I am often asked about the status of women in Israel. And based on how these discussions play out, I’ve come to realize that others consider Israeli women to be more dominant than they actually are and to have more equal rights than they do in reality. Several reasons might explain the misconception. One is that many people throughout the world are aware of the groundbreaking premiership of Golda Meir starting in 1969, as only the fourth female head of state in modern history. Another is mandatory military service in Israel for girls in Israel and not only boys. Israeli women also seem to express themselves confidently in speech and body language, especially when compared to women in most if not all other cultures. Still, the situation is somewhat different than it appears to be, as borne out by concrete research as opposed to people’s speculative impressions.
For example, the German bank N26 conducted their 2021 study (the Female Opportunity Index) to check which countries give women more chances for success. It analyzes gender equality in 100 countries by looking at various fields, such as female leadership in government, corporations, STEM and entrepreneurship. The study data shows that Norway, Finland and Iceland were the top-ranking countries for female opportunities. Israel, in contrast, came in only 30th place overall! More exciting results were that Rwanda had the highest score for females in government; Sweden led in terms of female managers; the U.S. had the most female entrepreneurs and Japan came in first in terms of females’ access to education.
It is not surprising to see that female leadership within Israel scored relatively high for their presence in management, entrepreneurship and education. Examples of influential Israeli women include Rakefet Russak-Aminoach (former CEO of Bank Leumi and today a managing partner of Team8 Fintech), Adi Soffer Teeni (VP and GM of Meta Israel), Keren Elazari (a cybersecurity expert) and others.
Following are some probable causes:
- Israeli society tends to be demanding and critical – There is a strong work ethic in Israel and a competitive atmosphere. Many Israeli women feel the need to prove their ability to themselves and their environment.
- High cost of living – Dual income families are the norm in Israel. A majority of Israel women hold down a job outside the home and don’t reduce their hours even when a third child is born.
- Women in the Israeli army – Most of the population serves in the IDF (Israeli Defense Forces). Many military values, such as courage, leadership and functioning under high pressure, carry over into daily life and business. Israelis—men and women alike—are “survivors” and willing to work hard to succeed.
The percentage of women in the Israeli army is relatively high (it is mandatory, after all, with some exceptions). But the right question is not the percentage of women, but which positions women fill in the Israeli army. Despite some progress regarding combat positions for women, traditional gender roles are still strong in the IDF. Women were permitted into the prestigious IAF pilots’ course only after Alice Miller petitioned the Supreme Court in 1994. Many other military roles were also opened only after court decisions, and still not all of them.
Women in Israel’s Business World
Unfortunately, when you look at the business sector, women’s status is clearly lower than men’s in many different realms. For instance, the gaps are glaring upon comparing wages, with men earning an average of 30% more than women. The same goes for positions of power and influence over the Israeli economy – where women comprise only 32% of executive managers.
Israeli Women’s Place in Religion and Society
In Israel, clear separation between religion and state is sadly lacking. Israel is divided between religious and secular values. Equal rights for women exist at the constitutional level but not at the religious level. Therefore, in many cases of gender discrimination, the protection of women has been done exercised by the High Court of Justice. The entire justice system in Israel is currently under political threat, and reactionary social forces here, as in so many other places worldwide these days, are striving to undermine the already precarious position of women and their rights.
Food for Thought
As we approach International Women’s Day, which takes place each year on March 8th, I revisit the N26 Index results. I see that the U.S. ranked at 48th place. Many Arab countries, like Saudi Arabia, Oman, Iran, Algeria, Jordan, Egypt, and Pakistan, ranked from 93rd to last place, respectively. So, maybe it is not so bad in Israel. Still, as an Israeli, I believe that the status of women in Israel can be significantly improved and as a woman I want to see it improve not only here but also everywhere else around the globe.