Israel, the Labour Market, and International Women’s Day

For Israelis, International Women’s Day in 2012 coincides with the festival of Purim, when Queen Esther took on Haman, the wicked minister of Persia. The story describes a triumph for female brawn, daring and courage. The Jews of 127 provinces were saved. Haman and his sons found their place on the gallows, and their property was transferred to Esther’s family.

As in most countries around the world, the position of Israeli women in today’s labour market is not brilliant compared to the male species. Simple stats show that women:

  • Earn around 15% less on average per hour.
  • Hold less full-time positions (66% compared to 87%)
  • Hold only 34% of the managerial positions

In a global context, Israel is doing quite well. “The country is ranked in 11th place among the 59 developed countries for the participation of women in the workplace. The rankings also list Israel in 24th place with regards to women in executive positions…” And at the top end of the scale, Forbes billionaire grouping, Israel has 13 members, including Ms Shari Arison.

There are three bright spots that I have picked up in the stats.

First, if only a third of managerial positions are filled by women today, back in 1990 that percentage was a mere 16%. That is a noteworthy improvement. And it should be pointed out that Israel’s three major political parties in opposition are led by women, as is the former outgoing chief justice of the Supreme Court.

Second, 56% of all university students are women, again another factor that is likely to lead changes in the future.

Third, figures released this week show that more men from the ultra-orthodox Haredi communities are now to be found in the workplace – a 7% jump to 45% between 2009 and 2011. The point is that in this section of society, it is common for the wife to get the children off to school in the morning and then work part of the day, while the husband studies religious texts on behalf of the family.

Therefore, not only will this employment shift release some pressure on the female section of society. It will also expose more stridently religious men to the machinations of life as a whole. They will no longer be so cut off and they will no longer be so dependent on government subsidies.

So, as ever, “booting the man out to work” is to be seen as a significant social and financial benefit for Israel as a whole.

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