Investing in Gender Equality at a Critical Time in Israel’s History

AJEEC-NISPED participants engage in a day of enrichment in Segev Shalom that included team-building exercises to strengthen relationships and build problem-solving skills. Photo courtesy The Hadassah Foundation.

By Stephanie Blumenkranz

This morning, the Hadassah Foundation announced $330,000 in grants to six organizations in Israel that promote leadership advancement and address religious and cultural barriers for women and girls. Selected through a competitive process conducted by current and former Hadassah Foundation Board Members, the grant recipients represent some of the leading organizations in Israel that utilize community-based solutions based on the unique needs and experiences of women and girls.

The grant announcement follows reports indicating that in Israel gender equality has plummeted and women’s rights are increasingly being violated. In addition, as Israel continues without a national government in place, it lacks a 2020 government budget. Government ministries are being allocated one-twelfth of their 2019 budget per month, with nonprofit organizations receiving less, if any, support. The need for social change is immense, and the available funding is severely lacking.

The Hadassah Foundation’s grants cannot come close to fulfilling the current deficit, but they can mitigate the chances of history repeating itself. As one of over two-dozen Jewish women’s funds throughout the US, we are unifed by the importance we place on funding with a gender lens. It is well known that supporting the advancement of women is key to a thriving economy, productive government, and sustainable society. By focusing on gender equality, Israel will be in a place to implement stronger policies and systems that better reflect the needs of the country’s diverse populations.

This year’s Israel grant recipients increase the number and diversity of people who have opportunities to obtain and advance in decision making positions. The programs reach people who represent a multitude of backgrounds and religions. Two of the organizations, however, serve specific underserved populations: Haredi women and Arab young women.

  • Working with Arab young women is AJEEC-NISPED, a first-time grant recipient of The Hadassah Foundation promoting socio-economic development and peace-building among communities in transition. The organization’s successes have been so profound that their structure is used as a model in the recently released Guide for Shared Society Organizations in Israel.

Funds support AJEEC-NISPED’s Taliyah Gap Year Program with young Arab women in the Negev Bedouin community. Arab teen girls, and Bedouin girls especially, face many unique difficulties including pressure to marry early and cultural concerns about studying and working outside of the home. The Taliyah Program provides leadership advancement to young women who have not previously been afforded leadership opportunities, and in turn changes the trajectory of their lives. Participants go on to serve as role-models, demonstrating to other young Arab women what they are capable of accomplishing.

  • Supporting the advancement of Haredi women is Nivcharot, another first-time grant recipient and the only organization in Israel focusing on Haredi women and their integration into public, social, and political life. Haredi women have fewer opportunities, face discrimination, and confront cultural norms that limit their personal aspirations. Additionally, the Haredi community is the fastest growing segment of Israel’s population. This means that if women continue to be excluded from Haredi society, it will become an even larger and more pressing issue throughout Israel in the years to come.

Nivcharot is shifting how Haredi women view themselves and increasing their access to decision-making positions. The grant will help Nivcharot raise awareness of the needs of Haredi women and girls and build their leadership skills through the HaNivcheret (The League) Program. HaNivcheret provides current and potential Haredi women leaders with the tools, knowledge, and self-perception necessary to succeed in secular society, business, and government.

The four other organizations selected as grant recipients have a broader reach, working with Israelis of all backgrounds, but their goals are specific in increasing gender equality in: government, top levels of business, academia, and Israel’s family law system.

  • Increasing the number of women in Israels political and public arena is WePower. Funding supports the Incubator for Council Members and Women Mayors, addressing the issue that women often leave their elected position as a council member or mayor after only one term, and women’s political involvement is declining at all levels. Unlike WePower’s other programs that train women to run for office, this program offers newly elected women with support from mentors and a network of women political leaders.
  • Building opportunities for women in top levels of business is Jasmine, which fosters the growth and professional development of Israel’s women business owners and leaders. In Israel, only 15.5 percent of CEO’s are women, and only one of the top 125 companies is led by a woman. To combat these odds, funding supports the Izun (Balance) Project, created with support from The Hadassah Foundation in 2016, Izun trains Israeli women business owners to serve as board members in public companies and government agencies, an important step in bringing them to the decision-making tables.
  • Reducing sexual harassment in academia is the Association of Rape Crisis Centers in Israel (ARCCI),thenational umbrella organization for Israel’s network of rape crisis centers that advocates on behalf of policies and practices that promote women’s safety and wellbeing. Funding supports a pilot project to address the growing issue of sexual harassment in the field of academia, which causes many women to leave the field. To help increase the number of women who advance in their academic careers, ARCCI will conduct research and implement university-wide policies that prevent and regulate instances of sexual harassment.
  • Fighting the inequalities in Israel’s family court system is The Ruth and Emanuel Rackman Center, a legal, academic, and social-service organization operating in Bar-Ilan University that advances the status of women. Funds support their advocacy, legislation, and litigation efforts to combat Israel’s gender discriminatory family law system, which is rooted in the power given to religious law in handling marriage and divorce proceedings and a biased application of civil law. 

These organizations join the 2019 Israel grant recipients that will continue to receive funding throughout 2020: The Adva Center, Center for Women’s Justice, Israel Women’s Network, Itach Maaki: Women Lawyers for Social Justice, and SHIN: The Israeli Movement for Equal Representation of Women.

The 2020 Israel grant recipients, along with those selected in 2019, address the root causes to some of the most pressing issues in Israel holding women and girls back. They shine a light on behaviors, policies, community practices, and laws that place women and girls at a disadvantage. The change that they aim to create may take time, but when it’s realized, there will be an increasing number of leaders who collectively can embrace all that is substantial about Israel and propel it forward.

Stephanie Blumenkranz is Director of The Hadassah Foundation.