Israel Is Not Doing Enough to Promote Women's Equality

A large number of studies and statistics prove that advancing women's equality is good for the economy, the society and the country; yet the large number of laws that go unimplemented prove that laws are not sufficient.

Merav Michaeli
Merav Michaeli
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Merav Michaeli
Merav Michaeli

This week, the "cottage cheese protest" diverted attention from the battle over women's retirement age, the doctors' strike and the nurses' labor sanctions. But all these battles are connected to the same economic policy, which strengthens the strong and weakens the weak, especially if they are female.

They are all related to the fact that almost every woman also takes care of her home and family without pay. Accordingly, even when it comes to salaried caregivers, 90 percent are women in today's Israel, while other professions related to education, social welfare and caregiving are considered feminine and remunerated accordingly. On average, women earn only 60 percent of what men do. That perpetuates their dependence on men and leaves the power, positions of power and money in men's hands.

Women’s groups marching in central Tel Aviv on International Women's Day. Credit: Nir Kafri

But things could be different. This week, Gertrud Astrom, an expert on economic policy, visited Israel. Her goal, as it was formulated in Sweden, is that "Women and men shall have the same power to shape society and their own lives. That men and women shall decide equally regarding their own lives." That is the law that was passed there in 2006, which is called "Shared Power - Shared Responsibility." Astrom was one of its authors.

Under this policy, the overall budget and every line item in it is scrutinized to see how it affects men and how it affects women. In one Swedish town, for example, it turned out that 90 percent of those using public sports facilities were men, while 70 percent of the sports budget served men only. An examination of the welfare services demonstrated that requests for assistance by men were accepted more readily than similar requests by women - not out of objective considerations of real need, but due to the stigma that men are unable to manage alone.

This policy treats women as people in their own right rather than as adjuncts. Sweden today has only an individual income tax; there is no joint filing by families or couples. Every person for himself or herself. This also necessitates ending women's exclusive role as caregivers, an equal division of unpaid child care and housework, and equal responsibility for men and women in these two fields.

Even in Sweden, there is as yet no sweeping agreement on this issue: It is hard to give up free labor when you are on the side that benefits from it. But there is paternity leave for fathers that does not come at the expense of maternity leave for mothers, and every working person is entitled to subsidized education and day care for his or her children from the age of one year old.

That is called "gender mainstreaming": introducing so-called gender thinking into the mainstream, into the general, overall budget. And it is not a feminist whim. The OECD has decided that by 2015, all the organization's member countries must make progress on a gender analysis of their budgets. The idea is to work for an equal sharing of power and influence between men and women, to ensure that they have the same rights and opportunities to be engaged citizens.

Astrom termed this a particular understanding of what is called democracy. Or as feminist philosopher Carol Gilligan said recently in Israel: "Feminism is the movement to free democracy from patriarchy."

A large number of studies and statistics prove that advancing women's equality is good for the economy, the society and the country. And it's clear that equality is the moral, correct and constitutional thing for a democratic country to do.

Yet the large number of laws that go unimplemented, such as the law mandating equal pay for equal work or the one requiring suitable representation for women on public committees and negotiating teams, prove that laws are not sufficient. The decisive factor, as Astrom correctly says, is political will. And Israel's political will was evident in policy makers' attendance at a meeting with Astrom in the Knesset this week that was sponsored by MK Orit Zuaretz (Kadima ) and the Women's Forum for a Fair Budget: Exactly two MKs, Doron Avital and Arie Bibi (both of Kadima ), showed up.

John Stuart Mill, author of "The Subjection of Women," wrote back in 1869 that men who benefit from the subjection of women are "satisfied pigs" - and in his opinion, "It is better to be a human being dissatisfied than a pig satisfied." Men, take note.

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