Women in legislatures: Israel in a comparative perspective

Eva Etzioni-Halevy, Ann Illy

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The underrepresentation of women in the Israeli parliament (and this holds for other political power positions as well) can be traced to certain attitudes displayed by, and certain cross-pressures applied to, potential women aspirants, on the one hand, and to more established participants in the political power struggle (mostly male), on the other, which seem to work in Israel no less than in other democratic countries. These include relatively weak ambitions among some types of women who could choose to enter politics, probably as a result of their socialization and the pressures brought to bear on them in relation to their roles as homemakers and mothers. They also include lack of confidence on the part of established politicians in women’s ability to attract votes and play the political power game. Such lack of confidence would be counterbalanced by pressures to give women “fair” representation but exacerbated by pressures to maximize the parties’ chances in elections and the politicians’ own power positions within the parties. The fact that Israeli women are marginally worse off in their prospects of making parliamentary careers than women in comparable countries may be attributed to the prominence of military service in Israel. Rather than promoting greater equality for Israeli women, as might have been expected, military service may well have had the obverse effect. By heightening the burden but also the prospect of prominence for men, it may well have discouraged feminism while at the same time provided some men with a springboard for subsequent political careers. The resultant state of affairs does not seem to be one that has been consciously designed by anyone in particular; it is, rather, the result of a constellation of factors and forces reflecting women’s general position in Israeli society. Awareness of this situation, in addition to being valuable in its own right, may (or may not) spur concerned women and men to work toward change.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)65-79
Number of pages15
JournalContemporary Jewry
Issue number1
StatePublished - Jan 1986


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