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April 14, 1989 - Image 111

Resource type:
Text
Publication:
The Detroit Jewish News, 1989-04-14

Disclaimer: Computer generated plain text may have errors. Read more about this.

I FOR WOMEN I

Visiting Israeli army
colonel Linda Shafir
sees better conditions
at home.

Unequal

SUSAN SALTER

Special to The Jewish News

n Israel, equal rights
under law for women is
a fact of life. Thus an
Israeli woman who
comes to spend some
time in the U.S. might find
herself in for some cultural
surprises.
So says Linda Shafir, a Tel
Aviv resident living in Far-
mington Hills for a year with
her husband, a liason for the
Israeli army here on business.
Mrs. Shafir, a colonel in the
Army and a practicing at-
torney in Israel, has become
something of an expert on
women's issues.
Israel was founded with
equality in mind, says Shafir,
"The declaration of the
establishment of state en-
sures complete equality of
social and political rights ir-
respective of race, creed, or
sex," she says. "In Israel,
equal rights were well ac-
cepted even in that period
[the 1940s]. That's because
women have had the same
part as men in building our
country and army."
While the laws generally
apply to all facets of legal pro-
cedure, a few statutes still
haunt Israel's equality-
minded women. For instance,

a 1954 provision decrees that
women may not be employed
at night except in civil service
(such as in hsopitals or police
stations). "Today we think
women no longer need this
kind of protection," says
Shafir. "We think women
may have been 'protected' out
of higher-paying jobs in in-
dustry."
Another controversy in-
volves pension. In Israel, men
retire at age 65, women at 60.
Shafir feels "this is going to
change. There is no reason for
this discrimination!'
Israel's divorce laws, where
modern legality clashes with
traditional religious beliefs,
can also raise ire. "Divorce
is the biggest problem for
women," Shafir acknow-
ledges. "It's ruled by rabbinic
law. Everyone is trying to
change it."
High on the list of
grievances is the fact that
divorce is still primarily the
husband's prerogative. If the
Israeli wife doesn't agree to
the divorce, her husband may
still legally marry another
woman. And if a woman
refuses to accept the divorce
settlement, she can lose her
rights to alimony (called
"maintenance") and property.
The legal pendulum does
swing the other way. Shafir

Rights

points to Israel's generous
policy concerning maternity
leave and nursing mothers in
the workplace. As in the U.S.,
an Israeli woman is entitled
to three months paid leave
around the time of giving
birth. But the Israeli woman
is also entitled to six weeks'
paid leave if she miscarries,
and up to a year's unpaid
maternity leave if she has
been employed for at least two
years. (During that unpaid
leave, the woman cannot be
dismissed from her job.) A
nursing mother may take off
one paid hour per day for six
months.
These perks exist, says
Shafir, because in Israel "we
need those women at work,
perhaps more than you [need
employees] here. We are small
we need all the workers we
can get."
The Israeli army also needs
soldiers. Men and women
alike begin mandatory ser-
vice, usually at age 18.
Though exemptions for mar-
ried women are common — a
law many are working to
change — the army knows lit-
tle gender discrimination, as
evidenced by the rates of corn-
missions and promotions.
"Army service has been a
positive force in Israel's socie-
ty," says Shafir. The govern-

ment enhances the benefits
by offering "well-developed
educational programs for
[recruits] of low achievement.
Men and women officers have
the same rights. Every unit
has an adviser (not a com-
mander) specializing in
women's problems!'
Shafir, a veteran of the
army's parachute division,
says that females don't join
the fighting ranks because
"the attitude of our enemies
toward women makes taking
such prisoners too risky!'
Also, since a woman recruit's
usual term is two years, as op-
posed to a man's three, there
isn't enough time to train her
as a fighting soldier. But
female officers abound — in
electronics, metallurgy, in-
telligence, operations control
and other high-ranking
positions.
"A small number of women
want to serve as long as men,"
notes Shafir. "We feel so com-
pelled to [participate] — it's
the most important issue of
our lives at this age."
Compulsory military ser-
vice also provides a
psychological benefit. At an
age when an American
woman is usually in school or
looking for a job, an Israeli
woman is getting a taste of
equality, one that will linger

long after she leaves the army
base. She's "becoming used to
equality before her U.S. sister,
Shafir suggests.
Though she admires the
strides America, has taken
toward equal rights, Shafir
says she wants to learn more
about women's status in this
country. Her research centers
on the differences and
similarities of female soldiers
in both lands.
Shafir finds American
women both spirited and ag-
gressive in pursuing their
rights, adding that in Israel
"maybe we're too busy, but we
don't see any [significant] in-
equality in our society. It's
not an issue as it is in the
U.S."
Shafir and her family plan
to stay in Farmington Hills
until summer. Then it's back
to Tel Aviv where peple don't
ask, incredulously, "You're
really a lady colonel?" the
way they do here. "Americans
find it very unusual," Shafir
says with a smile.
"The army has done so
much for our equality," Shafir
says. "There are some men
from eastern countries who
think otherwise, of course.
But not the majority. Other-
wise we could not have
reached the level we have
reached." ❑

THE DETROIT JEWISH NEWS

103

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