Event Reports

Women in Israel: Between Theory and Reality

by Catherine Hirschwitz

Presentation of the 2012 IWN Data Book

Following the joint publication of the 2012 Data Book “Women in Israel: Between Theory and Reality”, which covers wide areas and touches on almost every aspect of women’s lives in Israel, the Israel Women’s Network and the Konrad-Adenauer-Stiftung organized a conference on April 18th, 2013 at Tel Aviv University to introduce to an audience of professionals, public and media representatives, data from selected chapters of the book and anylase them with the help of professional experts from other organizations and researchers who participated in gathering the data.

Dr. Galit Desheh opened the conference on behalf of Yaffa Vigodsky, IWN Chairwoman, and presented the long process that led to the production of the 2012 Data Book. From the former editions of the Data Book as well as from this particular process, one has learned a lot about Israeli women – but even more so one has learned about the lack of data and missing information. The Israeli feminist discourse includes the need to count, collect and publish data, and the IWN partakes in a few major data collecting programs like the catalyst census. This book, beyond presenting figures and statistics, also analyses them, compares data, develops and provides conclusions as well as ways to implement some of necessary changes.

In her lecture on “Women in the Public Sphere – Between Representation and Presentation,” Prof. Hanna Herzog referred to the multi-generational and interdisciplinary cooperation that led to the production of this book, as compared to its first editions. The Data Book is a live example of collective feminist work that is evolving and changing over time, and from generation to generation.

Slogans such as “The personal is the political” and “Private is public,” assimilated in feminist discourse, formulate a challenge to society as a whole. Feminist field researchers have tried to redefine the social order and its categories. They offered different definitions to the term “political”. The fact that one continues to discuss the personal/public separation does not mean that they are separate entities. On the contrary, through history these conceptions have changed and received different meaning, but the basic assumptions remain. These assume a different logic for each sphere: the political-economic sphere requires rationality, while the personal mirrors it (with sensitivity). What is often forgotten is that these separations dictate the collection and analysis of data.

The feminist discourse challenges separations such as “personal vs. political,” and “public vs. private,” thereby aiming to uncover hidden hierarchies and perspectives. It is not surprising that the call for representation began from the public sphere – from the democratic principle of providing representation for all segments of the population. The policies that were created did and do promote women but are also frustrating to some extent as they inadvertently maintain women as a separate group.

Claims for representation and presentation have, until recently, been based on male perspectives. Most of the responsibility to push for change lies with the women themselves – to learn the rules of the political game, to enter politics, and to succeed in politics. But even though women have been politically active for quite some time, the data reflects stagnation in a system that does not react – which means the system needs to change, not the women.

Gender mainstreaming strategy attempts to deal with the necessity to bring changes into the system. It means being gender sensitive and aware in all policies – planning, budgets, transport, health, education.

Gender mainstreaming has initial anchors in the Beijing Platform for Action from the Fourth United Nations World Conference on Women in Beijing in 1995, calling for political commitments to implement gender equality, and later in the UN Security Council Resolution 1325 that obligates a gender perspective in various negotiations. The central idea is that women do not just want to be present or represented, but they want to be influential with different social perspectives, which can benefit all of society.

To conclude her lecture, Prof. Herzog presented two examples of gender impact in the most male field, the army. When it was decided to integrate women into combat units, they received the same uniform as the men, only in smaller sizes, including the shoes, and many of the female soldiers found it very difficult because they did not fit female structure and affected their function. After a while the army decided to truly adapt to the situation and produced shoes and uniforms for women that immediately made their integration easier. The second example deals with attitudes: A medical study discovered that female soldiers experienced less stress fractures in their feet compared to male soldiers. When trying to understand the reasons, it was revealed that while the women soldiers go to the doctor and take a rest after a few days of pain, males continue until they cause major, sometimes irreparable damage to their feet. One has to admit that the female approach is much more cost-effective for the army in the long run.

As Co-Editor of the Data Book, Dr. Inbal Wilmovski presented her work of researching and collecting new data in her lecture on “Methodology, Data Processing and Reflection.”

“Knowledge is power” is a common statement, and it is often understood in the public as “once we have the data, we can use it and be stronger”. The French philosopher Michel Foucault wrote that knowledge equals power for those with the ability and resources to gather data, process it and provide it to the public.

The Data Book works on two levels: the open one, gathering data that is already published, making it accessible to the public. Even though much of this information is collected by seemingly objective organizations like Israel’s Central Bureau of Statistics, we put them in a wider context that often exposes hidden agendas or tendencies. On the hidden level, the work on this book empowers us as data collectors ourselves.

The work on this book exposed important facts: Even though a lot of information is available, there still exist shortage and discrepancies of data, related first to public institutions and second to the work of the NGOs. The first problem is lack of gender segmentation (despite a law from 2009 that obligates such segmentation), and where gender data is provided, it does not address inner segmentations according to socioeconomic status, religion, origin and so on. The second problem, relating mostly to NGOs, is the lack of communication among the different bodies that gather data. Connecting the relating and responding data could affect public policy. This problem results from a lack of real dialogue, and even more so, of poor resources devoted to this cause.

Segregated gender data almost do not exist. It is highly necessary to demand it in order to have a better understanding of the exact situation of women in Israel. Gender blindness hides many secrets: How many Israeli women are poor? The National Insurance Institute has comparative data of poor men and women, but it is almost impossible to obtain them, and they do not provide numbers but a percentage comparison. It is unknown how many of the single parent households are run by women (one assumes it is the majority, but the data is missing). Similarly no data is available on the number of Bedouin women living in Israel. Some of this information can be found in public institutions, and it is the duty of organisations like IWN to keep asking for it.

Finally even when all the information is available, it is important to remember and consider how the data has been gathered, according to what categories. When it comes to women, often the measurement tools are not efficient. The classic example is sexual harassment and assaults; according to what criteria can it truly be evaluated? Complaints? Police reports? The law has been in force for over 15 years but the “naming” phase of the problem is not yet finished – and counting comes after that.

Co-Editor of the Data Book, Tal Tamir, gave a lecture “On Health and Illness: Policy and Absence of Policy in Dealing with Israeli Women’s Health”.

Health is a complex of physical, emotional, social and economical factors reflecting well-being. Women’s health directly reflects their well-being. Historically, women’s bodies used to be considered flawed and unstable. But these old conceptions still impact our lives. Two thirds of the medical research still use data on white Caucasian males while women’s bodies are different and require different care. Medical differences among men and women are substantial, yet medical research and publication regarding to different symptoms (of heart attacks for example) is still lacking and leading to female patients being misdiagnosed. Women live longer, but they are also sicker.

Fertility priority in Israel also influences the daily lives of women: The state will fund several in vitro fertilization treatments for more than one child but will not subsidize contraceptives. Multicultural medicine and access is also lacking. Women of Arab or Ethiopian origin will often find themselves getting treatment without explanations in their own language, thus being denied the right to make informed medical choices. In some marginalized communities cultural and religious barriers deny women health care (like being treated by a male doctor in certain Arab communities).

Monday 22 April 2013: Opening session of the Committee on the Status of Women in the Knesset

In line with the goals of the KAS-IWN data book “Women in Israel: Between Theory and Reality”, Knesset Member Dr. Aliza Lavie, Chair of the Committee, invited Dr. Galit Desheh, IWN’s executive director as well as staff members of IWN and KAS to the opening session of the Committee on the Status of Women in the Knesset. Members of the Knesset and representatives of public organisations were also invited to attend the session.

Dr. Desheh presented the situation of women in Israel based on the latest research information published in the Data Book. The researches, surveys and publications of important statistics and recommendations such as “Women in Israel: Between Theory and Reality” will serve as tools to understand the real situation of women in Israel. These data will be used as a base to prepare bills and help implement the necessary changes in order to achieve greater gender equality.

Friday 26 April 2013: IWN honored the 19th Knesset Female Members at the Dan Panorama Hotel in Tel Aviv

Thirteen female Members of Knesset and many public supporters and partners of the IWN attended the gathering. The event provided the opportunity to present the Knesset members with a personal copy of the KAS-IWN data book “Women in Israel: Between Theory and Reality.” Each Knesset Member spoke of the work she plans to do in order to promote women through bills or different projects throughout the country. They also confirmed future cooperation with the IWN, using the reports and data book published by IWN in cooperation with KAS.


Research and surveys on the situation of women in Israel and publications of important statistics such as “Women in Israel: Between Theory and Reality” serve as tools to understand the real situation of women in Israel. The data book does not only provide an informative picture of the condition of women in Israel but also presents and analyzes the positive changes that have taken place in the last years. It also points out the deficiencies, which should be addressed. Raising awareness among policy makers and the general public is the first step towards advancing the status of women and improving the situation.

The goal of this important project is to promote women’s equal opportunities in all spheres of life. It also reflects the Konrad-Adenauer-Stiftung’s commitment to democracy and promotion of human rights. This important data book should actively foster equal opportunities for women. The conclusions and the recommendations of the research will not only benefit women, it will also help strengthen Israel’s democracy and the inner balance of its society.

Keren Kirsh and Catherine Hirschwitz

Link to publication "Women in Israel - Theory and Reality": www.iwn.org.il/site/upload/photos/142600206943708152a.pdf