More women are running in the March election than in the past. An ultra-Orthodox woman has specially founded a religious women’s party.
Zipi Livni could theoretically become head of government. Photo: dpa
More women than ever before will enter Israel’s parliament after the March 17 election. 31 female candidates are on promising lists. In total, 120 women will sit in the Jerusalem Knesset. The left-wing Meretz party is far ahead in terms of gender equality, with three out of six candidates being women, including the party leader. The Labor Party is also impressive, with nine women out of a total of 25 candidates, six of whom are reserved for Zipi Livni’s alliance partner Hatnua.
The two parties are contesting the elections together as the Zionist Camp. If the Zionist Camp wins the current neck-and-neck race with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s Likud Party, Livni could become prime minister after two years in government under a rotation agreement.
For many men in Israel, the army serves as a springboard into politics. Netanyahu, too, was once a member of an elite military unit. The situation is different for women. At the same time, their disadvantage in many fields offers female candidates a broad spectrum of topics for the election campaign.
"The meager representation of women in key political positions translates into unequal pay and unequal opportunities in the labor market," explains Revital Sweid, number 14 at the Zionist Camp. To date, women earn on average only 65 percent of what a man gets for the same job. About 20 percent of women in the labor market have part-time jobs, while men in the workforce are nearly all employed full-time.
Police sex scandal
Violence against women is also a problem. In these weeks, a sex scandal in the Israeli police is making headlines. Four leading commanders have already had to leave their posts because they are strongly suspected of sexually assaulting subordinates.
Sweid is one of the new faces in politics. A law graduate and expert on organized crime, she wants to campaign to ensure that women in police uniforms no longer have to fear their superiors. It is also important to "end unequal pay in the public service" and "create better career opportunities for women." Furthermore, the care of small children must be tax-deductible.
The United List of Arab Parties is doing poorly on equal rights, with only two female candidates out of 15 hoped for. Aida Touma-Sleiman is nevertheless optimistic. "This is a 100 percent increase," she says. In the last government term, only one woman sat in the Knesset for the Arab parties. Touma-Sleiman is also one of the new parliamentarians. "I was often the first woman, and I always made sure that more women came after me." She said the very fact that she, known as a "militant feminist," was put up at all proves "that we women are becoming more mainstream."
No place on the men’s lists
For the time being, Ruth Colian and the B’Zhutan party she founded for ultra-Orthodox women are in a rather lost position. Although she herself optimistically expects "five to six mandates," she is unlikely to clear the hurdle of 3.25 percent of the vote. The 33-year-old law student and mother of four dared to go it alone after she failed to find a hearing with the ultra-Orthodox parties Shass and Judaism and Torah – both of which are all-male lists.
"The ultra-Orthodox woman is at the bottom of the social hierarchy," explains Colian, who wants to work to better educate pious women about their social rights. Domestic violence, she says, is "twice and three times" as difficult for ultra-Orthodox women to endure as it is for secular ones. Often, families and communities would ostracize the women if they reported their husbands. Out of 14 women’s shelters nationwide, there is currently only one for pious women, he said.
"We raised 7,500 shekels in donations," Colian says. She wants to finance her election campaign from the equivalent of barely 1,500 euros. Nevertheless, the young woman is determined to "make history.