Ending Gender Segregation on Israeli Buses
We are in the middle of the summer calm before we erupt into activity for Rosh HaShanah and Yom Kippur. One fun part about the end of the summer is that we see a rush of new people coming into Jerusalem. Students flock to this city every August hoping to spend a meaningful year in Israel. Many ask if they can volunteer with the Israel Religious Action Center, and the first opportunity we offer is for them to join us on a Freedom Ride. It is amazing all the changes we have seen in the three years since we started the program, and it is an great example how collaboration from Israel and abroad can work to affect change in Israel.
In the years since our initial lawsuit forcing Egged (the state bus company) to put up signs declaring it illegal to force someone to move because of gender, we have seen the phenomenon rise and fall and rise again. That is the real challenge of gender segregation in Israel. Once we defeat it in one area it pops up again someplace else. When the buses are calm we find grocery stores or health clinics segregating between the genders. When we shine a light on those places, it stops there but pops up at radio stations. Fighting gender segregation is like a game of Whack-A-Mole, but instead of winning tickets at a fair we are trying to win equality and dignity for Israeli women.
Our biggest success in the struggle against gender segregation has been convincing Israelis how serious this issue really is, and how religious coercion affects everyone. It is easy for Israelis to look at Jerusalem or other cities with high numbers of ultra-Orthodox Jews and say that what happens there does not affect them in Tel Aiviv or Be’er Sheva—segregation is just something odd that happens in Jerusalem or Beit Shemesh. This mindset has changed thanks to our collective advocacy. Israelis take notice when people hear about women being intimidated into sitting in the back of the bus.
I am proud of the successes we have had combating gender segregation on buses, on the radio, in the army, in health clinics, and in the minds of the average Israeli. This is an example of voices from abroad playing a very constructive part in social change in Israel. If we had not had consistent support from all of you with your emails and other action alerts, Israeli lawmakers would have continued to ignore the issue.
We have done so much this last year, but there is still a long way to go. We need you to stay with us and continue supporting our work to make gender segregation in public spaces a distant memory.
Anat Hoffman is the executive director of the Israel Religious Action Center.