Committee on the Status of Women and Gender Equality discusses gender segregation

On Monday, June 20th, 2022, the Committee on the Status of Women and Gender Equality held a hearing on the exclusion of women from the public sphere, focusing on phenomena within the ultra-Orthodox community. 

Minister of Environmental Protection Tamar Zandberg (Meretz):

The exclusion of women and gender segregation is a phenomenon that is growing, and it is part of the narrowing and radicalization which seeks to limit our steps as women and our presence as women and our very existence in the public and human sphere. This is a flagrant violation of human dignity. “Human” includes women, who are entitled to equal rights and cannot be told where to step and how to act simply due to being women. If someone is bothered by my very presence in the public and political sphere, he is more than welcome to impose that disorder upon himself. In recent years, we have seen a trend which is opposed to progress. This trend is now expanding into institutions of learning, remedial driving courses, and medical services. This is a political trend which does not stem from custom or tradition, which has not even the slightest root in Jewish law and is contaminated by politics.

Chairperson of the committee, MK Aida Touma-Sliman (Joint List):

When I toured Beit Shemesh, I understood how insulting exclusion can be. I cannot understand why a sign that reads, “Women’s Health Center,” would have the word “women” crossed out on it. We can talk about many phenomena, not only in Beit Shemesh. I do not understand why women must be forcibly segregated at cultural events and at funerals, and that becomes the reality. When I lost my father, it was obvious that women would not be able to follow the casket. To this day I have discomfort with the fact that I did not accompany my father’s casket, and I understand where it comes from. I am talking about the internal feeling that this gives to a woman.

MK Yitzhak Pindrus (United Torah Judaism):

The religious and ultra-Orthodox communities four decades ago were less than a quarter of their numbers today. The ultra-Orthodox community never participated in mixed cultural events, and never had men and women swimming together. Today this community is 20% of the population. All of the organizations that run to the Supreme Court are preventing 20% of the population from doing basic things, which is unacceptable.

Efrat Suna of the Kohelet Forum: 

Let’s let women choose their lifestyle, and respect the choices of women, and let’s not close doors to them in the name of abstract values.

Orly Erez-Likhovsky of the Israel Religious Action Center:

For many years, and still in certain contexts, we hear only the extreme voices that are led by the leadership of the ultra-Orthodox community which is comfortable with preserving these practices. There are many people who object. Men and women object to these practices. I can tell you that when we filed the petition against gender segregation on public transportation, ultra-Orthodox women called me and said, “We thank God that there are Reform Jews in the world, because you are fighting the war that we cannot fight. We are against this. But we have no choice, because they coerce these practices upon us, and we do not agree with them.”

MK Moshe Abutbul (Shas):

I am in favor of there not being exclusion. There is voluntary exclusion. Ultra-Orthodox women want to be allowed to live separately, and we do not need to see that as exclusion. 

Chairperson MK Touma-Slima wrapped up the discussion: 

The government’s decisions do not include a single step that has the authority to be implemented. Passing government decisions against the exclusion of women without allocating budgets is lip service.