In a victory for the rights of Arab and ultra-Orthodox women, the Knesset has raised the minimum age of marriage from 17 to 18. The amendment to the 1950 Age of Marriage Law passed its final vote with 55 in favor and 11 against. The vote follows a ten-year campaign by NIF grantee the Working Group for Equality in Personal Status Issues. Previously, religious parties had managed to prevent this legislation from being implemented.
Raising the minimum age of marriage in Israel represents an important and concrete safeguard for the several thousand Palestinian Israeli girls who are married off each year before being able to graduate high school. A minimum age of 18 is a guarantee that the majority of Palestinian Israeli girls will at least have the opportunity to complete their high school educations and matriculate before marriage – making this an important safeguard not only of their rights to education, but also to employment and equal opportunity.
Working Group board member Attorney Nasreen Alemy-Kabha said: "Up until now, initiatives to advance the status of Palestinian women citizens of Israel have always stood in the shadows of majority-minority relations in Israel…decision makers have been reluctant to heed motions on behalf of Palestinian women citizens of Israel that offered new or innovative protections which were not already available to our Jewish counterparts. The present case is different: for the first time, decision-makers have decided to extend a safeguard to all Israeli women out of a motion that originated within Palestinian civil society."
In the Times of Israel, first-term Labor MK Merav Michaeli also emphasized the long struggle to push the measure forward. "It took four Knessets for the state to approve this law, and we've finally arrived at the moment where we’re going to protect the basic rights of minors, and primarily of girls who are married off as children without the ability to choose."
The Working Group achieved another important breakthrough this week when Justice Minister Tzipi Livni announced that women will be able to run for the position of Qadi [judge] in Israeli Sharia courts. Livni said, "It is time for us to act for the appointment of women with authority and cardinal impact on the lives of women."