Likud MK Gila Gamliel's bill trying to stimulate the participation of mothers in the workplace by awarding an income tax break failed to win approval last week from the ministerial committee for legislation. The reason: the high cost of the law, between NIS 1 billion and NIS 1.5 billion. Gamliel can now appeal the damage to women in general and mothers in particular, and blame the men in her party for scorning women. All this is right, but nonetheless it's good that the bill was not approved.
At first glance, Gamliel's proposed bill appears intended to create an incentive to raise the low level of women's participation in the work force: 48.4 percent of all Israeli women work - about 55 percent of Jewish women and some 15 percent of Arab women. However, this initiative isn't serious. Firstly, it completely ignores the majority of working women, who don't make enough money to be taxed. Secondly, it doesn't take into account the fact that there has been a constant rise over the last few years in the level of women's participation in the work force.
The issue that prevents young women raising children from working at all or working more hours is tied to two factors that no income tax break is going to solve: education and the accessibility of child-care frameworks for young children. Statistics show what appears to be success in bringing young women to the workplace. Between the ages of 25 and 35 - precisely in the childbearing years - the proportion of women who work outside the home reaches 79 percent among Jewish women, compared to 80 percent among Jewish men. The proportion of working women has particularly risen in civil service.
A closer examination of the elements that make up these statistics indicate the problem with taking the numbers at face value. Most women have difficulty crossing the line of earning a reasonable salary in their fields due to the traditional family structure in Israel, which places most of the burden of keeping house and caring for children on the woman. Women also suffer from a lack of technical training, a lack of flexibility in working hours, and a lack of enforcement of labor laws, among other things.
Statistics from the Industry and Trade Ministry reveal that the more children a woman has, the less likely she is to work. Only when the youngest child turns 10 years of age do mothers generally return to full-time work. That's where the central problem for Israel's working women comes into play: the need for a framework of child care for the very young. More than 63 percent of women who work send their children to daycare centers or hire babysitters, while the rest receive help from family members or friends or, somehow, manage on their own. But only 20 percent of the children are in daycare centers supervised by the Industry and Trade Ministry, and only a small proportion of those receive some subsidy.
Gamliel said the bill she proposed had been a recycled version of a previous bill, and a good guess is that there will be another one or two in a similar vein, in which working mothers will be able to use the income that becomes available due to the tax break in order to pay for child care. This appears to be a liberal approach that doesn't make any pretense of getting involved in the spending considerations of the family. In effect, the approach is a piece of glittering jewelry that is worn with torn clothing. The few women who will be able to enjoy the tax breaks - including some 28,000 women working full-time in the high-tech industry, of which 51 percent are young mothers - have in any case managed well enough until now, because their salaries are significantly higher than those of other working women. The sole universal solution that won't punish high earners and will offer real help to all the other mothers is not money but services, such as those provided by many European nations that have a free marketplace as well as a developed social welfare system.
In France, for instance, mothers register their children to the municipal daycare system during their first months of pregnancy. The level of payment required and the level of municipal and national subsidy are dependent on the mother's income, with no weight given to her partner's salary. The number of hours the child can stay in daycare are also tied to the mother's job, ranging from 12 hours of daycare for a full-time job to four hours for a part-time job. True, there has been an increased lack of space in the daycare centers over the last few years, as immigration has lowered the average population age and raised the fertility rate, but the daycare center - known there as a creche - continues to play a vital role in bringing women into the work force.
France's policy is not a complete solution, since the recession and cruel competition of the present market are hard on young mothers, especially religious mothers and single mothers who live far from major urban centers. However, if there is no structure to help women receive higher education and go to work without neglecting their children, there is no point in attempts to create legislative initiatives for mothers to work. Unless the goal is to turn ambitious and dedicated women into more successful slaves than they already are.
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