Two Sociologists Say Bias Exists Against Women in the U.s., Israel

Two sociologists — one an American, the other an Israeli — compared notes at a conference on women’s issues here and concluded that employment discrimination against women continues to exist in both countries, but sometimes takes different forms in each. The comparison took place at a session of a four-day “dialogue” between American and Israeli women sponsored by the American Jewish Congress. The meeting is being held at the Van Leer Jerusalem Foundation.

Cynthia Fuchs Epstein, a professor at the City University of New York and a fellow at the Russell Sage Foundation, said that in the United States, “Jewish women, like Jewish men, have suffered from discriminatory practices which have limited their participation in the work force in certain industries and spheres of work.”

But she also noted that prejudice against women was also characteristic of the Jewish community as a whole “as characteristic of the Jewish community itself as of any Gentile community,” so that Jewish women, like non-Jewish women, historically found limited opportunity.

Thus, Epstein said, “Jewish women suffered from discrimination in the society at large, but they also suffered discrimination in the newly-developing parallel work communities that Jewish men were creating” in the United States. She was particularly critical of the limitations on services — such as child care –available from the government in the U.S. for women attempting to combine work and child-raising.

PESSIMISTIC ABOUT STATUS OF WOMAN IN ISRAEL

Dafna Nundi-Izraeli, professor of sociology at Israel’s Bar-Ilan University, said that Jewish women in Israel are excluded from the mainstream in both military and civilian life. She complained that, as in the United States, the assistance provided by the social welfare system in Israel was seriously inadequate to enable women to attend to the needs of their families while participating fully in the work force.

As a result, she noted, women in Israel are forced to miss an average of one day of work per month if they have a child in kindergarten. Nundi-Izraeli added that while 63 percent of Israeli women are members of the labor force, over a third of those employed are part-time workers, working 25 hours a week or less, because family responsibilities keep many out of full-time employment.

But, Nundi-Izraeli was pessimistic about the prospect for change in the status of working women in Israeli society. She said general apathy about the need for change, as well as the fact that Israeli women are not sufficiently dissatisfied with their lot to demand reforms are obstacles to change.

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