Women in revolt, Israel and the Arab world

2011 and the centenary of International Womens’ Day had a special meaning. From Algeria to Syria and down through the Saudi peninsular, the female gender has been on the streets in male-dominated societies. It is their desire for greater freedom of expression that has one of the main fear factors, haunting the President of Iran, the Sultan of Oman and the rest of them.

The Prime Minister of Israel is also known for caving in under pressure. Despite the protestations of the Finance Ministry, Bibi Netanyahu raised the minimum wage barrier – immediately deflating cries of protest from women voters. He still has to appease social workers, whose conditions are a national disgrace.

You can surf the net and find all kinds of articles criticising or supporting the way Israel supports women in society. Most these – Guardian (against), Haneen Zoabi (against) and the Jerusalem Post (Israeli newspaper) – come from established positions.

So, what makes Israeli women different from their counterparts in the region.

  • Is it that they can lead political parties openly, and even become Prime Minister as Golda Meir did?
  • Is it that in a society with a heavy military influence, they can readily be accepted as army officers?
  • Does the open opportunity for women to play sport rank as a factor?
  • Or how about the increasing openings for females from minority sectors, such as the Bedouin community?
  • And what about the achievements of Israeli women in science and research, which are increasingly recognised by the international academic community?

The answer is probably none of the above…as individual issues. It is the sum of the whole that counts.

Just this past week:-

  • A female VP of a Tel Aviv media group called to pressure me to move on an issue.
  • I have helped a lady in the ultra orthodox community to sell a business in order to expand in to another area.
  • A young mother is asking me to help her business diverse, having bought it for very little and converted it into a successful commercial identity.

All of these people have opportunities to control their lives as women, and are seizing the moment. They are not alone.

None of this is to deny that sexism and violence is still prevalent in some sectors of society – as the demoralising trial of ex-President Katsav demonstrated.

That said, the next hundred years of International Women’s Day in Israel should continue be a triumph to what and how others in neighbouring countries can aspire to.

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