Has the equality of the Israeli woman in the workplace increased or
decreased over the years? In the past, before and during the period
of the establishment of the State, women were said to have taken on
"manly" work in paving roads and as fighters in the army. Perhaps
there were not really many of these women but what they did, had
significance for the equality of women in society.
However, the Histadrut (labor movement) had different wage scales
for women and for men in those years. Regardless of the type of
work, the wages of women were lower than those of men. Amazing as
it sounds, this was a question of principle: not only was equal pay
not paid for equal work, but women earned less even if their
proficiency on the job exceeded that of the men. The "principle"
has been laid down that women are "sec¬ond breadwinners" and
there is therefore "no need" to pay them a decent wage, regardless
of the profit of the employer, which was no lower in the case of a
"second breadwinner." This institutionalized arrangement of
sep¬arate wages for women was undoubtedly exploitation under
the guise of seemingly "logical" arguments.
I myself went to work in those years in a workshop for binding
electric motors, a trade which I had studied and where I had worked
abroad. My colleagues at work had been barbers, merchants and
tailors in their coun¬tries of origin and I taught them the
secrets of the electric motor. At the end of the month, I received
half the salary of my pupils. When I complained to the employer
that there must have been an error, he said this was not so and my
salary was quite legal according to the women's wage scale of the
Histadrut. Subsequently, I entered university so as to learn an
intellectual profession, only to find that after several academic
degrees and years of experience, my salary as a state employee is
not much more than half that of my male colleagues.
Women doing physical work are even forbidden to work overtime
(which is better paid) according to the additional hypocritical
slogan that "hard physical work isn't suitable for women." As if
women don't often do 12 hours' hard work a day in agriculture or in
domestic work, which nobody else wants to take on and which is
grossly underpaid. The worker on a production line, in the food
industry or in textiles works much hard¬er than the manager
there, but in most cases the workers are women and the manager is a
Women and Education
The same discriminatory situation is seen in white collar jobs, in
intellectu¬al occupations. How often have I seen meetings of
the office staff of a department or institution where all the seats
around the table are occupied by professional women - economists,
sociologists, psychologists, lawyers, architects, you name it -
while the male chairman sits at the head of the table. In many
other cases, a woman heads the department as acting direc¬tor,
only until a male director from outside is "parachuted" into the
job. After teaching the newcomer the job, the unfortunate woman
then goes back "to her place."
This sort of phenomenon is the result of the fact that like every
minori¬ty - though they are not a minority - which is
discriminated against, women try to make their way upward in
society in the only way open to them, through education, a
prestigious profession. Here, Israeli women have enjoyed unusual
success. They are diligent, able and prepared to invest effort and
work in order to succeed. They study and work at the same time,
without neglecting their families, with very little help from the
establishment. The wages of a house-cleaner or a child-care worker
are not considered by the income tax to be "an expense for creating
income" and the number of day-care centers is inadequate. Working
women even pay the price of the new "state health insurance law"
for the insurance rate of 4% which is deducted from their salaries,
while up to now it was only paid by the "main breadwinner."
Where Women Failed
Israeli women have great achievements to their credit. It is not
only in the "feminine professions" like teaching and nursing that
they are the majori¬ty. They have also conquered "male
professions" such as many branches of medicine, architecture,
private and public law (they are a majority in the Justice
Ministry), computers, biology, etc. In all these occupations they
have reached a high professional level. They have not succeeded as
far as the ranks of directors and politicians are concerned.
In my opinion the reason for this is that to be a director or
politician is not a profession but a status. Rather than
professional competence, which can be learned (in which women
excel), and which raises a person to the level of director, here,
other characteristics are decisive: self-confidence, aggressiveness
and even a lack of consideration for others; in these, women are
less effective than men. Moreover, the roles of director and
politician are the last male bastions in Israel and the men defend
them desperately (as in the example above of the "parachuted"
director). The best expression of this is the existence of a "glass
ceiling" which mainly women come up against in their career
efforts. It can be made of many factors, of prejudice, of the image
of women in the media and in the textbooks of the education system;
of pseudo-scientific research on the subject; of the absence
¬which cries out to heaven - of women as recipients of
prestigious prizes like the Israel Prize; and of males who appoint
other males to positions at work.
The Military and Religious Establishments
Neither can we forget that in Israel the military and religious
establish¬ments are both by nature exclusively male and that
these are very strong establishments which inevitably exert their
influence to restrict the role of the woman, particularly in
management and in politics.
Nowadays there are no longer separate Histadrut wage rates for men
and women but in practice, women's wages are far lower than men's.
Success in the professions, which we have mentioned, has not helped
women to achieve equal wages for equal work. In reality there
exists a sep¬arate rate for women's work since the law which
promises equal wages is systematically avoided. While on the
surface there is equality, the law relates only to the basic wage,
which is about one-half of the total received by the worker. In
order to work out the real wage one must add to the gross salary
increments like clothes allowance, professional literature,
vacation, and above all car allowance and global overtime. The two
latter items are particularly significant and it is they which are
denied to the great majority of women, while men receive them
automatically, according to arbitrary criteria.
Women earn 53% of male wages in industry, 47% in trade and tourism,
60% in communications, 59% in public services, and 49% in personal
services. In the last three categories, the majority of the work
force is female.
Women's labor constitutes 41 % of the total Israeli labor force and
46% of the hired labor force. On average, women earn 58% as much as
men. This large disparity is not the result of women hav¬ing
fewer years of education than the men, for the oppo¬site is
true: 46.4% of women in the labor force have over 12 years of
education, as against 35.5% of men. Even regarding those with over
16 years of education (higher education degrees) women have an
advantage. Some 19% have over 16 years of education while only
17.5% of men are in this category.
The figures also negate the claim that the reason for the low wages
of women is that they are concentrated in economic professions or
branches where the wages are low. Some 62% of those employed in
liberal and techni¬cal professions are women - teachers,
nurses, computer workers (which rep¬resent of the female labor
force) with the average wages in these professions relatively high.
But women earn only 57% of men's wages in this sector.
The picture is similar if one observes the concentration of women
in branches of the economy. In the public service branch - state
and munic¬ipal workers - 62% of all workers are women and this
constitutes 43% of the female labor force. The wages in this branch
are similar to the average wage in the economy, yet women earn only
59% of men's wages. It should be noted that most of those earning
the minimum wage or less are women, regardless of the profession or
branch in which they are employed. They are also most of the
unemployed in all professions and branches.
The only reason for the low wages of women is discrimination. There
is no other reason.
A Long Road Ahead
There is hope for the future, however. There is a women's lobby,
which, it is true, is only in its first stages, but the strength of
which is already felt in the political parties, in the Knesset and
in workplaces. A law of "equal wages for equal work" has been
proposed in the Knesset by the minister of labor and welfare. The
definition of wages according to this proposed law includes all the
increments, among them overtime. The women's lobby also demands
"corrective discrimination" in political life and the
guaran¬teeing of secure places in party lists for Knesset
Women continue to fight for real equality, struggling to win their
right¬ful places in the directorates, in the board room, and
in politics; and to achieve equality in wages in all the
professions and in all branches.