The state of play and personal reflections on March 8th, International Women’s Day.

By Dani Rapp

What is being commemorated and why on this day?

March 8th commemorates women who throughout history have struggled to achieve equality, justice, rights, freedoms, and recognition as human beings and as members of different societies in which they have lived. 

In 1857, women textile workers in New York chose March 8th to march for a shorter working day and better wages. This activity was repeated in 1908, with the tragic result of 129 women being burned inside the Cotton Textile Factory. In 1910, as a tribute to the movements in favor of women’s rights, it was decided in Copenhagen to celebrate International Women’s Day. Years later and after World War II, in 1975, the United Nations commemorated International Women’s Day for the first time on March 8, coinciding with International Women’s Year.

Why is it still relevant today to commemorate 8M?

Globally, we can state that in all regions of the world, women are paid less than men for the same work. This is known as the gender pay gap. It is estimated to be around 20% worldwide. This difference is due to different reasons: part-time employment, less socially valued jobs, low self-esteem, among others. These reasons are based on gender stereotypes that place women as the main responsible for the care and growth of children, which takes away women’s time to develop in the economic market. Thus, with fewer opportunities, examples of women leaders in the workplace are scarce, and therefore, there are fewer women who can be models of inspiration for other women, which contributes to a low self-perception of women as worthy of reaching management positions or higher positions in the workplace.1

Other indicators to analyze the gender gap could be access to vote, access to sexual and reproductive health rights, the representation of women in cultural events, the status of professional sports women, among others. These indicators allow us to understand what role women play in each society and to what extent they are represented equally with men. The greater the gap, the greater the inequality.

As for Israeli society, according to the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development report that analyzes gender equality in 179 countries, Israel ranked second to last in 2023. The four criteria included in this report are: discrimination within the family, personal safety and security, access to economic resources and the exercise of civil liberties. In turn, in just one year, Israel fell 23 places in the World Economic Forum’s index, which examines gender equality, and was ranked 83rd. The main cause of this decline is the low representation of women in the Knesset, the Israeli parliament. In the current government, out of 64 coalition members, there are only 9 women, that is, 5%.

“What are you doing for the kidnapped women”

As for sexual violence, in 2023, 29 women were murdered because they were women. Since the beginning of the Iron Swords war, there has been a 20% increase in reports of sexual violence in the home, and despite this fact, the current government decided to stop funding one of the organizations that provided housing services for women who are forced to leave their homes because they do not represent a safe space for them. 

Specifically in the case of the Hamas terrorist attack of October 7, we can see how sexual violence was used as a weapon by Hamas and other terrorist groups to humiliate Israeli society. The recent UN Secretary General’s report on Sexual Violence in Conflict presents compelling evidence which confirms that sexual violence was used during the Hamas attack on October 72. It is important to clarify that sexual violence is considered a war crime and is also a crime against humanity3. Hence the historical importance of this report, which gives international recognition to the violence against women on October 7, despite the denialism that people want to impose on these facts. This report breaks the silence and thus brings the victims out of marginalization by giving them a voice. At the same time, the report demands the immediate release of all the kidnapped persons, since the evidence found by the Commission allows inferring that also in captivity the persons deprived of their freedom could be suffering sexual abuse.

Since the commemoration of this 8M takes place during Israel’s time of war, it is important to mention that in war conflicts, once again we find a gender gap: men are usually in decision-making and conflict management positions, leaving aside other perspectives for conflict resolution.4 Thus, in addition to not making decisions, women and children tend to be vulnerable populations, regardless of their origin or ethnicity or their location in the conflict, having to ensure the feeding and survival of their families, finding the necessary sustenance and medical care in a personal situation of poverty, loss of work and destruction of the home. To combat this gap, UN Resolution 1325 was created, which calls for the protection of women in conflict situations and the prevention of sexual or gender-specific violence, while advocating for the participation of women in all phases of the peace process. Organizations such as Women for Peace5 are active in Israel to ensure that this resolution is implemented. 

How does 8M challenge us as Youth Movements?

As we have explained above, many of the values we believe in, and therefore educate in the Hanoar Hatzioni Family, are still not guaranteed for all women in all societies, simply because they are women: the right to life, equality, equity, justice, freedom, integrity.

As women we are an integral part of our Tnuot Noar, of our communities and of the world. Therefore, we must ensure that their rights are fulfilled. 

Many times social changes may seem distant and difficult to achieve, therefore, we share some tips that can help in this task through small steps: 

It is essential that we pay attention to the language we use to refer to the people in our environment and that it is respectful (right to identity). We must observe what types of examples we use in the production of content and include women, in case there are none (right to representation), observe if in our work/study environment women have a voice and promote their participation (freedom of expression), reward with the vote the referents of our communities/countries that include women in real places in decision making (political rights), be attentive to warning signs from women in our environment to be able to seek professionals who can provide the necessary help (right to integrity and life).

Closing words

As an Argentine-Israeli feminist educator, that is, a woman who believes that the equality of women with men will make this world a more just and dignified place, and who has been living in this country for 5 years, I am convinced that the use of sexual attacks during the last October 7 is an attack against Israel and against humanity. The use of women’s and men’s bodies to humiliate Israeli society through their sexuality must be judged and condemned. Likewise, all 134 abductees, who are being deprived of their freedom and rights, must be returned NOW. The State of Israel must do everything in its power and more to return its citizens home to their safe place NOW.

I fervently believe that we have to strengthen the foundations of our society, the Israeli society, so that no sexual harassment, abuse and violence of any kind can take place against any person, regardless of nationality, origin or ethnicity.

Women must have in Israel and in all societies where they live, full access to the social, economic and political platforms to develop as human beings. And for this to happen, we must ensure safe spaces.

I am convinced that women’s access to strategic decision-making positions in national security issues will allow for the emergence of new leaders and the possibility of finding and building new bridges to reach political agreements in the region.

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