December was a difficult month for the status of women in Israel's parliament. On November 30, Israel held the unflattering 74th spot in Inter-Parliamentary Union's ranking for number of women legislators. But during December it dropped to the 83rd spot out of a total of 135 parliaments counted, the lowest level since such counts appeared on the Internet, a decade ago.
Ahead of Israel are Angola (79th), Zambia (78) and Borat's Kazakhstan (75th).
In Israel's parliament there are 17 women out of 120 MKs, which comes to 14.2 percent. In Uganda there are 30.7 percent, which ranks it 18th. In Iraq, one out of every four lawmakers is a woman, ranking it 33rd. Tunisia at 42nd and Ethiopia at 47th, are much more enlightened than us in this aspect of politics.
By the way, the top spot is not held by a Scandinavian country: Rwanda is number one with 48.8 percent women in its parliament. But the main reason for this is that so many men were massacred during the genocide there.
In practice things in our country are much worse because when a number of countries have the same percentage of women in parliament, they get the same spot in the ranking. The implication is very unpleasant: In practice we are ranked 101 out of 188 countries.
The truth is that the number of women in parliament has not dropped. The opposite has happened but not rapidly enough. During the first 14 Knesset plenums - up to 1999 - the number of women in the Knesset stood between seven (5.8 percent) and 12 (10 percent); only nine women (7.5 percent) were elected to the 14th Knesset (1996-1999). Fourteen women were elected to the 15th Knesset in 1999, and in the 16th in 2003 the number rose to 18 (15 percent). In other words, in seven years the number of women in the Knesset doubled.
The current Knesset, however dropped to 17 women (14.2 percent). The problem: If in 1999 14 percent was enough to place us among the top 40, now it is enough only for the 83rd spot.
The outgoing chairman off the Knesset Committee on the Status of Women, Gideon Sa'ar (Likud) says that increasingly countries are passing legislation reserving seats in parliament for women. Most recently Spain passed a law, before the elections, in which the number of candidates of the same sex in a party will not drop below 40 percent. The United States, like Israel, has not fixed representation for women and holds the unimpressive 71st spot in the ranking.
There are two proposals currently in the Knesset aiming to bolster the representation of women. One is a bill calling for providing 150 percent funding for female MKs (compared to 100 percent for men) in parties with a minimum of 30 percent female MKs. For example, a party with six MKs, two of whom are women. For two women, the party will receive three funding points. The proposal has passed a preliminary reading and is now being discussed by the Knesset Constitution, Law and Justice Committee.
Last week, MK Sa'ar proposed that instead of a financial incentive, a minimum representation for each sex should be set, as in Spain. "Nothing outrageous," he said. "Let us say one third." Of course, this would increase the representation of women in the Knesset 2.5 fold. In order to avoid a clash with the ultra-Orthodox parties, the leadership of each party will be able to refuse such representation. The assumption is that the non-religious parties will not dare make a similar decision.
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