From the Back of the Bus to the Top of the Agenda
At a recent Knesset hearing I attended about women being forbidden to speak on certain radio stations, the manager of one of the stations told us his solution for a woman’s voice on air. He said that they have a fax machine where women can send their questions or opinions and a man would be happy to read what they wanted to say on air. He saw this as an acceptable compromise. I have a few things I’d like to fax him. Three years ago, several ultra-orthodox women called our office seeking our help with a civil rights issue. They were being forced to sit in the back of public buses. They spoke about humiliation and of having no place to turn. IRAC took up the issue and soon learned the depth of the problem.
In a back room deal between extreme elements of the Haredi leadership and a public bus company, certain bus lines were designated as “mehadrin,” which, in this case, means men in the front and women in the back. Our government, in the name of political expediency, turned a blind eye while public services were used for religious coercion. We at IRAC fought back with everything in our arsenal. As you know, we have made progress. However, as soon as gender segregation in one area recedes, it seems to find someplace new to emerge. We are still winning, but the challenge is to keep the pressure on and stay vigilant. If we allow this issue to fall off the agenda, these women will quickly return to the back of the bus. The world-renowned journalist Christiane Amanpour has decided to cover this issue on her nightly show, Amanpour. This coming week she will be interviewing me about gender segregation in Israel, and it will give me a chance to expose this issue to a much larger audience. I need your help to spread the word about the show and to let journalists like Christiane know that it is worthwhile to cover this issue in depth. I would like all of you to sign a letter of support that I will give Ms. Amanpour to let her know that thousands of people all over the world are watching and are counting on her to help. We need to continue putting pressure on Israeli decision makers to never again allow women in Israel, of any religious background, to be pushed out of sight. Pass this letter on to as many people as you can. We all need to be engaged in this issue. Together our voice is strong. Three years ago, women on over 5000 bus lines were forced to sit in the back of the bus, but together we have changed that and together we will keep this issue at the top of the agenda.