The government of half the people: this is how the state harms women

Etti Aflallo, Calcalist, April 24th, 2019

The Interior Ministry promotes exclusion. The Ministry of Public Security is not doing enough to prevent violence against women, and the Ministry of Finance is delaying raising the retirement age for women. In a special project of the Israel Women’s Network and Calcalist, we examined the extent to which government offices are working for the benefit of all citizens.

After the end of a passionate election campaign, the 21st Knesset was elected as a very masculine group. Two of the three largest parties in the emerging coalition are ultra-Orthodox and do not allow women to be elected. The large secular parties also presented masculine campaigns: Likud launched a campaign based on Benjamin Netanyahu, which is surrounded by the party’s male leadership, and Minister Miri Regev complained about it. Blue and White stood at the front of the campaign with four men. In fact, in the 2019 elections women took second place.

In fact, even after the elections, when the process of forming the coalition began, a harsh message was conveyed about the social leniency of women who were harmed by the appointment of Natan Eshel as one of the leaders of the Likud coalition negotiations. Eshel was forced to leave the Civil Service after harassing one of the employees in the Prime Minister’s Office and filming her inappropriately.

In the next few weeks, the government will be formed and with it various government ministries will go to work. The government is the executive authority in the State of Israel, which is responsible for implementing the policy determined by the Knesset. By virtue of their role, government ministries have a significant influence over the lives of citizens – promoting public transportation, educating children and academics, promoting equal legislation, budgeting social welfare projects, and budgeting old-age pensions. The decisions made by the government ministries are essential. Their influence is so great that it is often possible to hear Knesset members complaining that the state is run by officials (mainly treasury officials), and not by elected officials.

But even though the government is supposed to act on behalf of all Israeli citizens, this is not often the situation. An examination conducted by the Israel Women’s Network raises significant gaps in the advancement of women in various government ministries. In a special project of the Israel Women’s Network and Calcalist, nine government ministries were examined: Finance, Defense, Education, Health, Interior and the Ministry for the Advancement of the Periphery, Justice, Transportation, Internal Security, Labor and Welfare. These offices were chosen because they have the greatest impact on the daily lives of Israeli citizens.

The ministries were measured on their activities during the period of the outgoing government according to several parameters: utilization of the ministry’s budget, initiatives promoted, representation of women as employees within the ministry, and within the bodies that the ministry trusts. Of the ministries examined, the most prominent one in which significant steps were taken for women in the outgoing government was the Ministry of Justice. The Ministry of the Interior and the Ministry for the Advancement of the Periphery, the Negev and the Galilee have been particularly problematic. In this special project, we will review the activities of the various ministries and accompany the review in policy recommendations to the next government, which is expected to be very unfriendly towards women.

“In the past year, we have seen that women are setting an agenda, demanding change and leading it,” says attorney Michal Margaliot-Gera, director-general of the Israel Women’s Network. “In 2019, it is time for the revolution to reach the decision-makers in the Knesset and government ministries. The public sector should be a signal and a model for the private sector. If government ministries act to reduce wage gaps and promote equal representation of women around the decision-making table, there is a high chance that private companies will adopt similar measures.

The fact that women are perceived as secondary wage earners undermines their ability to maximize their earning capacity and continue to advance to senior positions. In the social structure, the expectation of women is to be the primary caregivers. This harms women at work from the stage of career choice and career paths, through discrimination in job interviews, to less professional establishment in jobs and wages. This is neither a natural situation nor a decree of fate: an active and effective policy on the part of the government ministries can lead to significant change.”

In 2014, a government decision was adopted regarding the recommendations of the Committee for the Gender Examination of the State Budget in Israel, according to which each government ministry must conduct a gender analysis of the budget every year. The analysis was carried out gradually, starting from 2018 onwards and should have included a 100% thorough examination of the ministry’s budget. “Gender analysis of the budget is of utmost importance in identifying and treating gender disparities and discrimination between the sexes, and it is an important tool used in countries around the world to narrow gender gaps and inequality,” explains attorney Miriam Zalkind, a policy advocate and lobbyist at the Israel Women’s Network.

In the framework of the Israel Women’s Network and Calcalist’s project, this analysis was examined and it turns out that it was done only partially. “Most of the government ministries did not analyze the entire budget from a gender perspective; they analyzed budget expenditures of previous years without analyzing the manner in which the budget was allocated in order to try to narrow gaps,” says Zalkind.

What can be learned about the level of equality in government ministries? A positive point can be found in the report on wage expenditure in the civil service and security agencies, which presents data from 2017 and was published in February 2019. This report shows various data on gender gaps between the government ministries. For example, it was found that wage gaps between men and women in the civil service system ranged from 9% to 28%, while in the entire economy, the gap during that year was 36%. The average wage gap in government ministries was 15%. According to the report, one of the reasons why wage gaps in government offices are lower than in the general economy is the fact that in the state service, workers’ wages are not determined in negotiations with the employer at the beginning.

In addition, the report shows that the gender wage gap in the civil service stems from many factors, including the number of additional jobs and the compensation for them, the average job size, etc. In the Ministry of Defense, the gap is 21%, 29% for the Ministry of Transport, and 25% for the Ministry of Finance. The Ministry of Justice has the smallest gap, which stands at only 2%.

Another large gap identified by the project was found in the government health system – 28% lower for women. In some rankings within the health system, this gap is even greater: for example, the gender wage gap between pharmacists is 38%. The proposed explanations for these disparities are particularly distinct: a significant difference in the number of jobs, with women on the average working only part-time, and the fact that men hold higher managerial positions characterized by higher wages.

Women are a central force in the Israeli public sector and in many government ministries they constitute a majority of the employees. Nevertheless, their representation among the senior echelon remains insignificant and far from reflecting both their share of the population and the offices themselves. “The situation is bleak even from a historical perspective,” Zalkind explains. “In two of the ministries examined (Interior and Finance) only two women have served as directors since the establishment of the state.

When reviewing the percentage of women in senior positions from among the ministries examined, the Ministry of Justice is the only office in which the percentage of women serving at senior levels is similar to that of Ministry employees. In all of the others, the situation is far from satisfactory. A particularly low grade in this index was given to the Ministry for the Advancement of the Periphery, the Negev and the Galilee, in which not one woman serves in a senior position.”

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