A Battle We Can’t Afford to Lose

This past November marked the Centennial of women’s suffrage in New York State. We tend to think that women’s right to vote was received in one stage in 1920, but actually, women had to win that basic right state by state. By the time the 19th Amendment was ratified, 15 states already had women voting. Winning the battle for suffrage in New York had a strategic significance because all eyes were fixed on that state and on that particular arena.

The New York Suffragettes were politically savvy and excellent communicators. They were innovative: they rented space in shop windows and placed machine operated placards that rotated various signs on a regular basis. They collected one million signatures of women from New York State, pasted the signatures on boards, and 2,500 women carried these boards during an historic march through downtown NYC.

Protesting for Religious Freedom
(Photo: H.Perl)

There are many areas of similarity between the struggle for suffrage in New York in 1917 and WOW’s battle for equality in 2017. One of the sadder aspects is women turning against women. In 1917 there was a women’s movement against women’s right to vote. Its leaders argued that giving the right to vote would destroy families, the base of American Society. They claimed that the only way to maintain a healthy society was to have women perform duties at home, while the public domain remained male.

We at WOW hear the same argument repeatedly, a century later from ultra-Orthodox women, screaming and shrieking for us to be silent in the women’s section of the Western Wall. As a feminist, I struggle when women choose to silence their sisters, and actively participate in male supremacy. How is it, I ask myself, that they don’t understand that silencing women is a control mechanism invented by men to maintain their power?

Just like many Israelis, and Jews around the world, I feel that a victory at the Western Wall is crucial against religious oppression, it will create a domino effect in other aspects of religious freedom in Israel.  Today, 100 years after suffrage was won in New York, I look around me at women voting, getting elected and leading nations. That century-old triumph fills me with hope that our battle at the Western Wall will someday (hopefully in not so many years) will encourage other women to continue the battle for gender equality. After all, it’s not a battle we have to win. It’s a battle we can’t afford to lose.

About the Author
Lesley Sachs is the 2014 recipient of the NCJW Jewel Bellush Outstanding Israeli Feminist award and was one of the founding members of “Isha L’isha – Haifa’s Feminist Center” and worked for 10 years in the Israel Women’s Network. Lesley served as executive director of the Israel Religious Action Center (IRAC), vice president of the World Union For Progressive Judaism and founding director of Project, Kesher Israel. She is currently working as the executive director of Women of the Wall. She served on the board of directors for the Jerusalem Women’s Shelter, board of directors for the JNF-KKL and currently she is chair of the pre-army mechina Michmanim in Jaffa.
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