Our Voices in the Gender Index

The Center for the Advancement of Women in Public Sphere  (WIPS) publishes an annual Gender Index that analyzes longitudinally the conditions of gender inequality in various realms of life in Israel, including political, economic, and cultural representation, and the states of violence and safety, health, and poverty. Each year, more areas of life are added and examined, increasing our collective understanding of current disparities and offering solutions for minimizing these gaps.

In discussions of the Index in the Knesset this month, I asked myself if the obstacles in Women of the Wall’s (WOW) battle for equal rights in prayer for the past 30 years are visible in any way via the data in the research. After all, the goal to silence women’s voices through the use of “religious” rhetoric is a phenomenon we see employed with greater frequency in the public sphere in Israel. This trend is one WOW witnesses and experiences first hand each month, but its far-reaching effects seep into realms beyond the Old City or even the synagogue.

The main parameter in the index that demonstrates this silencing of women’s voices is the comparison of yearly radio charts on Galgalatz (a leading Israeli radio station) from 2004 until now. The data shows how many songs on their top charts were performed by women versus men. The depressing picture presented is indeed a reflection of the rise of this particular sexist tactic, resembling closely the very silencing WOW has been fighting against at the Western Wall.

Whereas in 2004 the number of songs performed by women and men were almost equally distributed, now there is a clear majority of male artists, marked by approximately 87.5% of the songs performed by men as opposed to 12.5% by women.

We can attest to the fact that more and more public events take place without women singing or speaking or even appearing onstage. A few weeks ago, on Hanukkah, the State of Israel’s official menorah stood exclusively on the men’s side of the Western Wall, making it impossible for females to participate in the ceremonies. Thus, women remain in the background, forgotten from the public consciousness and diminished in status.

As women, we are becoming less and less visible: we are increasingly hidden, pushed into a sort of sub-existence in the public eye. “Seen but not heard” — and barely even that.

In some religious publications, the editors will not publish photos of women, as if to them women’s existence should not be acknowledged. “Kol Be’Rama,” a public religious radio station, was fined this year by the Supreme Court for its refusal to broadcast women. Judge Gila Kanfi-Steinitz heard the representative case and determined that the policies of the station “demonstrate discrimination on an invalid basis which is harmful to the public…and presents a negative message regarding the standing of women in society.”

We must open our eyes and fight these  efforts to negate female existence in the public sphere. Left unchecked, this phenomenon threatens to reverse many of our important victories in recent decades.

The Gender Index is an innovative and fascinating initiative. It is an important tool for reevaluating our approaches to advancing equality, particularly through its incorporation of recommendations and guidance for implementing progressive policies. If the Gender Index adds further parameters to measure the growing silencing and exclusion of women – at the Western Wall and beyond – it will present an even more comprehensive, if frightening, snapshot of our current standing in a democratic society. Hopefully, this fuller image will move us not to despair but to act against our own erasure as swiftly and vocally as possible.

From the time of our foremothers and the Suffragettes, women have been fighting to have our voices heard.  We must remain steadfast in this battle so that we will never be invisible again.

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.