Israel's Gender Segregation Fight Gains Key Allies

Can you guess who uttered these words?

The answer: none other than Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu, speaking at Sunday’s cabinet meeting, as part of a discussion marking the International Day for the Elimination of Violence Against Women. His statement was part of the official record of the meeting. A newspaper report has him further declaring that the exclusion of women and their images from public space and women singing in public ceremonies are issues that the secular public “won’t back down from.”

The fact that Netanyahu made such a statement — and that the gender equality issue has reached the cabinet level right now, is an important development. Until now, most of the discussion and controversy in Israel regarding gender segregation and exclusion of women from public has happened in the media, at the municipal level in cities like Jerusalem and Beit Shemesh, and during grassroots protest events. The fact that the issue was raised and discussed at the highest government levels represents a breakthrough. Attention is being paid.

Netanyahu’s remarks put his stamp of approval of the more forceful words and actions of Culture and Sport Minister Limor Livnat,who heads the ministerial committee on the status of women. At the cabinet meeting, Livnat acknowledged a “worrisome deterioration” in the status of women in Israel, and announced plans to convene a special session to discuss the enforcement of anti-discrimination laws in the context of recent developments such as women being seated in the back of buses and trains in some areas, excluded from certain sidewalks and streets in Haredi neighborhoods and prohibited from singing in public.

Livnat told the cabinet that:

A heated argument reportedly ensued, according to Ha’aretz during which Shas Minister Meshulam Nahari said that “We must respect the religious public who finds women’s singing offensive.”

Netanyahu and Livnat’s decision to directly address the issue and confront their ultra-Orthodox coalition partners comes after they have been criticized for enabling discrimination against women.

Opposition leader Tsipi Livni from the Kadima Party has, in the past, accused the Likud-led government of turning a blind eye and representing herself as the champion of gender equality. Livni showed up at the recent women’s singing protest earlier this month, and this week spoke out on the gender issue at the “Women Talking Women” economic conference in Tel Aviv. Livni told the audience there that:

She added that:

According to Ynet:

Will it make the Jerusalem municipality think twice before it sanctions separate sidewalks for women in Mea Shearim during festivals, or make organizations hesitate before they erase women’s faces from billboards?

I certainly hope so. But we’ll have to wait and see.

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Israel's Gender Segregation Fight Gains Key Allies

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