“Equality is first and foremost closing gaps. Allowing everyone to stand against a wall, when only the tallest can see what is behind it, is not equality”, said on Monday the Chairperson of the Committee on the Status of Women and Gender Equality, MK Aida Touma-Sliman (Joint Arab List), during her first meeting as chairperson of the committee, with the participation of the Minister for Gender Equality, Gila Gamliel (Likud). “Some women are denied not only the possibility to achieve their aspirations, but the right to a dignified life. To those we shall dedicate much more attention from now on. I am missing the voice of the Bedouin women in today’s debate. This committee will focus mainly on monitoring enforcement. We have many advanced laws that are not enforced as expected, partly due to bias and partly due to lack of awareness among policymakers”.

In the festive opening meeting, the large presence of every women’s organization was noted, as well as of women representing several ministries.

Minister Gamliel said: “Today, I scheduled a meeting between the chairperson of this committee, MK Aida Touma-Sliman, and the strategic advisor from my ministry, who is preparing a thorough and long-term work plan. Together, we shall march for substantial equality. I envision the closing of gaps, the promoting of economically weak women, the eradication of poverty, of which women are the majority of the victims, employment for women – especially Arab women and women of Ethiopian origin – public transportation adjusted to the needs of Arab women, scholarships, day-care centers in rural areas. I would like that half of the committee members were women and half were men, as the empowerment of women is not a challenge for women, but for the whole society”.

MK Ze’ev Binyamin Begin (Likud): “The women taking part in the debate raised several important issues. Every issue is important, but we must define an order of priorities. We must see which issues can be promoted, while we do not know how much resources are at our disposal”.

Attorney Keren Greenblatt, the Women’s Lobby: “We are leading a change in the way the job market functions. Currently, pregnant women, as well as those going through fertility treatments, are being harmed. Even when the harassment does not end in dismissal from the job, these treatments are not regulated by law”.

Orit Sulitzeanu, executive director of the Association of Rape Crisis Centers in Israel: “It is important that every professional – educators, social workers, police officers, judges and psychologists – go through training. It is currently not mandatory in academic institutions. With support from the Ministry of Economy, we promote standards against sexual harassment. There is also a need for every youth movement to promote gender equality”.

Naila Awad, CEO of “Women Against Violence”: ”Today, only 16 Arab women serve in local councils. Of course this is an achievement, for we have reached 16, but in the judicial branch, there are just 11 Arab women serving among 537 judges – less than two percent. In the family court, only one Arab woman serves among 31 judges and in the state-owned companies, their number tends to zero. In spite of the governmental decision to achieve a proper representation for the Arabs in state-owned companies and organizations, the goal is almost achieved for Arab men – their number reached 8.9% for a 10% goal – while the number of Arab women promoted in the public service stands at 3.2%”.

Prof. Rachel Erhard, the Forum of Commissaries against Sexual Harassment in Academia: “We shall protect the researchers and scientists in the universities. They are the greatest asset we have. We all debate about gas as a wasted resource. Women’s educational level is higher, the proportion of PHDs is greater among women, and yet they are underrepresented in academic staffs. In some faculties, such as engineering and hard sciences, the rate of women who are professors stands at 3%. In the past, they used to say that there were no women candidates, but today there is a pool of women who finished their doctoral studies in research universities. This committee shall take down the institutional and intrapersonal barriers in our society, creating a supportive atmosphere. Otherwise, women like Dr. Inbal Kreiss, head of the “Arrow 3” missile project, will be just exceptions”.