Reproductive Health without Women?
Imagine: a conference on gynecology and reproductive health in which no woman will be allowed to speak. That's exactly what we fear will happen Wednesday in Jerusalem unless we take action. The Israeli Medical Association can weigh in and uphold human rights, but they need our encouragement to do so.
The conference is an annual gathering sponsored by a group called Puah. In past years, it not only banned women from making presentations. It also enforced segregated seating in the audience.
Puah argues that excluding women from a conference on women’s reproductive health is necessary to prevent ultra-Orthodox rabbis from walking out of the sessions. That's bogus. Other groups serving the Haredi public don't hesitate to work with women doctors.
This type of fundamentalism cannot be condoned in modern Israel.
Last year, an NIF-convened coalition helped to raise public pressure against the exclusion of women at Puah's conferences. The issue garnered national headlines and the Israel Medical Association issued new ethical guidelines prohibiting Israeli doctors from speaking at conferences where women speakers were barred.
This year, Puah is being coy. They’re refusing to release the names of the speakers until the day of the conference itself. They apparently hope to avoid public attention until the conference is over.
Puah’s strategy gives us an opening. They can bend to public pressure and include women speakers without losing face. And one of the groups that can bring the most meaningful pressure is the Israel Medical Association.
It is doubly important that the Israel Medical Association sticks to its guns, now, when the issue is not in the media spotlight.
NIF believes in gender equality. That's why we fund women's groups like Kolech--The Religious Women's Forum, which has been at the forefront of the struggle to bring gender equality to the Puah conference and to other places where religious extremism lead to the exclusion of women.
And we are not only funders. NIF convenes coalitions of Israeli organizations to work together to confront the inequality, injustice, and extremism that diminish Israel. One of these coalitions sent a letter Tuesday to the head of the Israel Medical Association. The letter -- signed by 21 organizations and 26 leading Israeli feminists -- called on the association to use its influence to ensure that women speakers will be allowed at the conference.
The letter you send today will reinforce these Israeli voices and help Israel be a more equal and more democratic society.