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Breaking the Drywall Ceiling: Israel’s Contracting Pioneer

For the first time in Israel’s history, the Association of Contractors and Builders in Rishon Lezion elected a woman as its chair. Ofira Golomev, who is set to replace outgoing head Pini Malcha, expressed satisfaction about this development, and noted the historical significance of her appointment. “History was made this week,” she told reporters, “a radical change.”

Although women take up many administrative positions, this is the first time that a woman has held this senior position in any of the local branches, a fact that highlights just how rampant gender disparities are in Israeli working life. Golomev, an attorney by profession, works with the building department of Rishon Lezion and has been influential in advancing many building projects. She recently sat on the national committee that investigated the treatment of evacuees from Gush Katif, and she was also a member of the managing committee of the Nature and Parks Authority.

Established in 1949, the Association has 1,500 members and is recognized as the official representative of Israel’s building industry. In practice, it is a very powerful group in Israel that has a strong influence on building and construction practices around Israel.

“We are more than an organization seeking to expand, worrying about development and protecting our members’ interests,” Golomev said. “We also have a social and communal agenda. For years the organization has produced the annual ceremony for granting scholarships to students with lesser abilities from Reshon Lezion. This is a continuing, respected tradition that the organization is very proud of.”

Although the Rishon branch now has a woman at its helm, the national structure still demonstrates a severe example of gender inequality. There has never been a female president or director at the national level; the four vice presidents are all men; of the 21 members of the Executive Board, only one, Sigal Halabi, is a woman; of the seven directors, only one, Joelle Tal, head of the Marketing Department, is a woman.

The Association represents several different building and contractor unions and although it claims to represent the interests of home-builders (it was influential, for example, in lowering the purchase tax on new apartments), in practice the organization focuses much more on the needs of contractors. Some of these are perhaps obvious, such as arranging contracts and mediation between bodies. But the organization also conducts some heavy lobbying and promotes legislation on issues of building to protect contractors that may or may not be in buyers’ best interests. The organization was influential, for example, in changing the system for compensating contractors for changes in costs and market dynamics, thus allocating funds that could be used to assist buyers in difficult economies towards helping contractors stay in business instead. There is also some questionable overlap between union members and governmental bodies. The organization’s president, for example, also serves as the chair of the municipal branch of building and infrastructure.

I hope that the appointment of Golomev does in fact signal a new social vision for the organization, as she says. Perhaps as a woman, she will bring with her an appreciation for the needs not only of contractors and politicians, but also of families and average Israelis who simply wish to build a home.

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