Women are still fighting to be equal

By Shulamit Aloni, April 18, 2008

60 years of women's rights

When Israel was just established, in spite of a commitment to total equality of rights declared both in the proclamation of Independence and in the first government’s basic principles, the state of women’s rights was grim.

In those first years, women in Israel had no rights of custodianship, no rights over their own property. They were deprived from bank guarantees and their salaries were much lower than those of men in the same jobs — a state not totally fixed even today.

Their only right was to social-security support for pregnant and breastfeeding women — an amendment made by Golda Meir during her time as a Labour and Welfare Minister. The first significant legislation was made by a woman who was my mentor and inspiration: MK Rachel Kagan of Wizo. In 1951, she prepared a bill for a womens’-rights equality law. It was a great law, but it was partly and significantly sabotaged by the Knesset, which decided that this would not apply to family law. Thus, family law is to this day under the authority of rabbinical courts. Which is a catastrophe for women, since religious law perceives us as the possessions of our husbands.

As a young woman, I participated in the 1948 War of Independence. After that I was a teacher, and studied law in order to fight for human rights in general. Then, for many years, I broadcast on Israeli radio a short programme titled Know the Law, which dealt with judicial issues that concern women.

As a politician, together with many others, we have lead a long and tiresome struggle: for equal pay, for shelters for women who suffered domestic violence, for protection from rape. I remember in 1973 when for the first time we brought forward legislation concerning domestic violence, and half of the Knesset members laughed. “What’s your problem?” I was asked. “A man beats his wife, her friends and aunts come over to console her, and then the husband appeases her. Do you want to take from couples that sweet pleasure of reconciliation?”

Over the years, legislation has progressed, and affected public awareness. But still equality is far from being achieved: for instance, while women in the private sector get much better salaries than in previous years, in public service they are still deprived of additional terms given to male employees. And there is a significant setback due to the growing power handed by successive governments — who practically bribe religious parties — to the rabbinical courts. That means that in the most intimate part of life — the family — women are still very much discriminated against under Israeli law.

Last updated: 3:51pm, April 22 2008