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The New Israeli Woman

The New Israeli Woman

In honor of it being International Women's Day, I'd like to perform a little experiment with you. What first comes to mind when someone asks you to describe an Israeli woman? A tough kibbutznikit? A beauty in army uniform? Golda Meir? I'd like to march out of your mind these three stereotypes of Israeli women - because they no longer apply - and introduce you to three new Israeli heroines fit for today.

But first, a trip back in time. Outdated images of Israeli women have existed too long in the collective imagination. You should be taking them with a big grain of salt - try swallowing the Dead Sea.

Let's start with the female pioneer, who was so often photographed posed working in the fields, paving roads, drying swamps, helping to build the country. But look closer. Her hands are not the hands of someone who spends her day in the dirt. In Israel's early days, less than 10% of women worked in agriculture; most still did "women's work."

Next take the young woman in uniform. You might think of women in the
IDF learning to fly planes or training men to fire a gun - but over 80%
of women do clerical work during their army service.

Then there's Golda Meir. A female prime minister! True - we had one.
But a more telling figure might be the current number of female mayors.
Out of Israel's 245 municipalities, only two are led by women - Netanya
and Herzliya. (Although twenty female Members of Knesset out of 120 MKs
isn't so bad.)

So who is the new Israeli woman? I'd like to propose the
following three: The Orthodox feminist - the women of Kolech, Naomi
Ragen, and some of IRAC's own lawyers who fight against segregated
buses. Not to mention the dozens of Orthodox women who pray every Rosh Chodesh at the Kotel.

The Israeli-Arab feminist - the women who are creating a revolution in
education, and social custom; the women who are now often more educated
than their husbands or brothers; the thousands of women who, two weeks
ago in Nazareth, marched against murder done to protect a family's

Leader of civil society - directors of human rights
organization, NGOs, environmental groups, advocates of consumer rights.
The New Israel Fund published a study that showed that 86% of
organizations they funded were run by women, and that the overwhelming
number of employees at these organizations were female. I am honored to
count myself in this last group.

It's been said that the true measure of a democracy is the status of
its women. So I find it encouraging that two of Israel's weakest
populations, religious Jews and Israeli Arabs, are experiencing a
revolution in the role of women. It's a strong indicator of better
things to come - it's a bit of tikvah for us all.

Published: 3/08/2010

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