Published online by Cambridge University Press: 14 January 2010
Open any traveler's guidebook about Israel, and you will soon find a photo of a young woman in military uniform carrying a weapon. She is the female soldier. Just like her male peers, she is subject to mandatory conscription to the defense forces when she reaches the age of eighteen. Her image is an emblem of gender equality. Unfortunately, the status of women in Israel does not match the mythology this image suggests. This gap between myth and reality makes Israel a living laboratory for the study of women's rights. As a Jewish and democratic state, it hosts a constant battle over its religious, national, and cultural identity, as well as engaging daily with internal and external challenges to its very existence. In each of these struggles, women's rights, among others, are tested to the limit. This chapter provides an overview of the current status of women's rights in Israel. Our intention is to analyze how, why, and under what conditions individual women and feminist organizations have been successful in advancing the gender equality agenda through constitutional rights jurisprudence and legislative initiatives. We also hope to evaluate the limits of such change by addressing the nature of the enduring inequalities that Israeli women still face in navigating the obstacles of a deeply divided society.
Our discussion is divided into three major sections. We begin with an outline of pertinent elements of Israel's unique constitutional system.