Israel is a country replete with conservative religions. It is located in the Middle East. Therefore, women do not have a key role to play in its society, correct?
That is certainly what liberal critics of the country would have you make believe. Just last week, a leading rabbi was kept under house arrest for harassment of young women. Known cases in the army – the largest bureaucracy in the country – total about 1.000 annually. Wages of women compared to men in similar jobs regularly lag behind. And the rest seems to be a familiar story…..
….or maybe not. The days of Prime Minister Golda Meir are four decades behind us. The outgoing governor of the Bank of Israel and at least the leaders of two major banks in Israel are women. Of the 120 members of the Israeli Parliament, 35 are female, a ratio that is improving consistently. Two of the country’s growing stars in TV journalism are women (and neither are Jewish).
I was particularly fascinated by three articles on women in Israeli society that have featured in the press recently.
Karin Eibschitz Segal is the head of Intel’s R&D in Israel. That means 7,000 jobs and an annual revenue of around US$30 billion has a lot to do with how she is ‘feeling every morning’. For the record, Intel has made around 18 purchases of Israeli companies since 1974. 20% of its r&d team are estimated to be women.
Returning to politics, Aliza Bloch and Einat Kalish Rotem were recently elected as mayors of the cities of Beit Shemesh and Haifa respectively. Both where considered ‘dark horses’, ousting male incumbents who were considered safe bets just weeks before the polls opened. Interestingly, the former was the head mistress of a school, whose ex pupils are considered to have voted for her en masse.
And finally, and maybe surprisingly, is Hannah Ziad. I had never heard of her until last week. With over 700,000 followers, she is the country’s leading YouTube blogger. The vast majority of her fans are from Arab countries, looking out for her latest fashion tips. Now aged 25 and developing her own brand with a designer from Bethlehem, she has been active in social media for over a decade.
Does all this make Israel a ‘Garden of Eden’ for women to live in? Unfortunately not. However, it is an indication how the country is progressing, beyond the traditional religious restrictions. It also show how others can learn from these changes.