The Israeli government must do more to proactively teach gender equality, instead of allowing discrimination to thrive in our schools and other public spaces.

By Emily Schrader

The Israeli government is failing women and girls, and it’s not just because of the sharp rise in domestic violence during COVID-19. We didn’t get to this point that we are in without the presence of a more deeply rooted problem.

Gender discrimination is ingrained in our culture from an extremely young age, and the consequences of such discrimination are felt for decades after. In extreme cases, issues like sexual harassment, sexual assault, and even domestic violence are a byproduct of the way society views women and their role. The Israeli government must do more to proactively teach gender equality, instead of allowing discrimination to thrive in our schools and other public spaces.

Last week, we saw a 7-year-old girl being told her sleeveless dress was “against school dress code” in 40° heat, and perversely being forced to spend part of the school day in her underwear instead. Similarly, in Modi’in, Ra’anana and Rehovot, dozens of brave female students protested not being permitted to enter school in shorts while boys wearing the same shorts were permitted to enter.

The impact of teaching, or, in this case humiliating, girls at such a young age not only teaches them that they are sexual objects, but ingrains in them and in society, the understanding that they somehow are partly responsible for any future discrimination or mistreatment they receive. Women should not be blamed for discrimination against them, nor for any form of sexual harassment, assault, rape, or gender-based violence they experience. But how can we expect the public to respect that when even our elected officials won’t take these issues seriously?

In response to the incident of the 7-year-old girl, the Ministry of Education stated that it is up to the schools to decide dress codes but it is “saddened by the incident and notes that greater sensitivity could have been exercised.” With one of the largest government’s we’ve ever had, they still can’t figure out how to address issues of gender inequality or discrimination. This failure is manifested in another issue rising today: domestic violence against women and other gender-based crimes.

Last year, Israel saw an increase in femicide and, despite wide scale protests, almost nothing new was done. Since the beginning of 2020, 10 women (and a baby) have been murdered in incidents of violence against women. Three years ago, the government approved a preventive five-year plan committing NIS 50 million per year to deal with the problem of violence against women, but because of petty politicking that plan never came to fruition. Now, experts say the full plan won’t be possible to implement until 2024. Despite being approved by the Labor and Welfare Committee, the full budget was never earmarked. Why?

In an absurd display of political bureaucracy, the NIS 20m. budget was approved by the Treasury Ministry for the Welfare Ministry to fight domestic violence in January 2019, but it wasn’t transferred until November because of multiple elections. Then, the funds were transferred back to the Treasury before being used by the Welfare Ministry otherwise because they were earmarked only for the 2019 budget. Still, our ministers and politicians are busy talking to the press about how they are pledging to fight domestic violence and this must be “investigated” while women are dying at the hands of their abusers.

The situation in recent months has only worsened. During the novel coronavirus pandemic, domestic violence complaints have jumped tenfold, and six women have been murdered. In at least three of these murders, the suspects were already known to police. There have also been four suicides related to domestic violence.

The Social Affairs Ministry has set up a hotline to report such incidents, including a “quiet line” to text in the event of an emergency, but without proper resources allocated, how can they take meaningful action? It is an inconceivable failure of the Israeli government that suspects who were known to the police ended up murdering abused women during the coronavirus pandemic.

In response to the uptick in violence against women, a new Knesset subcommittee has been formed to deal with the issue and is set to be approved this week. Yet, this is hardly the first time a committee or subcommittee has been formed to deal with the issue. With a record-breaking number of ministers, including completely made-up ministries, protecting 51% of the Israeli population wasn’t high enough on anyone’s agenda to warrant a ministry to ensure that this issue gets the attention it truly needs?

How many women have to die before the government will take this issue seriously? In the short term, the time for our elected officials to step up is long overdue. Resources must be allocated immediately to assist victims of domestic violence. In the long term, the Education Ministry must also promote a cultural change to support teaching boys and girls that every person regardless of gender is worthy of equal respect.