive role and political power of the religious political parties and the religious institutions in Israel, as well as because of the traditional nature of the cultures from which many of the country's immigrants (see ALIYA) come, women are treated unequally in Israel.
   Women enjoyed few rights and little legal protection under Ottoman rule. By contrast, Jewish women played a prominent role in the work of the Zionist pioneers, settlement on the land, the Jewish underground defense forces, and the political effort leading to Israel's statehood. Women began to take part in public and communal life early in the 20th century, and women's organizations (representing most points on the ideological spectrum) were established in the Yishuv. They participated in public debates from the outset, enjoyed full legal equality in most of the organizations, and voted for the Assembly of the Elected in 1920.
   Israel's Declaration of Independence provides for complete equality of social and political rights to all citizens without regard to, among other things, gender. The Women's Equal Rights Law of 1951 gives women equal legal status with men. The Equal Pay for Equal Work Law of 1964 ensures that women will be treated equally in both private and government employment. The Domestic Violence Law of 1991 and the Sexual Harassment Prevention Law of 1998 provide additional legal protection to Israeli women.
   Today, women constitute more than half (50.6 percent) of Israel's population and enjoy the full rights and privileges afforded by Israeli citizenship and Israel's democratic traditions, norms, and values. However, as in most other modern democratic societies, feminists contend that the goal of Israeli women to achieve equality with their male counterparts remains unfulfilled.
   While women make up 46.5 percent of the Israeli workforce, they are underpaid and underrepresented in middle- and upper-management positions. The average salary for a female worker in 2005 was less than half (58 percent lower) than that of her male counterpart. Just percent of salaried female workers held management positions, compared with 5.7 percent of men. In Israel's lucrative hi-tech sector, nearly four times the number of men were in top-paying jobs (8.4 percent), with just 2.4 percent of the female workforce holding such positions. While female workers outnumbered their male counterparts in the civil service, men held an overall advantage of 31 percent in terms of average net salary and overtime pay. In 2006, women made up only percent of CEOs in Israel's 500 leading companies—this however was greater than the proportion of female CEOs in the United States, which stood at only 2 percent in 2006. While a secular democratic state with an independent judiciary, Israel assigns to religious authorities of its various faith communities juridical control over issues of personal status, for example, marriage, conversion, divorce, and burial. The Orthodox and ultra-Orthodox streams of Judaism, acting according to what feminists describe as a patriarchal interpretation of halacha, retain control over the sanctioning of divorce, which requires a Jewish woman to be "released" from marriage by her husband. Women's rights advocates in Israel have charged that the rabbinical courts have been reluctant to use all means at their disposal to compel reticent husbands to conclude divorce proceedings expeditiously. In a similar fashion, feminists have criticized Muslim, Druze, and Bedouin religious authorities in Israel for their failure to vigorously condemn acts of domestic violence and honor killings against women in their respective communities.
   An area of significant concern for feminists has been Israel's emergence as a major international center for the human trafficking of females, a phenomenon that most sociologists and criminologists link to the social dislocation experienced by the disproportionately large number of single mothers and non-Jewish women who arrived in Israel (along with criminal elements) in the mass wave of immigration from the former Union of Soviet Socialist Republics in the 1990s.
   Israel is working closely with foreign police agencies and international organizations to combat human trafficking.
   While women played a prominent role in the Hagana and in the War of Independence (1948—19), serving as nurses as well as couriers and sometimes weapons smugglers, it was not the policy of the Israel Defense Forces (IDF) to have women serve in front-line combat units. While most Israeli women perform a period of two years (currently 21 months) of compulsory military service, they have traditionally been relegated to clerical or other support functions. One of the most noteworthy achievements of the women's rights movement has been the gradual lifting of restrictions on the participation of qualified women in almost all units of the IDF. A signpost in this process was the 1995 amendment to the Defense Service Law, which allowed a servicewoman, Alice Miller, to apply for Combat Flight School and female recruits to serve in some IDF combat units. As of 2005, women were allowed to serve in 83 percent of all positions in the IDF, including shipboard navy service (except submarines) and artillery. Combat roles are voluntary for women.
   In 1949, Israel was considered one of the most advanced countries in terms of female representation in parliament. Eleven women had been elected to the first Knesset, representing 9.1 percent of the total number of lawmakers (120). In 2006, 17 women were elected to the 17th Knesset, representing 14.2 percent of the body. Feminists are of mixed minds on the progress made by Israeli women in Israeli politics over the past six decades. On the one hand, there are those who express disappointment by the relatively low proportion of female lawmakers and note that the increase in female candidates in recent elections has been artificially inflated by the practice of some of the major mainstream political parties to establish reserved seats for women on their electoral slates. They moreover note that this form of affirmative action is skewed against women because the religious and Arab political parties rule out women lawmakers.
   On the other hand, other feminists, while acknowledging such concerns, nevertheless point to the examples of women who have made great contributions to Israeli politics, economics, culture, and society in recent years, building on the tradition of meritocracy established by Golda Meir. Such women include Tzipi Livni, who was appointed vice prime minister and minister of foreign affairs in Israel's 31st overnment in May 2006 (only the second Israeli woman to serve as foreign minister, the first since Meir), and Dalia Itzik, who was elected Israel's first female speaker of the Knesset in May 2006. In serving as acting president from January 2007 to July 2007, replacing the disgraced Moshe Katzav, Itzik also became the first Israeli woman to serve as Israel's head of state. In the fields of academics and scientific innovation, Professor Rivka Carmi became the first woman to head an Israeli university when she became president of Ben-Gurion University of the Negev in January 2006, and Shulamit Levenberg, a research scientist in the Department of Biomedical Engineering at the Technion—Israel Institute of Technology specializing in stem cell research, was listed as one of Scientific American's 50 "science leaders" for 2006. Israeli women who have enjoyed success in business and finance include industrialist Shari Arison, who was ranked 194th on Forbes Magazine's 2007 list of "World's Billionaires"; Galia Maor, CEO of Bank Leumi, who was ranked 88th on Forbes''s 2006 list of "100 Most Powerful Women"; and Smadar Barber-Tzadik, who, in becoming CEO of First International Bank of Israel in 2006, became the second woman (along with Maor) to head one of Israel's five largest banks.

Historical Dictionary of Israel. .

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