Put Up or Shut Up: It is Time to Put more Women in Positions of Power

By Rabbi Ellen Flax

One of the many, many painful things that emerged from the Ford-Kavanaugh hearings is that we desperately need more women in positions of power. Is there any question that the allegations against Judge Kavanaugh would have been handled differently had there been more women in the Senate? If there were any Republican women on the Senate judiciary committee? Would things have been different if there were more women who had positions of power by means of their financial clout and their ability to sway campaigns and influence who is selected as a Supreme Court nominee? Most important, if there were more women in positions of power, wouldn’t we change how victims of sexual violence are treated and how perpetrators of such violence are punished?

The Ford-Kavanaugh hearings bring into focus the paucity of women in the power domain, an issue that has taken on greater urgency both here in the United States, as well as in Israel. There is no question that the agunah issue – women “chained” in marriage to husbands who refuse to divorce them according to traditional Jewish law – would be solved, at least in civil law, if there were more women in power in Israel. If there were more female decision makers in the United States and in Israel, we would likely see a raft of laws, rules, and social mores adopted that would finally create an equal playing field for women and girls.

For nearly 20 years, the Hadassah Foundation has been at the forefront of efforts to empower women and girls in the United States and in Israel. Since 1999, we have made nearly $8.3 million in grants to approximately 100 organizations. For most of our history, we have focused on the economic empowerment of women of all backgrounds in Israel, and the healthy development – physically, emotionally, and spiritually – of Jewish girls and young women in the United States. About five years ago, we identified a need for greater leadership-development programming in the American Jewish community for girls and young women, and have subsequently funded a number of outstanding projects in this field.

While we have been pleased with our American portfolio, we realized that these efforts have not been enough – that at the end of the day, the needle will not move unless there are more women in positions of power. Consequently, the Hadassah Foundation Board has elected to change our funding priorities, and will now focus on gender balance in the power domain.

Starting next year, we will fund programs for girls and women of all ages in the United States and in Israel that focus on the following priorities: 1) Leadership advancement (initiatives that increase the number and capacity of women in positions of leadership); 2) Breaking glass ceilings (initiatives that increase a woman or girl’s ability to succeed and achieve in all fields; this can include empowering women by decreasing economic barriers, or initiatives that advance women’s achievements); and 3) Political and civic representation (initiatives that increase female representation through policy and public service). In addition, mindful of the oversized and determinative role that the Rabbinate and the Muslim religious establishment play in the life of Israeli women (and men), and which effectively deny women seats at the table, we will also fund efforts that eliminate religious barriers that create unequal and/or separate playing fields for women and ensure pluralistic interpretations of religion that do not infringe on women’s rights or create barriers suppressing women.

The Hadassah Foundation is excited to implement these significant changes, and we hope, sometime in the near future, that we will see the fruits of our efforts. We are aligning our resources with our values to empower women. Will more funders take the same bold step – now, at this very critical juncture – to ensure that there are more women in positions of power, too?

Rabbi Ellen Flax is Director, The Hadassah Foundation.