Equality for Israeli Working Women?

JERUSALEM—Israel’s first equal employment opportunity law, banning discrimination in hiring and job advertising on the basis of sex, marital or parental status, went into effect here January 1, 1982.

Under the new law, introduced some three years ago by Sarah Doron, a Kneset member from Begin’s Likud bloc, employers found guilty of discriminatory hiring practices may be fined the equivalent of $300 or sentenced to up to six months in prison; advertisers placing discriminatory ads will be fined approximately $130.

While the equal employment opportunity law represents significant progress toward the goal of sexual equality in the Israeli work force, it does not extend to “security related jobs.” As such, it does nothing to alter the status quo in the Israeli armed forces, where men generally occupy supervisory posts while women are largely confined to the clerical sphere (see review of the film “Women in the Israeli Army,” #8). In addition, according to Nitza Shapira-Libai, advisor to Prime Minister Menachem Begin on the status of women, the new law fails to deal with dismissals, promotion and retirement privileges, nor does it protect the rights of certain minority groups, including Israeli Arabs.

Among the reasons for the long delay in passage of the law is the existence of a body of Israeli protective labor legislation for women, enacted in the 1950’s, which provides for unpaid maternity leaves of one year, a one-hour earlier quitting time for mothers and the nearly universal prohibition of night work for women. Such legislation, based on the notion that male and female workers require different treatment, runs contrary to the premise of equal employment opportunity and may pose a serious obstacle to the enforcement of the new law.