The confusion that emerged after the Knesset vote on extending the retirement age for women was a disgrace. The MKs, convinced that they were helping women's organizations, were certain they were voting to extend the retirement age to 62, but it turned out that they voted to extend it to 64. The next day they apologized, but the women's groups complained that once again, the weak women were harmed.
One group will be harmed by the delay in retirement: the blue-collar workers who have been hardest hit by nearly all the cutbacks. Postponing the date on which those women begin to receive their old-age benefits is real harm. The women's groups should focus their campaign on that issue and try to provide protection where there is real need.
But for most women in the economy, postponing retirement age makes sense, and there is no reason not to make it the same as the retirement age for men. It is, of course, difficult to discuss such a change with a government that has no interest in equality between the sexes, and the attempt to equalize the retirement ages was due to constraints deriving from its ongoing failure in the management of economic affairs. However, women's groups should not become overprotective of women, as this would undermine their own cause and be unjustified.
The seeming privilege given to women in 1987, when the retirement age law was passed - which was meant to equalize the retirement age for men and women, but made do with allowing women to retire at 60 but requiring them to do so at 65 - is a remnant of an outdated approach to women in the labor force. In 1954, when the Knesset included MKs like Devora Netzer, Baba Idelson and Golda Meir - who fought among themselves - it passed the 1954 Women's Work Law. The enlightened side of the law granted protection to women after giving birth or having an abortion, and protection on other women's health issues. The controversial, paternalistic side of the law prevented women from working at night, though later, under pressure, the law was amended to enable night work for nurses and caregivers.
Over the years, positive clauses were added to the Women's Work Law - such as restrictions on firing pregnant women, or recognizing time spent in a shelter for battered women as an absence for which a worker cannot be fired - but the ban on night work was never lifted. The situation is similar in other labor laws. On one hand, there is the Equal Opportunity Law of 1988 and the law protecting women from sexual harassment in the work place. On the other hand, the retirement age for women remains earlier than that for men, and women are still not allowed to work at night.
Moreover, to attract women into the labor force, the special needs of young women were recognized and the civil service even decided that a working woman with a child under the age of 13 can finish work an hour earlier. But that very willingness to help weaker women and integrate them into the work force on the one hand, wove a web that includes hidden obstacles to equality on the other.
To understand how this happens, it is enough to take a look at the Be'er Sheva District Labor Court's decision in the case of policeman Alexander Muskelenko. He filed a suit against his former place of employment, the police, to require it to shorten his working day by an hour so that he could go home to take care of his young daughter. Among other things, he argued that his wife works in a place that does not enable her to cut her working day short, and the Equal Employment Opportunity Law was meant not only to integrate women in the work force, but also to deepen the concept of parenting for both spouses. The police argument, that the regulation only covers women, was a perpetuation of the stereotype of women, argued the plaintiff.
The judge ruled in Muskelenko's favor. Apparently, in light of the constantly rising proportion of women in the work force (from 25 percent in the 1950s to 44 percent nowadays), and the no less significant rise in the level of education of women compared to that of men, the judge regarded the case as a precedent to establish equality.
And indeed, alongside the empowerment of women on the job and the necessary campaign for equal pay for equal work, women must also deal with abolishing the paternalistic approach toward women at work and removing the unfair burden from the shoulders of men, in order to enable equality in the household and between spouses. This should be true of both parenting and the retirement age.
Without both sides of the equality coin, women will betray the feminist ambition to liberate both sexes from the yoke of their stereotypes. There is no equality without a price. The women must prove that they are ready to pay that price - for if they do not, the perpetuation of their weakness will be an obstacle both for them and for society at large.
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