UN offers praise, criticism in report on women in Israel

The Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination Against Women (CEDAW) concluded that Israeli law has helped women in several areas, but there are still issues needing improvement.

By: Batya Jerenberg, World Israel News

In its sixth report on Israel, the UN’s Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination Against Women (CEDAW) last week reviewed the status of women in the country since its last report in 2011.

It noted several areas of legislation where significant improvement has been made. This includes amendments to laws that raised the minimum age of marriage from 17 to 18 years for both women and men; extended maternity leave from 14 weeks to 15; provided for measures to combat sexual harassment in higher education institutions; and determined that one of the two representatives that every relevant government body sends to the Judicial Appointment Committee to choose Rabbinical Court judges – has to be a woman.

The report also praised Israel for making such efforts as establishing a joint Inter-Ministerial Committee on Preventing Domestic Violence, and ratifying the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities.

There was some criticism to go along with the praise, however, in the areas of family law and segregation in the public sphere.

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It specifically mentioned the need to find a solution to the problem of the refusal of religious divorces to estranged partners, thereby denying the right to remarry. The Committee strongly urged that Israel “review its reservations” to Article 16, which states that discrimination against women “in all matters relating to marriage and family relations” should be eliminated.

It also noted “with concern” that “limitations on freedom of movement continue to impact women in public spaces, including transportation,” and that Israel’s Council of Higher Education has decided “to expand the segregated campus and introduce fully segregated classrooms within universities.” However, it should be noted that in the latter case, the reason for such “segregation” is specifically to improve the financial situation of ultra-Orthodox and Arab women, who otherwise would not study in institutions of higher learning.

The CEDAW monitors the first international human rights treaty devoted to the rights of women. Although Israel ratified it in 1991, the Knesset has yet to adopt a comprehensive definition of discrimination against women which covers both direct and indirect discrimination in the public and private spheres.