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Thursday, July 31, 2014

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Israel lagging in gender equality: Na’amat head

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New Na’amat International president Galia Wolloch, left, and former Knesset member Masha Lubelsky

Women have a long way to go to achieve equality in Israel, says the president of that country’s largest women’s organization.

Galia Wolloch, the new president of both Na’amat Israel and Na’amat International, says the state has not lived up to the ideals of its 1948 Declaration of Independence, in which the founders pledged full social and political equality for all citizens.

Wolloch, who was installed in July, was in Montreal as part of a North American tour to meet local Na’amat members last month.

She pointed out that Israeli women earn salaries that are 35 per cent lower than men’s, that 70 per cent of minimum-wage earners are women, that women represent only 19 per cent of the members of the Knesset, and that 13 per cent of university professors are women (and far fewer than that top administrators.)

Women are much better represented in the medical profession, but few can be found in top management positions.

In addition, thousands of women have been denied a get, preventing them from remarrying within traditional Judaism, she said.

“The state has not yet complied with what it promised us at the time of its creation, and we are still waiting for these conditions to improve,” Wolloch said in an interview.

“For me, the exclusion of women does not only refer to placing women at the back of the bus. Exclusion of women also places them on the back seat of politics, of economic institutions, of the capital market and even the back seat of society in general.”

Wolloch is using her five-year term to raise awareness of this discrimination, and she wants to start in the high schools. She is pressing for gender studies to be compulsory for all senior students.

The aim would be to combat stereotypes and instil respect for women, in the workplace and at home. Men, Wolloch believes, should play a more equal role in housework and child care.

Wolloch, who was previously chair for the past 10 years of Na’amat Tel Aviv-Jaffa, was joined on her tour by former Na’amat secretary-general Masha Lubelsky. While in that post, she was elected in 1992 as a Labour member of the Knesset, serving as deputy minister of industry and trade. She now represents Na’amat within the World Zionist Organization.

Lubelsky concurred that changing attitudes toward women in Israel has not been easy. However, some progress has been made in getting women into elected politics. During her one term she was one of about a dozen female MKs; today, 23 of the 120 members are women.

Recent research conducted by Na’amat shows that it is women overwhelmingly who put their careers on hold to raise children. 56 per cent of female respondents said they had postponed their careers, compared to 14 per cent of men, Wolloch said.

Na’amat runs 233 daycare centres serving 18,000 children throughout the country. They accept infants as young as three months and have operating hours from 7 a.m. to 5 p.m., sometimes longer.

This service, which is not funded by the government, is offered on a sliding-scale fee rate.

Na’amat Israel has launched a program called Maideleh, which means “little girl” and, in Hebrew, is also a blending of the words for “information” and “women.”

Every couple of months, the organization will highlight a particular profession in which women are hitting “the glass ceiling,” that is, not advancing to the higher echelons.

Wolloch dealt with the very real problems of women in her role in Tel Aviv, where Na’amat has a number of shelters for victims of domestic abuse, including the Glickman Centre, which is a project of Na’amat Canada, opened in 1996. It’s recently undergone a major renovation to enable each woman and her children to have a private room.

She recounted the case of one client, a woman of 25 who had been sexually abused by her father as a child, but only recently reported it to the police. Her family was enraged, and she fled to the shelter for protection, Wolloch said.

One day, leaving the shelter for a while, her two brothers, who lay in wait for her, beat her on the street. She is now at a secret location in Be’er Sheva while her case goes through the courts.

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