Money is the Name of the Game: Women in the Israeli Welfare State

In an article by Barbara Swirsky, the author points out that the ideal welfare state guarantees all citizens basic standards of income, nutrition, health, housing and education—as a political right, not as charity. Success of the state is measured by how closely this ideal is met.

In Israel, which sees itself as a welfare state, there is a broad political consensus in favor of gender equity. However, the reality is that Israel’s economic policies lead to greater inequality. Swirsky gives these examples: While women do attain higher education in great numbers, more than a third of them train to work in health and education, where governmental budgets have been slashed in recent years. Pensions and unemployment compensation are based on level of salary and years of unemployment, penalizing women for the time they devote to caring for their families. The school day is short and there is no growth in the day-care system to keep up with need.

Thus despite “progressive” legislation, commissions and committees—writes Swirsky— Israel’s economic goals are high unemployment, lowering the minimum wage, lowering taxes for the wealthy and raising the wages of top earners, who are mostly men. The importance of gender equity is unquestioned in Israel as long as it doesn’t have to come out of the government coffers. But, says Swirsky, money is the name of the game.

We need to demand those changes that will have the broadest impact on the most people, concentrating for example on raising the minimum wage and raising the salaries of those 72% of Israelis who earn average salaries and lower. Higher salaries would contribute more to the welfare state in taxes, making it stronger, and, writes Swirsky, would liberate women.