The Center for the Advancement of Women in the Public Sphere (WIPS) is committed to the principle of gender mainstreaming as a holistic strategy. WIPS aims to advance the democratic and civil status of women from diverse social groups.
Interview with Hadass Ben Eliyahu – Senior Researcher
First, can you tell us a little about your project?
In the past few years, we have been concentrating on a specific project called the Gender Index. This is a very ambitious and large-scale initiative to develop a tool for the ongoing monitoring of gender inequality in Israel. The goal is to enable us to identify areas in which the situation is improving and to select areas and issues we want to focus on.
Definitions and measurements are usually based on a male perspective. As a feminist organization, whose principal aim is to advance thinking about gender issues, we would like to be able to review what women define as important for women and then develop indicators that will enable us to gauge whether things are improving in each area or whether they are stagnant or even deteriorating.
The Gender Index is a powerful quantitative tool because it can easily be used to draw attention to an issue, and because it enables continuous monitoring over the course of time.
What social problem do you address?
Gender inequality as reflected in a range of social phenomena, each with its own causes and manifestations. By illustrating gender gaps, we hope to influence the way in which statistics are created. For example, government bodies responsible for gathering statistics should present a breakdown of statistics according to gender. Unfortunately, they do not currently do this. We want to promote the gender mainstreaming of statistics: to teach the relevant bodies a new way of thinking about statistics, so that their products may be more relevant.
So are you basically a team of feminist statisticians?
No. Our staff does include women from that profession, but this isn't the only thing WIPS does. We also have a research team responsible for development, learning from other indexes and so forth.
Do you collaborate with other organizations?
From the beginning, we developed contacts with feminist organizations in order to shape our index. Women's organizations specializing in different areas told us which items should be included in the Gender Index.
We organized a joint workshop with feminist organizations, in order to present our work and to hear their comments about our activities. Following that, we met with official bodies that produce statistics, such as the Central Bureau of Statistics, the Bank of Israel and so on. The main purpose of these meetings was to develop working relations and encourage these bodies to undertake a process of gender mainstreaming.
Can you think of any recent development that you found particularly exciting?
We are involved in a research-based statistical project – something that might sound a bit heavy and soulless. But I can tell you that after almost two years of work, it's really exciting to see an actual outcome – to see statistics presented for an entire decade. It's true that the graph shows that after a period of improvement there has been a decline, so we are basically treading water. That's disappointing in terms of what the statistics show, but the fact that we have the index is exciting in and of itself. Suddenly an idea is materialized, and now we can do different things with it.
Before the recent general elections in Israel, we managed gain media exposure for some of our findings. They asked us for statistics on gender inequality, and when we saw them published it was very satisfying.
What are your objectives for the coming year?
We will be holding an international conference in October. Our goal for this year was to present the first Gender Index, and we will present it at the conference. This is a very important milestone for us.
We are also involved in another major project, which will also be discussed at a large conference in October – a campaign to implement United Nations Security Council Resolution 1325 (which calls for the adoption of a gender perspective in peace processes and international politics). We are working on this issue together with partner organizations.
Tell us about the researchers in the organization.
We have two joint heads: Prof. Hanna Herzog and Prof. Naomi Chazan. Then there is Ronna Brayer-Garb, our coordinator, and myself, in a more research-oriented position. We are both salaried employees. There are also other women who work with us on a project basis, such as Hagar Tzameret in the Gender Index, or researchers working with us on the Resolution 1325 project. We are not a volunteer organization and we don't aim to be one. We conduct research groups, social change initiatives and public events, such as conferences, seminars and round tables. We are also employees of the Van Leer Jerusalem Institute.
What advice would you give to today's young women?
I would advise young women to develop their feminist consciousness. It's not easy to go through life with a gender perspective, but I strongly recommend it.
There are all kinds of groups that can help. For example, we have a group of women who wish to be agents of gender transformation, and we see in them the power of a group of women who are learning together. Working together empowers women, and that's very valuable in the face of the frustration and pain we experience. So that's my advice: develop feminist political awareness.
What is the greatest challenge you encountered?
Every day I have to beat my head against the wall. Being a feminist means beating your head against the wall.
Can you tell us about something funny that happened over the course of your work?
I can't think of anything – but I'm a feminist, we don't have a sense of humor.
What is your vision for the future of our society?
My answer is very banal. If I look back, the change is very significant. On the other hand, the gaps are still immense. Society is gendered in such a profound way that sometimes it's very despairing.