We have so many wonderful women who work so hard and tirelessly for the benefit of our community that when we began to think about this campaign – to showcase them - it was a real challenge to know where to start.
But we have to start somewhere. Welcome to the JLC campaign to support International Women’s Day on the 8th March 2018.
The theme of International Women’s Day this year is “press for progress”. As their website states, “with the World Economic Forum's 2017 Global Gender Gap Report findings telling us that gender parity is over 200 years away - there has never been a more important time to keep motivated and #PressforProgress […] International Women's Day is not country, group or organisation specific. The day belongs to all groups collectively everywhere. So together, let's all be tenacious in accelerating gender parity. Collectively, let's all Press for Progress.”
The JLC has asked a number of women in the Jewish community, all with varying leadership roles and responsibilities to tell us about the way they press for progress, a change they want to see, or how they contribute to their communities.
In the two weeks leading up to International Women’s Day, we will be profiling a number of Jewish women each day, culminating in a special edition of our newsletter collating the contributions of women in our community to the campaign.
You can sign up to receive the JLC newsletter here.
If you would like to take part in the JLC campaign supporting International Women’s Day by writing a short blog or recording a video, email [email protected] or call 020 7042 8692.
Judith Flacks, Head of Campaigns at the JLC
The JLC launched a campaign last week to mark International Women’s Day on the 8th March 2018. The theme of IWD this year is “press for progress”, so we decided to take a closer look at the ways in which the women in our community are pressing for progress in a whole range of ways.
Some women are doing just that through education, others are getting involved in their synagogues, some are trailblazing on leadership development, and others are asking the right kind of questions about flexible working, maternity leave and family support.
There are so many initiatives and activities happening around us that we sometimes forget that they all have people driving them, running them, organising them, working on them; those projects all have leadership, and that broadly defined leadership is full of strong female figures.
The JLC campaign includes contributions from Rabbi Laura Janner Klausner, Senior Rabbi to the Reform Movement; Laura Marks, Founder of Mitzvah Day; Naomi Dickson, Chief Executive of Jewish Women’s Aid; Gillian Merron, Chief Executive of the Board of Deputies; Nicky Goldman, Chief Executive of Lead, Michelle Mitchell, Head of Major Giving at World Jewish Relief; Shelley Marsh, Executive Director of Reshet; Debbie Sheldon, Chief Executive of Work Avenue; Sharon Bannister, President of the Manchester Jewish Representative Council; Lyn Julius, co-founder of Harif; Joanne Greenaway from the London Beth Din; and many more. In fact, we were spoiled for choice of contributors to fill the two-week campaign.
This is the first campaign of its kind within the Jewish community which has gathered contributions from women who vary in their leadership positions, are diverse in their backgrounds and women who have offered different messages on what they believe pressing for progress is for them.
Meghan Markle said in an interview last week that “Women don’t need to find a voice: they have a voice. They need to feel empowered to use it and people need to be encouraged to listen”.
I believe that the UK Jewish community is actually very good at empowering its women. There are lots of women who work for and volunteer in Jewish organisations and spaces who are confident, willing and capable of using their voices. We have leadership development programmes for students, professionals, and lay leadership, we encourage our youth early on to step up their responsibilities, and for the most part, we do try to encourage women in our community to have a voice.
But do we listen to them when they speaking in meetings or are they being spoken over and spoken for? Do we listen when women tell us they need flexible working because of care responsibilities? Do we give women the same opportunities as men? Amongst many issues that are frequently (or possibly not frequently) raised, we have to get better at listening and acting on what will make our communal spaces and workplaces fairer and more open to all.
The JLC campaign features some of the many women working and living in the Jewish community who are pressing for progress. They are doing good work, and leading our community in ways that are not always recognised. Women have voices, they are using them, we now need to make sure we are listening.
You can also read this post at The Jewish News
Vicki Belovski is a journalist, mother of seven and the rebbetzin of Golders Green United Synagogue.
Michali Belovski is a third-year student of Biomedical Engineering at City, University of London. She is active in student politics, both within and without the Jewish community.
Vicki: Walking down Whitehall with a Nisa Nashim banner at the recent March4Women, accompanied by thousands of other women and many men, I felt both privileged and disappointed. Privileged to have been the beneficiary of an excellent education in an all-girls school, which imbued me with the feeling that, “Girls can do anything” and disappointed that despite the huge strides towards gender parity in the UK over the last 100 years, there are still tremendous and inexplicable inequities in the way women and men are treated.
When I was at school over 30 years ago, girls were being encouraged to study maths and sciences (I don’t think the term STEM had been invented yet). We were also encouraged to be confident participants in all settings. In the lead-up to International Women’s Day, I’ve seen articles and videos saying that more girls should study STEM subjects and be confident to speak up. What has happened during this time? Why are we still fighting the same battles?
And, perhaps more to the point, should we still be fighting the same battles? There are plenty of women my age or even older, who are strong, confident role models – running businesses and charity organisations, whilst raising a family and running a home. It is somewhat ironic that whilst some feminists demand that homemakers should be paid for the work that they do, they also don’t seem to acknowledge this role as a crucial and unique contribution to society. Perhaps we need to rethink both our objectives and the ways to accomplish them? Society must recognise the importance of women’s work behind the scenes, so that women don’t feel they have failed if they are not a brain surgeon or the CEO of a public company. And as well as educating our daughters to speak up for themselves, we must educate our sons to listen, encourage and support their sisters.
Michali: I didn’t go on the march, because I was at home, attempting to write an app for my third year Biomedical Engineering project. I am a woman studying a STEM subject, and of course I have noticed a lack of other women in STEM, particularly in engineering. However, as my mother has pointed out, we have been encouraging women to go into STEM for decades, and I still sit in Electrical Engineering lectures with so many men that when strangers walk in, they ask, “Where are the women?”
Given that 40 years of blanket encouragement of schoolgirls into STEM has not been very effective, we need to encourage girls individually. Tell your younger sisters and their friends what you are doing, ask them if they have thought of a career in computers or chemistry. Open people’s horizons and empower them to make their own life choices.
It’s rare these days to see a panel without a woman, but it’s often obvious that they are just there to tick the box. A token female is not the role model we need. We need our role models to be those strong, independent women who go about their daily lives doing all the things that they do, whether that’s being a physicist or the prime minister or a housewife. Recognising that many women already have fulfilling careers and leadership positions can itself be an inspiration.
(V&M): We are blessed with strong female role models and supportive men in our lives. However, with enough encouragement, no woman should feel that she cannot fill any role she wants.
After all, it doesn’t matter if only 10% of engineers are women, but it does matter if only 10% of women believe they can be engineers.
Elizabeth Harris-Sawczenko, Director, Council of Christians and Jews
I went to live in Israel prior to the first Intifaada. During those initial years I had experiences that were frightening and difficult due to the violence, general instability and fragility of life itself. Like many in our community I had only ever imbibed the Jewish/Israeli narrative but deep within me I always knew that I needed to find a way to connect with the other.
In 1993 an opportunity arose with the Oslo Accords. I was a working at a Jewish educational organisation where I met Palestinian counterparts for the first time: in particular a Palestinian woman, Itaf Abu Zayyad, wife of Ziad AbuZayyad a senior figure in the Palestinian legislature. We soon became friends despite our many differences. It was a powerful and I have to say very female experience, especially within the context of generations of mistrust and conflict. I do believe that women find ways to search for their common humanity. One has only to look at women’s contribution to the Good Friday agreement, the Israeli Women in Black during the first Lebanon War or the Israeli grassroots women’s peace initiative ‘Women Wage Peace’ to understand how key women are to bringing peace to the region.
A few years later, I was working in an organisation that safeguards civil and human rights in Israel. I started this job just days before the outbreak of the second Intifaada and was immediately plunged into numerous peace-building initiatives, with a team of Jewish, Christian and Muslim citizens of Israel.
In the middle of this Intifaada, my close Palestinian Christian colleague Antigona, who lived in Beit Jala, had her house demolished by rocket fire. She moved to Bethlehem in the middle of the chaos and spent the rest of the Intifaada in her basement to be safe from constant clashes between Palestinian and Israeli fire. Why do I share this with you? Because despite our different national and religious identities, every day of that intifaada I called her to make sure she was safe…and then one balmy summer night at the height of the conflict, the café opposite my home in Jerusalem was blown up. Anyone close to the blast died instantly. And yes, she was the first friend to check I was alive. So this is why I believe women have an essential contribution to peace and this is why I also believe peace is still possible.
On my return to the UK I resolved to translate my experiences into new contexts and particularly within my interfaith role as Director of CCJ: To support Palestinians and Israelis working together, for a peaceful resolution to the conflict, in particular through highlighting the work of women in the Peace Movement. Each year CCJ leads a Christian/Jewish Leadership study tour to Israel and the Palestinian Territories through a partnership with two wonderful Palestinian women friends and colleagues: Riman (a Muslim) and Nimala (a Christian). On IWD I salute all those women who bravely continue to fight for peace and press for progress.
Libby Dangoor, member of The S&P Sephardi Community
Being part of a community is important to me. As a mother to three small children I want them to grow up feeling like they belong and have a strong identity. I want them to know that they are part of a larger group and can contribute to make a difference to society. Most importantly I want to them to be proud and engaged in their community.
So, I decided to take on a more active role in my community. I had some time on maternity leave and I set up a baby group. It was an absolute pleasure to be with other parents (mums and dads) from my community going through the same experience and sharing those fun and challenging times together. From there I have continued to build on my involvement and I thoroughly enjoy it. Being a committee member can come with challenges and finding the time can be a struggle but the rewards are worth it.
I meet inspirational women who tirelessly devote their time and effort to make our community what it is today. From organising the Kiddush to fantastic social events, being committee members to running the friendship club and organising the women’s megillah reading. It is an honour and joy to work with all these marvellous people and I gain so much on a personal and professional level that it is well worth the time that it takes me.
I think the profile of women leaders does need to be elevated within the community but I see this as a challenge for my generation to take on and push through the change we want to see. I think we should be thanking the amazing women that are involved with our communities now and building on their efforts.
I would urge, all women to think how they can make their communities the place they would want it to be and learn from those already doing it. Make the most of the fantastic opportunity we all have as part of the wonderful Jewish community.
Jo Grose, Head of Strategic Review Implementation, United Synagogue
A month or so ago I chaired a small meeting of community chair people. It was an open, positive, collaborative encounter where the discussion was forward-thinking, ideas were shared generously and I left with a list of ways in which we, at the US Centre could improve our practice. Driving home it occurred to me that vast majority of the leaders present at the meeting were female. It might not sound remarkable but it is a sign of how far we have come from those photos of top-hatted, besuited all-male line-ups.
At present 13 of our communities are chaired by women with many more acting as vice chairs. Whilst, this is a good step forward, we still need to do more to ensure greater diversity amongst our local lay leadership.
Successful communities make space for everyone to belong and to participate. Every week hundreds of women play active lay roles in our communities - as volunteers, chesed coordinators, teachers and youth workers. However, proportionally fewer are Board members and particularly Honorary Officers. It goes without saying that our communities will only succeed in remaining relevant, vibrant and dynamic if their leadership reflects those they serve - and those they wish to engage.
My call to communities is to make sure that you nurture the emerging female leaders in your communities, consider times and lengths of meetings, actively ensure that there are women on your HO body and be mindful not to give the impression that shul leadership equates to shul politics. ‘I don’t do politics’ is one of the main reasons women give for not getting involved.
If we want to ensure that our communities are vibrant spaces for all and that we address issues that particularly matter to women we need more female local leaders.
Let’s aim to put all-male Boards and Executives in the cupboard with the unworn top hats and press for more change.
Michele Pollock, Chair, WIZOuk
Michele Vogel, Hon. President, WIZOuk
Amongst the suffragettes !00 years ago voicing support for women to be heard was a strong-minded woman from a prominent Jewish family in Manchester. Together with Vera Weizman and Romana Goodman, Rebecca Sieff wished to play an active role in the hitherto male dominated Zionist movement led by their husbands.
Returning from an arduous six month fact-finding tour of what was then Palestine Rebecca founded The Federation of Women Zionists, with the purpose of supporting the influx of women and their families and providing child care to enable women to work alongside the men in agriculture and other essential areas of work .Today WIZO, the Women’s International Zionist Organisation, has members in over 50 countries worldwide and is the largest social welfare and education provider working in partnership with the government of Israel.
Its impact on women’s lives is as vital today as it was 100 years ago. Through shelters for victims of domestic violence and legal advice bureaux to lobbying for women’s rights in the Knesset or as an NGO on UN bodies WIZO continues to carry the torch on women’s issues, empowering women and teenage girls and enabling their voices to be heard.
On this International Women’s Day we look forward to the next 100 years with commitment and hope for the betterment of women’s lives, not only in Israel but throughout the world.
Hi, my name is Susie Gordon and I am the Executive Director of the Leeds Jewish community and a freelance leadership coach. I am proud to be taking part in the JLC campaign to support International Women’s Day.
I would firstly like to thank the thousands of women 100 years ago who really did #PressforProgress in the bravest way possible. I didn’t realise until I watched the film Suffragette’s just what they had to sacrifice to achieve the vote, an act that still inspires us to #PressforProgress.
I wish I was so brave but thankfully I don’t need to be.
For me, to be able #PushforPregress means creating awareness of what’s really going on. Sometimes inequality can be so subtle that you don’t even notice it is happening. Getting your voice heard in a board meeting, pushing for a pay rise after years of employment, being asked to speak at events, or just being seen as a leader. If I was a man would my role be different within our male dominated community? Probably. Do I have a responsibility to challenge this? Yes. Unless you live in two parallel worlds as a man and as a women it’s hard to be sure. However, some manifestations of inequality are less subtle, such as the need for the #MeToo campaign, and that’s when we need to be shouting from the roof tops, educating men and supporting one another. That should be the responsibility of everyone.
I hope this campaign empowers every women to push the boundaries and obstacles that are in our way from the moment we are born. We need to feel free to make the choices that we want to make without feeling that it’s an act of rebellion or that we are being judged by others. Not just from society but our Jewish traditions and values too. If you choose to be a stay parent (as a man or woman) let’s celebrate and not judge, if you want a full time career and family (as a man or woman) let’s encourage and support this too. I think how some people respond to that choice is what stops us from progressing.
We need to keep talking, educating and being the best women we can be for ourselves and other women too. We are not the same as men, we have many different qualities, but they are neither better nor worse, just different. We should be celebrating these differences and they do complement each other. Together we can make the optimum boardroom.
Saying this not all women are the same, and neither are men. We are all different and we all need to be respectful of each other.
It’s ok to do what you want to do, and what’s great is we do have a choice. I think that if everyone were to open up their minds and see this, we would live in a far more progressive world.
Let’s all #PressforProgress
Gillian Merron, Chief Executive of the Board of Deputies of British Jews talks about the work that the Board are doing to encourage fuller participation of women in the community.
Georgina Bye is the UK Community Manager for JDC Entwine and OLAM
We‘ve come a long way already, that’s for sure. It’s been 100 years since women fought for and achieved the goal of being able to vote in the UK, that is if you were over 30 and owned property. Many called 2017 ‘the Year of the Woman’ with women’s marches taking the world by storm as millions of women protested and demanded that women’s rights, for all those that identify as women, were protected.
However, with this progress and space for women to publically share their #metoo experiences and #everydaysexism I’m continually aware of how much further we have to go.
Many of the suffrage voices we commonly hear about are middle class, white women and much of the progress that has currently been made has been for women in relative privilege. In particular we find ourselves talking about the gender pay gap and parental leave whilst for many women around the world these conversations may seem like a distant dream.
The privilege of being able to take time out to march, of taking time to raise your voice, is still not a possibility for the many millions of women and girls who are living around the world, particularly those living in extreme poverty in vulnerable communities. For those women, the fight is currently and often simply, access to education, a desire to earn an income that will support themselves and their family and access to the most basic of health care. Sexual health education for these women and the right to choose their partners, let alone their husbands is also an important part of the conversation. There are a great number of phenomenal organisations dedicating their time and resources to women’s empowerment programmes, for me it’s important this International Women’s Day to remember that although many of us may feel that we have pressed the button for progress already and are storming ahead, that we do not forget the many millions of women around the world who are also pressing forward and pushing for the exact same rights.
This International Women’s Day I implore you to cast your eyes, hearts and minds further afield.
In the context of my work at JDC and OLAM, I have been exposed to numerous Jewish individuals and organisations addressing the needs of vulnerable women worldwide;
WJR is known for its historic work with the kindertransport but did you know about their women’s empowerment programme in Moldova, aimed particularly at single mothers, proving childcare so women can get IT training and ensure they know their rights for health and welfare provision?
You likely know much about Tzedek’s work in Northern Ghana but did you know about their women’s empowerment projects training women in tailoring or computer training and nursing in India?
Have you heard of Sundara a soap recycling project empowering women in India and Myanmar by training them in how to recycle soap and teaching hygiene education within their communities?
Or Naya is a paper recycling project based in the Kalwa slums outside of Mumbai and has trained women in paper recycling, tackling the issue of rubbish in the slums, providing a creative outlet and space for innovative thinking for women as well as an income.