Womens Rights in Israel and Throughout Middle East
One of the biggest differences between Israel and her Arab neighbors is in the area of women’s rights. This is obvious even glancing a typical street scene in Israel, where women move about freely, dressed as they wish, and in nations such as Iran and Saudi Arabia, where women must wear head coverings in public and must either be accompanied by a male relative or have the permission to travel.
Women in Israel
Israel has long offered her female citizens – regardless of ethnicity or religion – full freedoms, including the right to vote, freedom of speech, equal access to education and the workplace, and no special restrictions on the way they dress. By law, women are protected from discrimination. In fact, Israel’s Declaration of Independence grants “all Israel’s inhabitants equality of social and political rights irrespective of religion, race, or gender.”
In 1951, three years after declaring statehood, Israel passed legislation guaranteeing women equality in work, education, health, and social welfare. The Committee on the Status of Women advances legislation on issues related to women’s rights. A policy adopted by Israel’s Ministry of Education ensures that Israel’s schools provide equal opportunities for members of both sexes.
Throughout Israel’s short history, dozens of women have served in the Knesset (Israel’s parliament). Ten women have served as cabinet ministers, and currently 34 percent of judges in Israel are female. When she was elected in 1969, Prime Minister Golda Meir was Israel’s first and the world’s third female prime minister.
Arab World Realities
Women in the Arab world enjoy few of the rights and legal protections that women in Israel enjoy. In Saudi Arabia, for example, women are not allowed to vote, drive a car, or go outdoors without everything – including their hair, wrists, and ankles – covered. In Iraq, women cannot own property and they inherit less than half of what their brothers do simply because of their gender. In Syria, if a woman wants out of a dangerous marital union, she must navigate a complicated legal process that typically takes up to two years to complete, while a husband can divorce his wife simply by telling her “You are divorced” three times.
Throughout the region one of the most troubling issues is “honor crimes,” or the killing of a wife or female family member for alleged sexual misconduct. While these accusations require little evidence, the honor crimes themselves are rarely investigated or prosecuted. Many women in these countries also battle domestic violence, which is not considered illegal in much of the region, and lack access to education.
Israel – The Model
It’s interesting to note that the constitutions in many nations throughout the Middle East include language and laws ensuring the rights of women. The problem, women and researchers say, is that many of these laws are not consistently upheld – and are often simply ignored. In Israel’s commitment to upholding the rights of women, both in law and practice, the Jewish state offers a model for the entire region, and stands as a beacon of freedom and equality in a sea of oppression.