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Dr. Michael Borchard opened the session, welcoming all participants and introducing everyone to the roundtable. Following Dr. Borchard, Dr. Astrid Freudenstein, Bundestag member, discussed the challenges of women within German society and outlined how the government supports young and growing families. Benefits such as “elternzeit” (parent time) and “Betreuungsgeld and Muttertschutz” (caregiving stipends and maternity leave) were explained as part of the social benefits in this care package.
Female Israeli leadership introduced themselves and explained the different unique roles in Israeli societies. Founder and CEO of the high-tech firm DAAT-solutions opened up the Israeli side of the roundtable by telling the German participants about the role of women in ultra-orthodox society. She made it clear that while she is part of the ultra-orthodox community, she is also seen as an outsider due to her role as a business owner. DAAT-solutions only employs other haredi (ultra-orthodox) women and works to bring women from the Haredi communities into the high-tech workplace. Upon inception, her company faced many challenges because of the demographics of her employees. She found it difficult to find investors and to establish working hours that adapt to the reality of the women having many children as well as many being the sole breadwinner in these families. Since the founding of her company, 20,000 Haredi women have been educated in software development. However only 3,500 of these women found a position in this field. Because it is so difficult for women in the Haredi sector to find jobs, as a first job and for those returning to work after having families, Ms. Davidovich focuses on hiring these women for her company.
Ms. Kiram Baloum, CEO and founder of the Jasmine organization, an organization that works to promote women entrepreneurship in Israel. Jasmine works to expand economic, professional and personal opportunities for all Israeli women from all populations sectors and ethnic, financial and religious backgrounds in order to enable women in Israel to participate to the fullest extent possible in the Israeli economy. In doing so, Jasmine elevates the status of Israeli women, advances Israel’s economy and strengthens Israeli society as a whole.
Ms. Baloum explained that all of the programs at Jasmine assist the Israeli Arab sector through two different complementary paths. Through one path, Jasmine implements and designs programs specifically for Israeli Arab women, assisting their unique needs and challenges in seeking and excelling in their employment and in business ownership. Such programs include a computer and technology program that trains women in the field to become mentors and business leaders. Another path is also recognizing that there is a shared challenge faced by all women in Israeli society and these programs are specifically created for economic and cross-community partnerships which in turn, foster co-existence. Such programs include a micro-loan program for economically marginalized women, an annual conference and a tri-lingual online portal that hosts women-owned businesses.
Closing up the roundtable was Lt. Col. (res) Avital Leibovitch, director of AJC Israel. Ms. Leibovitch introduced the role of women in the IDF and the challenges faced by women in such a unique environment. She discussed the reality that there are still very little high ranking positions filled by women but there has been improvement in the general situation for women in the IDF. Ms. Leibovitch highlighted certain issues within the IDF that changed in order to accommodate women better as simple as smaller sized shoes and better nutrition to the case of an female Israeli pilot applicant who sued the IDF in order to allow women as pilots. Now, the IDF is seeing to more women in more combat roles as well as composed in the border control units, human resources and air force. Ms. Leibovitch shared from her personal experience that she actually found being the only woman in the room as an officer as an advantage. in heShe also expressed that she found it extremely important that women serve an international spokespersons for the IDF. She did point out that in order to reach such ranks in the army, there is a lot of sacrifice but despite this, she found great fulfillment in her work and her family coped with her sacrifice.
The roundtable was also attended by young women from the Likud party who are part of the think-tank Manoff and also activists themselves. Following the presentations, a lively discussion took place highlighting the similarities and differences in both societies which helped each participant understand the other society better. While Germany is very advanced in many ways, it was understood that a lot of policy is stuck on a political level and is slow to reach civil society. Even though Israel has broken many gender boundaries in civil society, a more traditional society prevents women within Israel from moving forward as quickly as they would hope.
The discussion was deemed fruitful from both sides and clarified a lot of misconceptions of women’s roles in each society. The opportunity for these women to meet on a more intimidate level was also important in order to continue the networking potential for both societies for the future.