With the formation of the 19th Knesset I was privileged to be appointed Chairwoman of the Committee for the Status of Women and Gender Equality. I was determined to transform the committee into the address for all women from all sectors in Israel. My mission statement was to build an equal society in which women’s voices are heard and in which talented women can contribute equally towards the development of the State of Israel.
The committee embarked on a series of legislative steps to bring the voice of women into the public sphere. We passed laws requiring female representation on two committees, the committee that appoints rabbinic judges and the committee that appoints judges for the secular courts. We authored a law which was approved in its preliminary reading requiring female representation on religious councils. A similar bill also passed its preliminary reading ensuring representation of women in local public committees, municipal companies and on city committees. The committee also worked to insure female representation of women on several important committees including the Locker Committee, which sets the defense budget, and the Shashinsky Committee regarding gas and oil resources in Israel. In order to promote female representation in city councils throughout the country, we passed a law that parties with at least on third representation of women on their lists for city council receive an additional fifteen percent funding, creating a positive incentive for female representation.
Women in the workforce became a focus of ours. Complaints reached the committee indicating that the laws related to helping women find appropriate employment were not being applied and we discovered that this was because the Economy Ministry delayed issuing guidelines on the subject as demanded by the law. The committee reached out to the ministry, leading to a detailed schedule for the application of the laws. Regarding women and compensation in the work force, we succeeded in passing the Equal Pay for Male and Female Employees Act. This law states that a female employee who is earning less than her male coworkers can sue not only for damages due to the difference in pay, but also due to the very discrimination. The committee also established a joint team with the Manufacturers Association with a stated goal of reaching equal pay for women in the work force.
Issues related to women and the IDF came to the committee’s attention as well. After learning that the defense ministry has not been setting aside social security funds for maternity allowance for women serving in the IDF, we made sure that this changed and the IDF is now ensuring maternity allowance for female soldiers. During Operation Protective Edge, wives of soldiers who were also students complained that they could not maintain their exam schedule while running their home alone. We made sure that special test dates were established for them.
Challenges in the realm of religion and state were a continuous theme for the committee during the 19th Knesset. Due to legislation which I authored and put forth, and the public debate which this spurred, the Ministry of Religious Affairs has agreed to publish new guidelines that allow every woman to immerse herself in a mikve as she chooses and while maintaining her privacy. The committee continues to follow the application of these guidelines in the field. I submitted a bill for a revised division of the Western Wall plaza. Today, the men’s section is more than three times as large as the women’s section. The bill states that the prayer sections should be divided equally between men and women, in a way that ensures that all who wish to pray may do so in an equal setting and with a sense of belonging.
Perhaps our greatest accomplishment in the Committee for the Status of Women and Gender Equality was the fact that we became an address for the women of minority groups, mostly ultra-orthodox Jews and Arab women, who are not represented properly in the Knesset (by female Knesset members from their communities). I created a forum in which women from minority groups can raise the issues that are unique to their societies. This allows us to recognize and be informed regarding those unique issues and to work to promote solutions. This forum has enabled us to assist very high numbers of minority women and to begin the process of changing their status in their communities.
I am proud to have served in this important role as a member of the Yesh Atid party. This party is a model of our goal of equality, with women making up fifty percent of the top 16 members of the party list. We still have a long way to go to spread the Yesh Atid vision of equality for women throughout Israel and I look forward to continuing this important work right after we are re-elected and begin serving in the 20th Knesset.