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Life

Women-Only Fertility Conference Is No Answer

Pressure against the Pu’ah to abstain from holding a conference for men only on fertility and Jewish law seems to be working. As of this morning, 9 out of 10 Israeli doctors scheduled to speak had withdrawn. In addition, the Ethics Board of the Physicians’ Union announced that from now on doctors will not be allowed to participate in medical events or conferences in which women are excluded, either as speakers or patients. This is an enormous victory by any social activism standards.

A roundtable of 30 social justice organizations convened by the New Israel Fund over the past few months to address the exclusion of women seems to be largely responsible for this success. Dr. Hanna Kehat, founder of the religious women’s forum Kolech, brought the Pu’ah conference to the attention of the other members of the roundtable — and several member organizations helped activate pressure. (Full disclosure: I also sit on the roundtable, representing The Center for Women’s Justice. Everything reported here is with permission).

Lili Ben Ami and Limor Levy Osemi, of the Lobby for Equality Between the Sexes, have been particularly influential in achieving the support of the physicians’ Ethics’ Board, and have been speaking to doctors, Knesset members and members of the media. Mickey Gitzin, director of Be Free Israel, which promotes civil equality, has also been encouraging doctors not to cave into Haredi pressure.

Gitzin rejected claims from Pu’ah that doctors have been threatened by feminist activists. “What can we possibly threaten with?” he said. “Our conversations with doctors are about values, about what it means to speak as an expert in gynecology in a public of all men.”

Meanwhile, Pu’ah announced that they will be holding a second conference in June for women only. This is in some ways monumental, since Pu’ah has been hosting conferences for more than a decade, and this is the first time women have been invited. But separate conferences do not exactly fix the problem. Holding two separate conversations about women’s bodies, one for women only and one for men “experts” only, makes the problem worse. Men, even “experts,” need to hear from women. This is true in all matters, but most importantly on matters relating to women’s health. Having separate conversations merely cements archaic notions that women are objects and that men should not see us, hear us, or be in the same room as us. It’s horrifying for me to think about how such ideas influence Pu’ah’s work in fertility and gynecology.

As of this writing, it is not clear whether the doctors who withdrew from the conference will un-withdraw in response to the Pu’ah announcement. The all-men’s conference is still scheduled to go ahead Wednesday morning, Israel time, though how they will replace all those missing lecture spots is anyone’s guess. In the meantime, the NIF roundtable is planning a demonstration outside the conference hall.

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