The struggle against raising the retirement age for women is not a struggle against the Israeli economy, despite Nehemia Shtrasler’s arguments in these pages, which reinforced claims that have already been made many times by men who feel threatened over the possibility of true equality here. Rather, it is a struggle over priorities.
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If only there were struggles here against the salary disparities like there are over raising the retirement age. If only there were an outcry here against the firing of pregnant women. If only there were struggles here over the rights of women and other populations that rise up against power, wealth and authority, demanding fundamental, real equality that includes closing the gaps and investing resources — battles equal to those waged by men who protect their own privilege with such dedication.
It is important to emphasize that in struggles for social justice, men have nothing to lose. Those who think the Israel Women’s Network has some hidden, malicious intention of replacing masculine bastions of power with feminine ones, so as to deprive men of their rights and wreak havoc on their comfortable lives, are mistaken. That was never the goal of the feminist struggle.
Shtrasler complains that there is no men’s lobby, nobody to represent men and protect their rights from being violated. But there certainly is a men’s lobby! Lift up your eyes to Jerusalem — every Israeli government is a men’s lobby.
The current Knesset, with its 93 male MKs and a few female ones who support their struggle, has been fighting an all-out war since its term began. It has been fighting every attempt to rectify injustices, from efforts to exempt women abused by their partners from paying municipal property tax to attempts to proposals to privatize the oversight of surrogacy contracts. The Knesset even fought about the name of the Committee on the Status of Women and Gender Equality, as if a name change could have harmed somebody. Every so often, we succeed in stopping attempts to perpetuate the balance of power among the various socioeconomic classes in Israeli society.
As far as raising the retirement age, Shtrasler is wrong to portray the Israel Women’s Network as a cruel and monolithic bloc. Our positions on this issue are complex and varied. Some of us support raising the retirement age, out of an understanding that life expectancy is increasing and that an appropriate solution must be found to the problem of severe poverty in old age, from which women suffer most. Others believe there should be a difference in the retirement age for men and women, but that it should be set according to the degree of burnout in various professions, not according to gender, which is not a relevant criterion.
Shtrasler compares us to the countries of Europe, but does not complete the comparison. While men’s retirement age is higher in Israel, the workweek in Europe is significantly shorter, the salary gaps between men and women are narrower, and the gaps between the wealthy and the poor are smaller. Poverty among women who reach retirement age in Israel does not begin on the day they retire. Rather, it begins during their working years (yes, most of the poor are women), continues with salary gaps that do not decrease for decades, and ends with “pink” professions (which, coincidentally, are the professions with the lowest salaries). There is no shortage of similar phenomena, such as sexual harassment, that result in preventing women’s advancement.
If we hope for equality, we must deal with the many women who never reach the point of using their pension, since they are thrown out of the workforce. We must deal with the gaps between men and women in power, money and status. We must solve the failures of the market, which is constructed around the desires and needs of men, even though it harms them, too, by preventing them from fully participating in family life.
Discrimination is an act carried out by those with power. It is aimed against women, but also against men who belong to groups that have been moved away from the focal points of power. That is why an outcry must be raised over discrimination against men as well, whether they are Mizrahi, Arab or Ethiopian.
It may be that the retirement age for women should be raised. But before we do that, please join us in a struggle for a society that is less poor, less exclusionary and less violent toward women. Join us in setting priorities that will end discrimination, enforce legislation that protects male and female workers, end the oppression by the billionaires who run the country, and stop the avaricious behavior that stands out so prominently in comparison with the difficulties faced by those in the lowest income brackets (a large majority of whom are women). Let this be done every day of the year and, as Shtrasler writes, “without fear or discrimination.”
The writer is the legal adviser of the Israel Women’s Network, a nonprofit women’s rights group.