The Health Ministry has informed two of the country’s four health maintenance organizations that their excluding of women from ads and signs in largely ultra-Orthodox areas is wrong and ordered them to “include proportional representation of the sexes.”
The warning to the HMOs Maccabi and Meuhedet came in response to complaints in recent years about their advertising.
“HMOs must recognize the radical message that women are people, too, and deserve visual representation – including at branches in ultra-Orthodox neighborhoods,” said attorney Orly Erez-Likhovski of the Israel Religious Action Center, which filed the complaints.
The ministry also ordered Meuhedet to confirm that there are no separate entrances for women and men or sex-segregated waiting areas at three Jerusalem clinics.
The center has filed some 15 complaints over the past five years to various HMOs and to the Health Ministry for erasing women from ads, allowing sex segregation at branches and demanding that women arrive in “modest dress.” One case involved a Meuhedet branch in an ultra-Orthodox neighborhood of Beit Shemesh, near Jerusalem, where leaflets depicting only men or boys were distributed.
Another publication gives details on the directors of the city’s clinics, in which the only man is listed by his full name while the women are only identified by the first letter of their name.
A separate complaint involves Maccabi branches in Beit Shemesh, as well as the capital’s Ramot Mall, which serves a mixed population. Just about all the publicity material shows only men, boys or babies. In the two pictures with women, one is blurred and the other photo is very small.
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For its part, Maccabi said its branches have “a wide variety of announcements – some without any images of people at all, while some include two sexes and some one: women or men.”
Maccabi said that “the care of HMO members is conducted mainly by women,” so “the public is exposed broadly and daily to a female majority in key roles and at the highest professional levels.”
It added: “Maccabi is currently broadcasting an ad on television in which a woman plays a professional.” Meuhedet declined to comment.
Israel’s four HMOs are Maccabi, Meuhedet, Clalit and Leumit. In an older complaint, on a sign for Leumit in Beit Shemesh for the Women’s Health Center, the word referring to women was blacked out. Graffiti at the clinic’s entrance read “promiscuous women out” and “entry in modest dress only.”
A Leumit representative said the graffiti was removed several times but quickly sprayed back on.
Referring to the report on the fight against excluding women that the state adopted in 2014, Dr. Shlomit Avni, the Health Ministry’s policy planning chief and person in charge of combating racism, wrote to Meuhedet CEO Sigal Regev Rosenberg.
Avni wrote that while decisions on the design of ads, announcements or signs at branches are up to the HMO, “the avoidance of publishing of any female figures in the public space constitutes exclusion of women,” an action she said was strictly forbidden.
In a similar letter to Maccabi CEO Ran Saar, Avni wrote: “You may not consider the avoidance of depicting female figures.”
According to a doctor who has worked in a number of HMOs serving the ultra-Orthodox community, “The message of the HMOs is very clear: Women have no place in society; we must disappear and shut up.”
She said the competition between HMOs over new clients leads to “submission to rabbis, who decide whether hundreds of families will leave or join a given HMO.”
She added: “No one wants to upset them. In a normal country, the Health Ministry and the HMOs would decide together to stop this horrifying competition – which happens at women’s expense.”