March 10, 2016
Dear Friend of Israel,
This week the world observed International Women’s Day. It is a good time to note the great strides women have made towards equality, and also to note the most glaring and obvious differences that exist between some countries and others in the area of women’s rights.
One of the countries that upholds the principle of women’s rights, in both law and practice, is Israel. In this, Israel stands alone in the Middle East. This is obvious even glancing a typical street scene in Israel, where women move about freely, dressed as they wish, while in nations such as Iran and Saudi Arabia, women must wear head coverings in public and must either be accompanied by a male relative or have their permission to travel.
Israel has long offered her female citizens – regardless of ethnicity or religion – full freedoms, including the right to vote, freedom of speech, equal access to education and the workplace, and no restrictions on the way they dress. By law, women are protected from discrimination. In fact, Israel’s Declaration of Independence grants “all Israel’s inhabitants equality of social and political rights irrespective of religion, race, or gender.”
In 1951, Israel passed legislation guaranteeing women equality in work, education, health, and social welfare. The Committee on the Status of Women and Gender Equality advances legislation on issues related to women’s rights. A policy adopted by Israel’s Ministry of Education ensures that Israel’s schools provide equal opportunities for members of both sexes.
Throughout Israel’s short history, dozens of women have served in the Knesset (Israel’s parliament). Women have served as cabinet ministers and judges. When she was elected in 1969, Prime Minister Golda Meir was Israel’s first and the world’s third female prime minister.
Women in the Arab world enjoy few of the rights and legal protections that women in Israel enjoy. In Saudi Arabia, for example, women are not allowed to go anywhere without a chaperone, drive a car, or go outdoors without everything – including their hair, wrists, and ankles – covered. In other Middle Eastern countries women cannot own property and they inherit less than half of what their brothers do simply because of their gender.
Throughout the region one of the most troubling issues is “honor crimes,” or the killing of a wife or female family member for alleged sexual misconduct. While these accusations require little evidence, the honor crimes themselves are rarely investigated or prosecuted. Many women in these countries also battle domestic violence, which is not considered illegal in much of the region, and lack access to education.
In Israel’s commitment to upholding the rights of women, the Jewish state offers a model for the entire region, and stands as a beacon of freedom and equality in a sea of oppression. As the head of The Fellowship, I am proud of the programs we support that offer financial, educational, spiritual, and medical assistance to women in need around the world. And as a father, I am grateful that my three daughters have grown up and live in countries – Israel and the U.S. – where women can experience all the promises of life and liberty that both these countries have to offer. I hope and pray that one day all countries will embrace these same values, and that not just women’s rights, but full human rights, will be enjoyed by all of God’s children.
With prayers for shalom, peace,
Rabbi Yechiel Eckstein
Founder and President