Banned and barred, Israel’s women stand up to religious hardliners

24.03.17

(Gender-based discrimination / Tradition, Culture, Religion)

Ultra-Orthodox influence has excluded women from speaking at funerals and public prayers, and taken them off the radio.

Over the last decade in different parts of Israel, women have been barred from sections of buses, banned from speaking at cemeteries, blocked from pavements, physically attacked for their clothing choices, airbrushed from newspapers and magazines and removed from the airwaves and news photos.

These challenges are rooted in the objections of many in the ultra-Orthodox Jewish community to men and women mixing in public places, and to public representations of women in any form, from actors in advertisements to public figures on the news, or images in books. They affect everything from morning commutes and interior decoration to the most solemn religious ceremonies. Moody was attacked for joining public prayers and the celebration of a bat mitzvah – a girl’s coming of age ceremony – at the Western Wall.

Women have responded to the many attempts to restrict their public roles and physical presence by turning to Israel’s powerful legal system, and again and again the courts have supported them, insisting that segregation is illegal and women should not be silenced.

They have ruled in favour of a woman prevented from speaking at her own father’s burial, against a radio station that barred women from its airwaves – even blocking them from calling phone-in shows – and against bus companies that tried to segregate seating. The women who gather at the Western Wall each month had their right to worship enshrined by the supreme court.

But important as these legal rulings are, they rely on government enforcement and community respect, and both are in short supply in a country where religion and state are closely entwined, and ultra-Orthodox politicians command a powerful and loyal voting block, women activists say.

Nor can the courts legislate for tastes. Advertisers who remove women from their posters and shops, or bus firms which tried to segregate their buses, insist they are simply catering to a growing market, one tempting even to international giants such as Ikea.

A special edition of the catalogue for the Swedish firm’s affordable modern furniture, printed for Israel’s Haredi community, landed on doorsteps late last month, filled with photos of stylish interiors that would look familiar around the world, but for a single-sex version of model families posing inside them. There were no women or girls studying beside the bookshelves, grabbing snacks in the kitchen or relaxing in interiors populated only by men.

The rapid growth [rate of ultra-Orthodox communities] is changing these communities themselves though, feminists say, and the communities which are the most prominent in seeking to restrict women are also seeing the birth of a feminist movement that may be key to the long-term defence of current rights.

Read the full article from The Guardian.