The Ministerial Committee on the Status of Women is due to convene Tuesday in the Prime Minister's Office in Jerusalem and discuss the increasing exclusion of women from the public sphere and will mull setting up a task force to consider imposing sanctions against businesses that discriminate against women.
Maj. Gen. Orna Barbivai, who heads the Israel Defense Forces personnel directorate, will be speaking to the committee about the policy on women singing in military ceremonies, following several instances in which religious male soldiers refused to attend an event in which women were singing. Some have also refused to accept commands from female officers.
In another recent instance of tensions over women in the military, female soldiers were asked to move away from the main area at which a Simhat Torah post-holiday event was being held.
Other experts scheduled to appear before the committee include the CEO of the Egged bus company, who will discuss the sex-segregated bus lines in which women are expected to sit in the back.
On Monday, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu took a stand against public discrimination against women.
"I want to say clearly and unequivocally: I am resolutely opposed to this phenomenon," he said. "This is a restricted phenomenon that does not reflect the ultra-Orthodox population as a whole, but it does exist."
One highly publicized aspect of the elimination of women from the public sphere has been the decision of advertising companies to keep women's images off billboards, buses and other public areas in Jerusalem, out of fear that ultra-Orthodox vandals will deface the ads, as they have done in the past. In the last few days members of the Yerushalmim movement in Jerusalem have said they plan to go to the courts to force the Cnaan media company to put ads featuring women on buses.
In addition, the ultra-Orthodox segregated the streets in the Jerusalem neighborhood of Mea She'arim during the Sukkot holiday. Such issues have recently prompted mass protests in Jerusalem and elsewhere.
"Women's place in the public sphere must be guaranteed and equal," said Netanyahu, who was speaking at an event to honor the war against human trafficking. "Equality between men and women is total. So it has been and so it will continue to be. This trend contradicts Jewish tradition: 'Its ways are ways of pleasantness,.'"
President Shimon Peres, who also took part in the event, said all discrimination was unacceptable.
"All discrimination, in the eyes of us all, is a serious mistake that must be fixed immediately," said Peres. "Recently the phenomena of the disappearance of women [from the public sphere] and the ban on women singing in public places have been on the rise. We must turn public places into perceived centers of discrimination that contradict our values. If a man doesn't want to get on a bus, he shouldn't get on, no one is forcing him. But no man has the right to force a woman to sit wherever he decides. In the public sphere there shall be no discrimination."
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