Lonye Debra Rasch
Hadassah Editor, Writer and Member, Hadassah's National Assembly

Hadassah Foundation Grantee Kicks Off Bold New Gender Equity Initiative

Hadassah Foundation and Israeli NGO WePower launch The Gender Equality Accelerator.  Photo courtesy of Hadassah.
Hadassah Foundation and Israeli NGO WePower launch The Gender Equality Accelerator. Photo courtesy of Hadassah.

At a time when many of us feel anxious that too many women are running into brick walls instead of shattering more glass ceilings, it’s so nice to know that longtime Hadassah Foundation grantee WePower is forging ahead with bold new plans to achieve gender equity in all spheres of life.

As a Hadassah Foundation alumna, I felt privileged to be present when WePower, an Israeli nongovernmental organization (NGO), kicked off its newest initiative, The Gender Equality Accelerator. It was during the United Nations’ 67th session of the Commission on the Status of Women that WePower, an advisor to the UN on women’s leadership and gender equality, launched this new project. The “international, multicultural gender equality accelerator,” WePower explains, will focus on ensuring that “women are equally represented in the highest echelons of decision-making.” It “will become a permanent organ, initiating on a regular basis, new and more effective tools and strategies for achieving the desired gender equality,” as outlined in the UN Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) as “50:50 by 2030.”

The two dynamic leaders at WePower’s helm — Chair Dr. Adv. Orit Rishpi Lavi and Chief Executive Officer Dr. Mazal Mazi Avidov Shaul — explained at the March 13 UN session that WePower is poised to seek out new collaborations with corporations, governmental companies and nongovernmental organizations to strategize a new roadmap for keeping the glass ceiling permeable in the years ahead.

In 2000, Dr. Lavi notes, there were 257 local authorities in Israel. Within them were 3,500 council members, and only 60 of them were women. Today, she reports, there are 10 times that number of women in key positions in Israel’s local councils. Lavi is herself a director for seven of Israel’s governmental companies.

Highlighting the need to document gender inequities and raise societal consciousness about them, the visionary Dr. Shaul, who holds a PhD in chemistry, notes that today, “Instead of doing chemistry with materials, I am doing chemistry with people.”

Former Hadassah Foundation Board Chair Sue Beller, in sharing the Hadassah Foundation’s pride in WePower’s achievements, noted at the UN session that the Foundation has named WePower one of its first-ever “Visionary Partners” in achieving gender equality. As such, WePower, founded in 2000 to empower women to reach top positions in government, politics and business, has been awarded a $130,000 unrestricted grant, payable over five years, to propel its mission forward.

Thanks to NGOs like WePower, progress is being made, though not as quickly as its leaders and many of us would like. But, as the WePower representatives make clear, gathering and disseminating the data about where we were and where we still have to go bolsters the mission, while WePower continues to lobby for legislation to remedy the inequities and to host trainings that embolden thousands of women to seek positions of influence.

WePower is proud that six of its alumni serve in the current Knesset (20 percent of the women now serving). In addition, 25 percent of the women WePower has trained have run for office or various boards. Once these women achieve their leadership goals, WePower continues to mentor them to ensure their long-term success.

During the UN session, WePower representatives led small-circle brainstorming groups to elicit innovative ideas to foster gender equity. Whether it is legislative change to mandate gender equity, the appointing of women to influential governmental and business boards that control societal purse strings, teaching women to have more chutzpah in lobbying for equal opportunities in the business world, raising men’s awareness about mentoring and promoting women equally in the workplace, recognizing the value of domestic work and unpaid caregiving to family members that women provide so much more often than men, acknowledging the unperceived added value that women provide when they sit at decision-making tables — all of these challenges are addressed within the UN SDGs.

“Next steps,” explained Dr. Shaul, will be to summarize, disseminate and discuss these ideas widely in a collaborative effort to surge ahead toward 50:50 gender equality by 2030.

As a longtime leader on the National Board of Hadassah, The Women’s Zionist Organization of America, I very much admire Hadassah’s foresight in establishing the Hadassah Foundation in 1998 to expand, through grants, Hadassah’s influence in empowering women and girls. Now the largest Jewish women’s foundation in the world, the Hadassah Foundation has invested more than $11 million in social change organizations who serve women and girls in the United States and Israel.

It’s gratifying to see the fruits of our grants!

About the Author
Lonye Debra Rasch is a special projects writer and editor for Hadassah, The Women’s Zionist Organization of America and Hadassah International, HWZOA’s global fundraising arm. She is also a member of the Hadassah Writers' Circle. Having spent her professional writing and editing career specializing in health care and psychology, she now is a volunteer full time and a member of HWZOA’s National Assembly, its governing body. Married to an international attorney, she is the mother of two daughters and the grandmother of three small children. She is a big advocate of practicing yoga, being a member of a book club group with smart, kind women, and spending time laughing and sharing life’s little sagas with family and friends. She lives Short Hills, NJ, and New York City and is the past president of Hadassah Northern New Jersey.