Knesset conferences address working women
In a fruitful culmination of three years of activism, Shatil hosted two Knesset conferences this week focusing on advancing equitable, fair employment for women in Israel. The conferences were rooted in the Shatil Equality and Dignity at Work initiative, in conjunction with the Israeli Women’s Network and financed by the European Union and Hadassah Foundation, which seeks to instigate policy change that meaningfully addresses the inequalities that women face in the Israeli job market and workplace. Widely attended by MKs, charitable organizations, and social change activists, the conferences highlighted some of the most pressing concerns in the field and offered a variety of creative, constructive approaches to meet these challenges. Perhaps the most important attendees were Israeli working women themselves, budding social activists who are now empowered, through Shatil’s capacity building programs, to confront injustices in the workplace, join together, and engage with critical decision makers to improve their circumstances.
The conference, entitled “Women in Care Professions,” was held on February 21 in the Knesset in cooperation with the Adva Center and the Women’s Budget Forum. According to a Labor Force Survey conducted by the Central Bureau of Statistics in 2009, women make up 87.8% of the workforce in care professions, including nursery caregivers, youth protection workers, occupational trainers, and social workers. In the words of Tamar Adelstein-Zeckbach, a Shatil attorney who has also served at the Rackman Center for the Advancement of the Status of Women at Bar-Ilan University, this statistic reflects the social discourse of care professions as “women’s work,” rather than serious professions. As a result, women in this field suffer low wages and poor working conditions, despite the fact that care workers such as counselors for at-risk youth and mental health rehabilitation therapists perform crucial roles in our society. One youth advisor, Yael Sinai, said in a Shatil promotional video, “Stop taking advantage of our kindness and care.” Smadar Feingold, a social worker, firmly asks, “Allow us to work with respect.”
In the months leading up to the conference, Shatil has been working to create a Care Professions Forum, through which women in care professions can consult with each other, develop a sense of solidarity, and create the capacity to approach governmental institutions with specific grievances. Adelstein-Zeckbach adds, “It is easy to ignore one case, but it is much harder to ignore a forum.” The conference itself solidified this process of connection among the women, bringing them together to discuss issues of wages, working conditions, privatization of care professions, and the social appreciation of their work. Four MKs from across the political spectrum sponsored the conference, giving the women crucial access to policy-makers and government bodies. Additionally, Shatil successfully advanced a new bill that would obligate the government to mandate appropriate working conditions and wages in its contracting of employees in the care professions.