Israel has been committed to gender equality since its establishment, and continues to promote and aspire to full and real equality in all aspects of life.

"Israel feels strongly about the subject of gender equality. It is enshrined in our 1948 Declaration of Independence and has been implemented through law and public policy, starting with a landmark piece of legislation known as the Equal Rights for Women Law.

In a region where women are all too often excluded from public life, Israeli women stand out as leaders in politics, law, mediation and conflict resolution. In Israel, we take pride in the fact that we have four female ministers, three female heads of political parties and that women comprise about half of our academia and our judiciary."

– From statement by Israeli representative Lironne Bar Sadeh to the UN Third Committee on the Advancement of Women  – October 2013

"Israel has been dedicated to the cause of women’s empowerment and gender equality since the founding of the state. For over 60 years we have worked to promote women’s empowerment worldwide.

It is for this reason that Israel has been a strong supporter of UN Women since the organization’s inception. Israel and UN Women are working hand-in-hand to combat violence against women and to eradicate poverty through training and supply of agricultural technology programs that enable women to become entrepreneurs and economically independent."

From statement by Israeli representative Yahav Lichner to the UN Women Executive Board -Sept 2013

Background

Equal Rights

The Authority for the Advancement of the Status of Women was legally established in 1998 as part of the Prime Minister’s Office.  The purpose of the law was to advance the status of women in Israel and coordinate between governmental and non-governmental bodies acting to promote the status of women.

On November 11, 2007, the Government accepted Resolution Number 2578, concerning the appointment of an Equal Employment Opportunities Commissioner. This position is the first of its kind to be established in Israel. The Commissioner will be responsible for collecting information and hearing complaints from workers concerning instances of sexual harassment, and/or discrimination based on sex, sexual orientation, parenthood, religion and race. Where necessary, the Commissioner will also be responsible for initiating legal action on behalf of any adversely affected workers. The commissioner will also have the authority to request that courts issue special orders prohibiting sexual harassment in places of work. Violation of these orders will be considered a criminal offence. In addition, the commissioner will be responsible for encouraging special programs relating to equality in employment, and other educational and promotional activities in working places.

In late 2008, the advisory committee to the Commission was appointed. Under the Amendment to the Law, the 21-member committee is comprised of representatives of the Authority for the Advancement of the Status of Women, the Commission for Equal Rights of Persons with Disabilities, Government Ministries, NGOs, trade unions and employers’ associations. Appropriate representation is given, insofar as is possible, to women, the Arab society including the Druze and the Circassian and persons with disabilities.

Equal Rights of Men and Women

On November 20, 2007, the Knesset enacted the Gender Implications of Legislation Law (Legislative Amendments) 5768-2007 which imposes a duty to systematically examine the gender implications of any primary and secondary legislation before it is enacted by the Knesset. The Law is aimed at exposing any hidden inequalities between men and women that might be present in different bills, in order to advance the status of equality between both genders. According to the Law, the Authority for the Advancement of the Status of Women will submit to the relevant Knesset committee an opinion concerning the gender implications of any bill, or secondary legislation, when brought for its consideration or approval. This will allow Knesset members participating in committee hearings to become acquainted with any gender implications inherent in legislation, if such implications in fact exist.
 
On April 10, 2008, the Encouragement of the Advancement and Integration of Women in the Work force and the Adjustment of Workplaces to Women’s Needs Law 5768 -2008 was enacted by the Israeli Knesset. The purpose of this law is to generate a change in the business culture in Israel and promote public awareness of women rights in order to encourage employers to advance and integrate women in the workplace. Under this law, substantial monetary incentives and grants will be provided annually by the Minister of Industry, Trade and Labor (ITL) to employers in the private sector who endeavor to integrate and promote women in their business, and who initiate programs to that end. Such grants will also be given to employers who modify their workplace and work conditions to the needs of women and parents.

The Knesset enacted the Expansion of the Appropriate Representation of Women Law (Legislative Amendments) 5771-2011 which obligates appropriate representation for women in inquiry commissions and national examination committees. 

One of Israel’s challenges in the area of gender based equality has been recent attempts by some groups to exclude women from the public sphere, within certain religious communities. The Government in December 2011 formed an inter-ministerial team, which reported its recommendations to the Government on March 11, 2012. The Ministry of Justice’s team submitted its own report to the Attorney General in March 2013 and in May 2013, the Attorney General decided to adopt the team’s recommendations urging local authorities to act swiftly and without delay to end all expressions of exclusion of women as they manifest in their respective jurisdictions.

Women in Government, Local Authorities and the Civil Service

The number of female judges continues to climb in conjunction with the rising number of judges in general. In August 2008, there were 291 female judges out of a total of 584 judges, making up 49.8% of the judiciary in Israel. The number of female Justices on the Supreme Court has slightly decreased to 38.5% (five out of 13 Supreme Court Judges). Women continue to compose the majority of professional labor judges (67.3% of the judges), nearly half of the District Courts judges (44%), more than half of the Magistrate Courts Judges (50.5%) and more than half of the registrars (58.5%). Women have also increased their representation as public representatives in the Labor Courts (constituting 18.9%) representing employee and employer unions side by side with professional judges.

In the public sector, women remain a majority of the legal profession. As of June 2008, 1,898 women were employed by the Ministry of Justice (69.4%), 149 of the 225 legal advisors in the Ministry were women (66.2%), and a similar percentage of women were working in the State Attorney and the Attorney General’s Offices (68%, 501 women to 235 men) and the Public Defenders office (69.2%, 54 women to 24 men). In the Ministry of Justice, there were also 305 (64.6%) female legal interns to 167 male legal interns, and 22 (64.7%) women in the senior judge equivalent rank, to only 12 men. Of the total number of women, 1,820 were Jewish, 48 were Muslim Arabs, 14 were Christian Arabs, six were Christians (Non-Arabs) and five were Druze.

With the establishment of the 19th Knesset in February 2013, the percentage of female MK’s increased from 19% to 22.5%. There are four female Ministers in Israel’s new government, an increase from 9.7% (in the former Government) to 18%. There has been a significant increase of women in Israel’s civil service. Currently, women comprise 64% of all civil servants. As of 2011, the percentage of women in high ranking positions in the civil service has risen to 32.6%. In government corporations, the percentage of female directors was 39% in 2011 and by the end of 2012 women comprised 42% of the directorates.

Government Corporations

On March 11, 2007, the Government resolved to obligate Ministers to appoint women to directorates of Government Corporations until they achieve a 50% representation of women within two years from the date of the Resolution. The Governmental Corporations Authority supervises closely and effectively any appointments made to directorates of Government Corporations If the appointments do not adhere to the obligating standards, the Authority hold them until the appointing Minister proposes an alternative female nominee or can justify why he/she can not propose any alternative nominee under these circumstances. In August 2009, 43% of all directors in Governmental Corporations were women, compared to 37% in February 2007 and 38.5% in February 2008.

Equality in Employment 

In 2006 and 2007, a number of significant amendments were made to the Women’s Employment Law, 5714-1954. Inter alia, these changes prohibit the employment of women during their maternity leave; prolong the period of leave permitted after hospitalization; prolong the period during which an employer is prohibited from dismissing an employee returning from maternity leave to 60 days; prolong the period during which dismissal of a female employee staying in a battered women’s shelter is not permitted to 90 days (also requiring the consent of the Minister of Social Affairs and Social Services); extends maternity leave from 12 to 14 weeks; and notably alters the pre-existing conditions so that after 6 weeks maternity leave should a new mother decide to return to work, or otherwise waive her remaining leave, the father will be permitted permanent (previously temporary) leave in her stead, for the duration of the maternity leave.

On November 20, 2007, the State Labor Court ruled that "freedom of contract" does not justify discrimination such as that evidenced by paying different salaries to men and women performing the same tasks. The court stated that in these circumstances, the principle of equality prevails over freedom of contract.

Israel’s Supreme Court ruled in 2012 that according to the Equal Pay Law 5756-1996, once a female employee proved that her salary was significantly lower than that of a male employee performing the same task, the burden of proof shifts to the employer to prove that the difference in salary could be justified. If the employer fails to justify such difference a prima facie case of gender discrimination would be established.

Violence against women

In March 2008, the Authority published the booklet "Women – Institutions and Organizations in Israel," which provides detailed information on hundreds of organizations operating in Israel in the various fields relating to women’s status, including aid organizations. The guide is distributed nationally free of charge.

Various Governmental Ministries held seminars and conferences regarding violence against women. The Ministry of Justice, for example, held several conferences regarding "Sexual Harassment in the Academic Sphere,” and other related lectures. Some of the lectures were held in cooperation with other organizations, such as universities.

The Courts Administration holds annual seminars and workshops on women’s status issues such as violence against women, women’s status, and the Prevention of Sexual Harassment Law. In addition, the Administration held a special training course geared toward training women to be group facilitators for matters regarding women’s status.

Sexual Harassment

The Supreme Court has issued several decisions in accordance with the 2002 Sexual Harassment Law. In a decision concerning sexual harassment in the work place, the Supreme Court rejected an appeal from the nursing deputy director in the Mental Health Center in Beer-Sheva, who had been convicted of harassing nurses during a training course. The Court found that the appellant had repeatedly spoken to his subordinates in a manner that contained sexual content, which is considered to constitute sexual harassment under the Law.

The Government’s program for treatment of sexual assault victims includes Training and Seminars for Identification and Treatment of Sexual Assault Victims: As public servants work in many different environments; such as clinics, hospitals, social services departments, and the education system, they are often in a position to encounter sexual assault victims. Nevertheless, many have difficulty in identifying such victims. In order to better enable them to do so, special training for social workers and psychologists within the health and welfare systems, physicians, nurses, educational advisors, and psychologists within the education system are scheduled to take place in 2007-8. The trainings will vary, highlighting relevant issues in accordance with the profession of the participants, in order to achieve maximum expertise. In addition, social workers and psychologists within the health and welfare systems, as well as professional workers of the regional centers, are to take part in special training for treatment of sexual assault victims during 2007-8.

Trafficking in Women

National Plans for combating trafficking. National Plans have been approved to combat slavery and trafficking for slavery and forced labor and trafficking for the purpose of prostitution. These National plans were approved by the Directors Generals Committee on January 10, 2007 and July 11, 2007 and by Government Resolution no. 2670 dated December 2, 2007. These efforts have been enhanced by mutual cooperation between Israel and other countries.

Legal Assistance: All victims of trafficking are entitled by law to receive free legal aid in order to institute civil suits arising from the trafficking offences committed against them or administrative procedures relating to the Entry into Israel Law. According to the Courts (Fees) Regulations 5767-2007, victims of trafficking and slavery given legal aid are exempt from paying court fees, thus expediting the process of submitting claims and making it more efficient. The courts have imposed severe sentences for those found guilty.

Status of Arab Women

The Authority for the Advancement of the Status of Women devotes special efforts and resources to the advancement of Arab women such as mapping women’s associations, working together with steering committees on all relevant factors and conducting surveys and conferences for women and policymakers regarding employment, education, health and violence, as related to Arab women.

The Authority, together with the Authority’s relevant steering committee, established a work plan for promoting the status of Bedouin women in southern Israel on issues pertaining to entrepreneurship, raising awareness to the issue of women’s health, empowerment courses and prevention of family violence.

In the last decade there was a significant increase in the number of Arab women entering higher education frameworks, thus, the total participation of Arab students in higher education has increased. A main factor that brought about this advancement was the quick and substantial increase in the number of female Arab students, especially in the regional colleges located near their places of residence. In the 1990’s, about 40% of the Arab students in the universities in the first degree were women, and in 2006 this rate reached about 60%.

These achievements indicate further progress after the significant increase in high school graduates among Arab female pupils. In 1985, 45% of the matriculation examinees and those entitled to a certificate among Arab pupils were women, and in recent years, this number rose to 62%. Comparatively, this proportion among the Jewish population has been fixed at about 56%. Additionally, According to figures of 2009, one third of the top rated schools in Israel operate in the Arab population.

As in other countries with traditional communities, Israel faces challenges in regard to polygamy. While Israeli penal law prohibits polygamy, making it punishable by a maximum sentence of five years imprisonment, it is clear that there are social and legal aspects to the phenomenon that demands sensitivity to tradition, while protecting the rights of individuals and the rule of law. This issue is a challenge among the Muslim population in the north (1%-2% of the population) and among the Bedouin population in the south (nearly 35% of the men, approximately 15,000).

According to the Israel Police, only few indictments have been served for bigamy, due to the difficulty of obtaining evidence and the lack of cooperation by the local community. Nevertheless education activities are being regularly implemented among women, both in the north and in the south, in order to raise awareness and to reduce the phenomenon. A special team was established within the Ministry of Justice in order to come up with state incentives for monogamist families, primarily in the fields of national insurance benefits, land administration, education, welfare and employment.

Sources: Israel Ministry of Justice; Israel’s Universal Periodic Review at the UN Human Rights Council, Oct 2013