Gender Equality in Israel: Implementing UN Security Council Resolution 1325

Praying women on the Western Wall in Jerusalem, Israel.
Image: Alice Marwick. License: Creative Commons BY-NC 2.0. Original: Flickr.

October 31, 2011
Anat Thon Ashkenazy
Translation: Lesley Benedikt, Itach - Women Lawyers for Social Justice.

UN Security Council Resolution 1325, of October 31, 2000, sent a significant message to many countries, including Israel. The principles of the decision, which emphasize representation of women in peace negotiations and increased protection of women and children against violence in conflict situations, were found to be very relevant to the Israeli society that has been dealing with a long-term conflict situation over the years.

Implementation of the Resolution in Israel

After the resolution was ratified, many women in Israel acted to clarify the best way to integrate the principles of the resolution into Israeli policy. Subsequently, five years after the resolution was enacted, and after recruiting the support of women Members of Knesset (Israeli Parliament) and women’s organizations, with the NGO Isha L’Isha leading the way, Israel became one of the first members of the UN to legislate a law based on the principles of the resolution (Equality of Women's Rights Law (Amendment No.4), 5765-2005). The law mandated the inclusion of diverse women to public bodies established by the government on issues of national importance, including peace negotiations. In the past, Israeli legislation recognized the principles of proper representation of women, however the new obligation to include women in negotiations was a breakthrough. In addition, the law expressed a revolution in the worldview of the Israeli Parliament – for the first time, there was a legal mandate to appoint women from diverse population groups. This meant that women who would be appointed should be from sectors that had been excluded from decision-making circles. In this way, the legislature and women’s organizations in Israel made a great advancement toward the recognition of diverse voices that exist amongst women in Israeli society that had never before been heard.

Lack of implementation of the Israeli Law

Even with the great policy achievement of the law’s ratification, the law remained a formal declaration and was not at all implemented for a number of years. It was understood by women’s organizations that there were no mechanisms set up to implement the law and, even more than that, it seemed that the government did not recognize the importance of the broad social principles on which the law is based.

Because of this situation, the NGO Itach-Maaki Women Lawyers for Social Justice – an Arab-Jewish non-profit working to include voices of marginalized women in the public discourse – made the decision to work toward the advancement of the implementation of the law. In order to reach this goal, Itach-Maaki approached the Heinrich Boell Stiftung Israel office to receive financial support and for its international perspective on this issue. Since then, the strategic partnership between Itach-Maaki and the Heinrich Boell Foundation has developed into an effective team with impressive achievements.

First Steps Toward Implementation: Raising Awareness on the Law’s Principles and Implementation

After acting to increase the awareness about the law, which did not advance its implementation, Itach-Maaki decided to initiate petitions to the Supreme Court against the government’s violation of the law. The first petition submitted, together with a number of other organizations, was against the lack of appointments of women to The Goldberg Commission, which was mandated to make recommendations on the settlements of the Bedouin population in the Negev. This was the first time that the term “diversity” led the demand to appoint women from specific population groups. In response to the petition, the Supreme Court recognized the significance of the law in this case and decided that in the future the State will be mandated to implement the law’s demands. However, even after this statement by the Court, and with our activities to raise awareness regarding the law, Itach-Maaki was forced to turn again to the Supreme Court in order to enforce the law. In the coming petitions, because of the chronic nature of lack of implementation of the law, the Court instructed the State to appoint a woman and even to create official policy and procedures for implementing the law.

Main obstacle toward implementation: Representation of women in security issues

It is important to emphasize that the opposition by the government against implementing the law emanates from a number of reasons and is strongest when demands are raised to appoint women in fields that are related to state security and foreign relations. In these cases, the challenge in expressing the importance of appointments of women is especially difficult, and yet crucial to overcome. Related to this, the petition submitted by Itach-Maaki to the Supreme Court regarding the lack of appointment of women to the committee established to evaluate the Gaza flotilla incident in May 2010 (The Turkel Committee) was especially challenging. Because of this, it is considered a huge achievement that, in response to this petition, the Supreme Court severely criticized the government for the fact that women were not appointed to the committee. The Supreme Court mandated the government to make an active commitment to appoint women, a very clear statement against the government’s lack of action. Simultaneously, an impressive and very broad public debate was sparked in Israel regarding the importance and significance of included women in public decision-making bodies. The unprecedented discussions, which took place in diverse media outlets and public forums – including a political cartoon by a famous cartoonist - delved into issues such as women in security fields and the significance of including gender perspectives in foreign relations policy. Examples of newspaper clippings: The Jerusalem Post and: Haaretz.

Subsequent to the Supreme Court decision, the significant change in the number of appointments of women to public bodies was very apparent; now, there are simply no more all-male committees appointed. Most committees include women, even if not in equal numbers to men. Even when teams were beginning to be established to negotiate with the Palestinians, approximately a year ago, the government agreed to appoint women to the teams. This was in response to the demands of women’s organizations, led by Itach-Maaki.

Another achievement made is the increased commitment of the government to report on the establishment of public committees and teams to the Authority for the Advancement of the Status of Women – the public body mandated to implement the law. In the past, despite a clear demand to report on the appointments of every public body established, there was no information transmitted. Furthermore, there were no sanctions put into place for this lack of reporting. However, today there is a significant increase in transfer of this information to the Authority for the Advancement of the Status of Women, which is under the Prime Minister’s Office. Moreover, the precedent-setting Supreme Court verdict sparked a series of legislative amendments that were directly influenced by UNSCR 1325 and its principles.

Lack of representation of women from diverse population groups

Alongside the significant progress in implementation of certain aspects of the law, there is not yet an expression of the law’s demand for representation of women from diverse population groups in public bodies. This situation can be explained by the following status quo:

  1. lack of political power of diverse (and especially marginalized) sectors of the population and
  2. hardship in implementing this aspect of the law.

It is important to note, that amongst women’s organizations, there is debate regarding the method for implementing the law and questions have been raised about whether public bodies established by the government are able to implement the demand for diversity. Among other things, this is because of the fact that certain marginalized population groups do not recognize state bodies as legitimate and are not trusting of them or their recommendations.

This is relevant to the most recent petition submitted by Itach-Maaki to the Supreme Court in August 2011 against the Prime Minister and the Trajtenberg Committee, established to examine the broad socio-economic situation in the country. The committee was established as a response to the social protests that washed over the country during the summer, bringing out hundreds of thousands of Israeli demonstrators from broad population groups demanding to change the socio-economic priorities of the country’s leadership and to decrease the cost of living in the country. Women were appointed to the committee, however, there was no expression of the diversity aspect of the law. Especially apparent was the lack of Arab women on the committee, despite the clear fact that the changes demanded relate to the distinct needs of diverse population groups.

On this background, Itach-Maaki created a coalition of 13 organizations – Jewish and Arab rights’ organizations including many women’s organizations – that joined together to demand that an Arab woman be appointed to the committee, via Itach-Maaki’s petition to the Supreme Court. In response, the government took an unprecedented step and appointed an Arab woman to the committee. This was an overwhelming achievement for the feminist battle in the country, a step toward advancing the rights and perspectives of women who are not a part of the ruling hegemony in Israeli society.

Changes in the State Attorney’s Guidelines

In response to the success of the August 2011 petition and the transformation of the public discourse regarding representation of women from diverse population groups, the State Attorney announced that he will amend his guidelines to government offices to include specific instructions on how to best implement the law and to include women from diverse population groups on public committees. This is a breakthrough for the implementation of the law and the potential to include voices of diverse women in policymaking, especially those who have rarely been heard in the past.

Future Step: National Action Plan for Implementation of UNSCR 1325

The process that brought about the integration of principles of UNSCR 1325 into Israeli law initiated a significant change in gender equality in Israel. There is no doubt that there is a great change in recognition and internalization of the government’s obligation for representation of women from diverse population groups on public committees. However, it is important to recognize that reaching the goal of full implementation is still far off. Alongside official representation of diverse women is the importance of integrating gender perspectives into policymaking discussions and decisions. Furthermore, it is important to empower women from broad backgrounds to become significant participants, leaders and partners in directing the Israeli society.

These goals, in their broadest meaning, can be optimally expressed by the adoption of a tool that many other countries nationwide have been utilizing to implement UNSCR 1325: A National Action Plan (NAP) based on the principles of UNSCR 1325. This type of plan will include a multi-dimensional strategy that will have the potential to pilot a true revolution for women and gender equality in Israel. This will happen when the government allocates resources and obligates itself to active implementation of the NAP. Today, Itach-Maaki is taking action, in partnership with Heinrich Boell Stiftung, to take the first steps toward advancing this type of NAP.

Anat Thon Ashkenazy

Adv. Anat Thon Ashkenazy, is leading the project: Women's Voices = Women's Impact on the implementation of Amendment 4 of the Equality of Women's Rights Law of the NGO Itach-Maaki Women Lawyers for Social Change, in partnership with the Israel office of the Heinrich Boell Foundation.

Itach Maaki: Women Lawyers for Social Justice

Itach Maaki - Women Lawyers for Social Justice is a non-profit organization that aims to create social change by using the law to address the needs and rights of women from the social, economic and geographic periphery of Israel. Founded in the summer of 2001 by a group of leading feminist legal professionals in Israel, Itach aspires to increase access to the law, legal knowledge and tools among the population of disenfranchised women, specifically in the fields of employment rights, welfare benefits, public housing and violence against women. We believe that as lawyers, we have taken on the professional responsibility to create access to justice for every citizen. Itach's three branches are located in Tel Aviv, Beersheva and Haifa, and each branch focuses on different needs in its region.