Kol hakovod to Geveret Kolian for having the courage to speak out for the hundreds of thousands of Chareidi women who really have no voice in the government of EY.
Their husbands mindlessly vote like sheeplach as directed by some Rebbe so they are further disenfranchised.
Hopefully, over the longer term, they will elicit sufficient votes to get some traction in the Knesset and representation in key ministries.
In the interim, simply speaking out as they have done is a big Kiddush hashem and will empower more women over time to ask questions, challenge the status quo and seek to move into the the political mainstream.
Hopefully, they will run over and squash anyone who suggests they should stay at home in the kitchen with the kids and allow their husbands to represent them.
If Hareidi woman are expected to take a greater role to financially support their husbands then this is the natural outgrowth.
The chairwoman of the new U’Vezechutan party Ruth Kolian launched to provide haredi women with Knesset representation described the situation of haredi women in the country as akin to slavery and said that the need for female haredi MKs was overwhelming.
Speaking to The Jerusalem Post, Kolian, who is 33 and married with four children, outlined the reasons why she was starting a new political party to represent haredi women.
“There are a vast number of different population sectors who have representation in the Knesset, Arabs, Jews, Sephardim, Ashkenazim, haredim and so on,” she said.
“But haredi women have no representation at all. There are male haredi representatives but they do not address the needs and concerns of haredi women,” she continued.
Kolian noted that the Knesset Committee for the Advancement of the Status of Women had held a hearing in November to discuss worrying findings about women’s health in the haredi sector, including a thirty percent higher rate of breast cancer mortality and that haredi women have one of the lowest levels of life expectancy in the country.
“Not one of the haredi MKs showed up to the hearing,” said Kolian. “Haredi women are ranked eighth in Israel for life expectancy, while haredi men are ranked second. This is an unbelievable gap,” she continued.
“The burden and division of labor within a haredi family is completely lop-sided. Women have to bring in an income to support the family financially, take care of the children, cook, and perform other family requirements. Some men are now working but many still go to study all day and this burden on women has a toll.”
Kolian also said that the social stigmatism attached to being a divorced, single woman in haredi society was so intense that many haredi women would not even contemplate filing for divorce from an unpleasant marriage or an abusive husband unless they were in a life-threatening situation.
“Single divorced women are seen as shameful in the haredi community, they are seen as being failures, as not being good enough, and so many choose to suffer in silence,” she said.
“Politicians are talking today about the weaker sectors of society and the invisible people. Well we are slaves, we are invisible, we are the weaker sector. Haredi women are a group of people together and we need to gain Knesset representation as a people and take care of ourselves by ourselves.”
Kolian said her new U’Vezechutan party would also seek to provide representation to members of the haredi community who have left full-time yeshiva study and are joined the workforce, saying that this haredi sub-sector also has no Knesset representation.
She noted that prior to establishing and launching U’Vezechutan she approached the two mainstream haredi parties Shas and United Torah Judaism asking for slots on their electoral lists to be reserved for women but the requests were denied.
Kolian was also part of a group of women who submitted a petition to the Central Elections Committee chaired by Supreme Court Justice Salim Joubran which demanded that Shas, UTJ and the new Yachad Ha’am Itanu party established by former Shas MK Eli Yishai be required to include at least one woman on their respective electoral lists.
The petition was denied with Jourban writing that the committee did not have the authority to intervene in the affairs of political parties and their chosen candidates.
Despite the problems facing haredi women, U’Vezechutan’s chances of entering the Knesset are slim given the way in which the haredi public, including the women, largely adhere to the instructions of the leading rabbis and vote for the established parties, Shas and UTJ.
Kolian was more reticent when discussing her own societal background and place within haredi society, but insisted that her and her new party are representative of mainstream haredi women.
She pointed out that she sends her children to “Talmudei Torah,” haredi elementary schools, often a barometer of a person’s commitment to a haredi lifestyle, although there are a range of such institutions, some of which would be considered to be outside of the haredi mainstream, especially if they teach core curriculum subjects.
Kolian has herself taken a public role and is active on Facebook, both of which are unusual for haredi women, while her husband works full-time, when the oft-espoused ideal for men in haredi society is to study full time in yeshiva.
Kolian said she rejected such yard-sticks for defining her haredi identity, arguing that “to be haredi is to have fear of Heaven,” and said that the length of one’s skirt and internet usage were not relevant to her place in haredi society.
“I’m not prepared to allow this kind of platform to determine what a haredi woman can be. Haredi women do not have to be confined to the role of a kindergarten teacher who goes home only to take care of her own children as well,” she said.
“There are haredi women who will hear what we have to say and will see that for the first time there is someone who is attentive to and understand them.
“The haredi woman is alone at the voting booth,” Kolian said in reference to the strong influence rabbinic declarations about the importance of voting for the established haredi parties have on the haredi public.
“The community is becoming more aware of this cynical use and manipulation of our great rabbis and will come to understand that something really smells bad with this kind of political model.”