Striving for Gender Equality in Israel
New Voices of Conscience: Noa Sattath
Noa Sattath, 34 is the Director of the Israel Religious Action Center (IRAC), an NIF grantee founded in 1987 with the goals of advancing pluralism in Israeli society and defending the freedoms of conscience, faith, and religion.
Gender Segregated Buses: Over ten years ago, the ultra-Orthodox (haredi) community asked Israel’s public bus company, Egged, to provide segregated busses in their neighborhoods. Since 2009, more than 90 such lines have been operating around Israel. Typically, women are required to “dress modestly,” enter through the back door and sit in the back of the bus. Some of these buses operate in or through mixed neighborhoods and are the only buses running on particular routes. Women who refuse to sit in the back of the bus are frequently threatened verbally and physically by haredi men who “enforce” the segregation system.
A Year of Progress: With IRAC’s help, in January 2011, the Israeli Supreme Court ruled that enforced gender segregation is illegal on Orthodox mehadrin bus lines, but accepted the Transportation Ministry’s recommendation that voluntary gender segregation should be allowed.
Noa’s Role: Through IRAC, Sattath organizes volunteers to serve as freedom riders, who ensure that women are not intimidated into sitting at the back of the Mehadrin buses. Sattath writes, “In a short few months, through the courage of our riders, the situation on some of the bus lines has been transformed completely: the behavior of the bus drivers has changed from harassing the freedom riders to supporting them. There is still a lot of work to eradicate segregation all together, but our volunteers are in this process for the long run.”
What Motivates Noa?: “I chose to participate in this project because I am very concerned by the abuse of the halachic term of Tzniut- modesty. This term, describing humility, is being abused more and more often to oppress women and push them out of the public sphere. I think it is our job to name it for what it is: discrimination and to ensure the protection of women's rights.”
Here is an interview with Noa Sattath:
Want to learn more about this issue? Check out this news report:
For More Information:
- Learn more about NIF’s 2010 “Say No to the Back of the Bus” campaign
- Visit IRAC’s website and read the comprehensive report on gender segregation
- Read this Huffington Post article about the Freedom Riders
- Read this Jerusalem Post article
- Want to learn more about Noa Sattath? Listen to this NPR interview with Noa from her previous job as the executive director of LGBT organization, Jerusalem Open House