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The United Nations: Israeli Statement on the Advancement of Women

(October 14, 2004)

[Speech delivered by Ms. Zina Kalay-Kleitman]

Madame Chairperson,

At the outset allow me to congratulate you on your election and wish you and the Committee a successful and productive 59th session. The Israeli delegation looks forward to these deliberations, and has a great deal of confidence in your able stewardship.

Madame Chairperson,

A society is only as strong and healthy as its women. They are its inner core and its binding fabric. The advancement of women is not a "women's issue." It is an issue for all of society, for all people. There is a direct correlation between the status of women in a particular society and that society's own condition. The way a society treats its women is the way that a society defines itself.

We in Israel are proud of our women and their place in the Israeli social order. Unlike too many countries in the world, and almost every country in the Middle East, women in Israel are given opportunities equal to men in every strata of life. Israeli women can and do serve in all levels of government, as high-level academics, and as journalists. They lead, teach, and speak for the Israeli people.

Israel believes, however, that the cluster of issues that surround the advancement of women is not strictly a domestic issue any more than it is strictly an international issue. States must do their utmost to promote the advancement of women within their own borders, but the United Nations and other international organizations must do all that they can to facilitate this on the global level.

Accordingly, Israel appreciates the appointment of a Special Advisor on Gender Issues and the Advancement of Women by the Secretary General, and views it as signal of the priority given to gender issues on the UN agenda.

Madame Chairperson,

Israel places gender equality very high on its list of priorities. We are committed to a gender-blind society, where women can advance as high as their ambitions and skills can take them. We are committed to an elimination of discrimination against women. And we are committed to tailoring our legal apparatus towards these important ends.

In 1998, the establishment of the Authority for the Advancement of the Status of Women in the Prime Minister's Office hailed a new era of increased use of legislative and executive power to push forward the imperatives that the needs of women demand. This past year, the Authority enjoyed another successful year in its mission of fostering programs and policies based on gender equality, and promoting gender mainstreaming throughout society.

Along with the Authority for the Advancement of the Status of Women, the Israeli government has created the Parliamentary Committee for the Advancement of Women, and the Inter-Ministerial Committee for the advancement of women in Israel. All of them work to forward initiatives aimed at the advancement of the status of women.

In 2002, the State of Israel established the Council for the Advancement of Women in Science and Technology. Led by a female scientist, this statutory Council is composed of men and women who represent varied public and private scientific and academic areas. At the Council's recommendation, all of Israel's universities and colleges have established committees to monitor women's progress and have established a position of Advisor to the University President on Advancing the Status of Women.

It is through initiatives like this, pushing the agenda of women forward, and monitoring the process that it is making, that Israel hopes to advance the goal of eliminating gender gaps in every field of endeavor.

Madame Chairperson,

Unfortunately, the mistreatment of women often extends beyond discrimination to physical violence. On this front, too, Israel is vigilant and active.

Violence against women is a serious problem in Israel, as it is in so many countries. Over the past few years, however, governmental organs and non-governmental organizations in Israel have been able to bring this problem to the forefront of public awareness, a critical step in combating it.

Israel has had extensive, feminist legislation regarding violence against women in place for well over a decade. Much of it authored by feminist NGO's, in coordination with the Parliament Committee of the Status of Women, this legislation has done much to protect women.

For example, The Prevention of Sexual Harassment Law, bolstered by several high-profile cases, have creates public awareness and the momentum of public change. The Stalking Law, passed in 2001, is based on a feminist understanding of the crime of stalking and provides for the protection of the victim and the punishment of the offender accordingly. These laws are based strongly on the concept of a women's "Dignity and Liberty" - statements that gender-based violence, or even the credible threat of such violence, are not solely a threat to the safety of a particular woman, but rather an affront to all women's rights to dignity and liberty.

Israeli women are being educated about their rights. Workshops are being conducted for violent spouses, and law enforcement officials and members of the judiciary undergo training specialized to this issue. In Israel there are 15 government shelters for battered women, including two for Arab women, and 50 centers for the prevention of violence against women, including programs aimed at violent husbands.

Israel does not take violence against women lightly. To do them harm is to do harm to society as a whole.

Madame Chairperson,

Poverty is its own form of violence.

Throughout the world, women face the threat and the reality of poverty. Israeli women, unfortunately, are no different. But Israel is striving to ameliorate conditions for those women who, rather than trying to shatter the glass ceiling, are merely trying to lift themselves off the floor beneath them.

One mechanism for aiding these women is to allow them to help themselves. In Israel, the Ministry of Commerce and Industry, in cooperation with other arms of the government, has established a unit to encourage women to open small and medium-sized businesses. The unit provides financing, information, workshops, mentoring, and networking opportunities for female entrepreneurs. It is hoped that through the encouragement and support provided, women will break through the barriers that linger between them and entrepreneurial and financial independence.

The Authority for Small and Medium-size Enterprises and NGOs has aided Bedouin Muslim women in Israel set up small businesses, and is providing them with the planning and marketing skills necessary so that these endeavors will flourish. In addition to this, the Negev Institute for Strategies and Development (NISPED) has instituted a project in southern Israel to provide Bedouin women with vocational, entrepreneurial and managerial training, combined with financial support and counseling. It is through the vehicles of independence, in combination with the support of a compassionate government, that poverty can be eradicated.

Finally, due to a heated debate in Israel on these topics, and in line with many of the objectives set out in the Beijing Platform for Action, many of the basic social issues implicated in the problem of poverty among women are currently being adjudicated by the Israeli High Court of Justice.

Madame Chairperson,

As I mentioned earlier, Israel believes that the struggle to advance the status of women in all these areas - discrimination, violence, and poverty - is as international as it is domestic.

Over the past decade, Israel, through MASHAV - the Center for International Cooperation of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs - has held courses for hundreds of women from around the world, including Palestinian women. In MASHAV's training of women, it emphasizes gender issues, and the promotion of the role of women in development. Through it training institution, the Golda Meir Mount Carmel International Training Center (MCTC) more than 11 000 women from around the world have been trained in socio-economic issues. The Beijing Platform of Action raised many areas of concern with which MCTC has been dealing since 1961, including: poverty, education, environment and development, the girl-child, health, economic participation, power-sharing and decision-taking.

Also of crucial importance is the struggle against the sex slave trade of women, into which Israel, in cooperation with other countries, is investing a vast amount of energy. This dreadful scourge is a truly international blight, and demands a truly international solution.

Madame Chairperson,

Israel finds herself in a turbulent region during a turbulent time in history. Hatred separates nations, and borders divide them. The transnational identity of women, however, should transcend all racial, ethnic, religious, and national boundaries and construct a sense of international cooperation. In working for better lives for women across the Middle East, and throughout the world, we should be bound together in our goals of harmony, rather than split by the seams of hostility.

The women of Israel believe that if their sisters in other countries were freer and granted more rights, these countries would be better places for all their citizens, and better citizens of the world.

For the world to be peaceful, just, and free, we must rid its daughters of the chains that for too long has shackled their mothers.

Sources: Israeli Foreign Ministry