Imagine a big red button. There’s a word written on it in capital letters: “PROGRESS.” You press it. Nothing happens. You press it again. Still nothing. This time you really force it down, as hard as you can. Again, nothing.
What does it mean to “Press for Progress” when it comes to gender equality in our community? There are many ways this can be interpreted. It could be educating others, either by formal sessions or simply conversations with friends, or it might be rallying our peers and lobbying our communal leaders. Whatever the method, progress is a gradual process, and pressing for it means not giving up. It’s about finding ways to make others listen and understand. It’s about using our energy and our motivation from below to see a change from above. Sadly, there isn’t a button we can press and everything magically transforms. And yet I wish there was, because in 2018 there are still things in our community that we, as young Jewish women, would like to see changing.
We have made progress in our own section of the community – the student world. We’re seeing many Jewish Societies, communities in their own right, being led by strong women up and down and the country. Young Jewish women are leading on incredible initiatives, raising money for charities, working on interfaith projects and getting involved in national politics. Very often, these women speak on behalf of their Jewish peers to their universities, representing their communities. Three years ago, all candidates for the presidential election were male, compared to this year where two out of three were women, and since 2014, UJS has democratically elected three women Presidents. At our national conference in December, students unanimously voted for a motion to guarantee for equal representation of women in our representative structures. That means that our National Council and Board of Deputies delegation are required to be gender balanced. We’ve revived our Women’s Network, and our Liberation Conference is now in its third year. Our inclusivity and intersectionality are particularly important to us; it’s not enough to speak in broad terms about women, we need to ensure we’re including LGBT+ women, those with disabilities and those from other minority backgrounds. We aim to ensure that every student has a space in their national union, no matter who they are or what their background is. We strive to empower our students to be the leaders not just of tomorrow, but of today.
However, we’re not hearing women’s voices, especially young ones, being heard within our wider community. We want to see more women taking up leadership positions and being role models to the younger generations. We want to see the intersectionality that we value so much replicated outside of the student world. We want more women to be speaking in all spheres; as speakers, as voices from the audiences, in print and at the highest levels of community leadership. We want see more young women engaging with the Jewish community, holding positions that aren’t just ‘Youth’ or ‘Young Adult’ representative. Above all, we want the current community leaders to listen to our voices. Don’t discount us because we’re young. Don’t discount us because we’re women.
No, we don’t have a button that will instantly make everything immediately change for the better. It will take time and effort to press for the progress we believe the Jewish community is capable of achieving. There are young women out there ready, willing and wanting to join in. We just need the community to support us.