Women's protest in Jerusalem - Michal Fattal - December 23 2011
Women protesting in Jerusalem against the exclusion of women from the public arena, December 23, 2011. Photo by Michal Fattal
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The Ministerial Committee for Legislation on Sunday delayed a vote on bills aimed at combating discrimination against women.

The two pieces of legislation, one proposed by Likud MK Tzipi Hotovely, and the other by Kadima MK Orit Zuaretz, would reduce the dismissal of pregnant women, or those undergoing fertility treatment, and ensure that women who want to breastfeed during work hours are able to do so.

Cabinet ministers removed the bills from Sunday’s agenda.

Hotovely’s initiative would significantly limit the ability of employers to dismiss pregnant women, and those in fertility treatment. According to the bill, the procedure requiring employers to obtain permits to dismiss a pregnant woman would be compared to a similar procedure that is currently followed in the case of IDF reserve soldiers. Hotovely argues that, according to Ministry of Industry, Trade and Labor figures, in the last year the number of permits issued for dismissing pregnant women and women in fertility treatments went up. In some of the cases that have reached Israeli women’s organizations, even when employers are ordered to reinstate a woman in her job, in practice women are not always reinstated, and do not receive compensation for the unlawful dismissal.

Zuaretz’s proposal would require employers to ensure that breastfeeding mothers who bring their babies to work have the facilities to breastfeed them if they wish to. Women working full time would be entitled to a one-hour break during the workday for breastfeeding or pumping breastmilk during the first four months of a baby’s life.

The committee did pass an initiative by Labor MK Eitan Cabel that would allow wives of IDF reservists to start work an hour late, or leave work an hour early, while their husbands are on reserve duty. Married partners with children under the age of thirteen would be eligible in cases where reserve duty runs for at least four days straight. The law would also apply to husbands whose wives are on reserve duty.

Explaining the thinking behind the initiative, Cabel said, “This bill is first and foremost a social bill. This is a demand that has come from the field, from reservists themselves that have been forced to do somersaults in the air and sometimes even to pay a babysitter for the children. This is the least the state can do to help people that leave everything in the middle of their lives and go out to serve the state.”

“This may be a small step, but this is a big day for reservist soldiers,” Cabel added. There are still many obstacles the bill has to go through in order for it to pass, however, including second and third readings.

The issue of the status of women in Israel has drawn the attention of the Israeli public in the wake of a number of recent incidents. At the start of Sunday's cabinet meeting, Prime Minister Netanyahu said, “Israel is a Western liberal democracy and as such its public space is open and safe for all, men and women."