“The Concrete Ceiling; Women In Israeli Politics” by Sylvia Bijawi cites the third Knesset, elected in 1955, as the zenith for women’s participation, with 12 female Members. This 10% has yet to be matched or exceeded.
Women constitute 45% of the employment sector; more than 50% of students receiving BA’s; more than 45% receiving MA’s and more than 33% receiving Ph.D.s. These phenomenon have led to increased political activity—but why not to more appreciable accomplishments.?
The obstacles are many: Some entire political parties (Agudat Yisrael, Degel HaTorah, and Shas), though supported by public funds, won’t allow women to run on their lists. Women’s organizing is often considered “volunteerism,” not “political action.” Female politicians are called “isolationists” or accused of “sectorizing” when they organize across ethnic, national, or religious lines when they could as easily be labeled “pluralistic” or “multicultural.” Why are women’s issues thought of as less important than peace, security or the national consensus? Bijawi asks.
An example of silencing occurred during the general strike in 1997. An obedient and disciplined silence was the response to a threat to dismantle the Tipot Halav mother-child health clinics, an extraordinary preventive health institution any modern egalitarian nation would be proud of.
What do we need 50 years after the founding of the state? Writes Bijawi: Stop talking about women as victims. Then, broaden the crack in the concrete ceiling by forming a coalition of women’s organizations as one political entity that must be reckoned with. They would formulate “the Ten Commandments” of equal citizenship for women in Israel. But that, suggests the author, is a topic for another discussion.