International Women’s Day 2018
NIF’s commitment to women’s rights
To mark International Women’s Day 2018, The New Israel Fund, alongside the Dafna Fund and the National Council of Jewish Women, are launching a new micro-grants pool that will award grants of $1,000-$5,000 to the most promising initiatives led by individuals and organisations that address: Sexual assault, violence and harassment, women’s political representation, exclusion of women and women in peace and security.
We hope this initiative will help us to further our commitment to investing in civil society projects and groups led by women and for women. As you will see below, we have made great gains in this area over the past year. But more, as always, needs to be done.
Women’s rights are human rights, said Hillary Clinton more than twenty years ago. Nowhere is that truer than in Israel. The interrelationship of religion, tradition, national conflict and militarism with the dynamic modernism of much of Israeli society is a complex nexus, requiring astute analysis and bold strategies to advance the cause of women.
From its inception in 1979, the New Israel Fund has played a key role in the fight for women’s rights. From our seed-funding of the first rape crisis centers in the 1980s, to our legal fight for the first woman Air Force pilot in the 1990s, to our success in increasing the percentage of women on religious councils, NIF and its partners are responsible for significant achievements on the long road to equality.
Women as Agents of Change
For many years, the ultra-Orthodox authorities in Israel have attempted to narrow women’s visibility, from requiring women to sit in the back of buses to restricting their appearance of at public events. The issue requires ongoing vigilance; only a few months ago, the Attorney General cut a back-room deal with the religious parties to “soften” the Justice Ministry’s policy against exclusion of women – a policy achieved in 2014 after a years-long NIF campaign.
NIF religious freedom grantees continue to use legal, advocacy and organsing strategies to counter such attempts to roll back hard-won gains. Thanks to a petition from the Israel Religious Action Center (IRAC), a court ordered El Al to end its policy of asking women to change their seats upon the request of male ultra-Orthodox passengers. More recently, the High Court issued the final ruling in a five year long battle over women’s rights in Bet Shemesh, ordering the mayor to tear down all the offensive “modesty” signs plastered around the city.
Continuing its role as the voice and flag bearer of the Orthodox feminist movement, Kolech this year helped install two women as school rabbis as well as the first-ever female congregational rabbi of an Orthodox synagogue in Jerusalem. Kolech also paved the way for 80 women to give sermons at Orthodox synagogues, many of which had never had a woman speak on the bima.
Another leading moderate Orthodox group, Neemanei Torah Ve’Avodah (NTA), ran a media campaign in support of prayers led by women at the Western Wall after Netanyahu annulled the State’s agreement for an upgraded egalitarian space. Also, as part of its efforts to promote gender equality in State-Religious schools, NTA successfully lobbied the Education Ministry to withdraw ten textbooks that referred to women only in terms of their roles as stay-at home wives and mothers.
Another major breakthrough this year saw Shatil (NIF’s ‘action arm’), alongside Kolech and NTA, defeat a proposal by two religious lawmakers (one Jewish, one Muslim) to add a religious figure to the medical abortion committee, whose role is to determine whether an abortion can proceed. The outcry against the proposal was so immediate and vocal that the Knesset did not even vote.
Much like their Jewish counterparts, Arab women in Israel face many challenges in strengthening their status in a traditional, patriarchal society. NIF grantees continue to break new ground legally, socially, and politically for women in Israeli society. Understanding that a key obstacle to women’s leadership is public attitudes, Women against Violence (WAV) launched the “Know Her” campaign with a series of short videos that present women leader’s successes through their personal stories. WAV also signed 5 additional Arab local councils to the Equality Pact, bringing the total up to 25 municipalities that have committed to women’s representation, employment and other measures of gender equality.
Al Zahraa women’s political movement in the Galilee is helping to increase the number of female employees in local councils to 30%. In the Negev, all of the girls participating in Alnuhud‘s empowerment program went on to receive full high school matriculation certificates and 96% of them were accepted into higher education.
Israel’s status as a vibrant democracy is well-earned, but it is at risk because of mounting efforts to restrict women’s rights. From social media to the streets, Israeli women are taking charge of their own civil rights and status in society, devising new and innovative strategies to make the case against sexual assault and harassment, discrimination and the exclusion of women in the public sphere and the corridors of power.
Click here to watch a TEDx talk by Amal Elsana Alh’jooj, winner of NIF’s 2012 Human Rights Award. Amal is one of Israel’s most highly regarded and passionate civic activists in the Bedouin community. At age 17, she established the first Bedouin women’s organisation. Today she is a leader in the Arab Bedouin community in Israel and a key figure in sustainable community development in the Negev region.
These grants are made possible through the generosity of the Dafna Fund, New Israel Fund, National Council of Jewish Women, Armoni Family Fund and Litai Fund.
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