By Ilona Lee AM, October 2013
Thirty years ago when I became president of my WIZO group. there were no female rabbis and no females presidents of mainstream Jewish organisations in Sydney.
There have been marked changes since in both the general and the Jewish community. A woman was elected for the first time as Prime Minister of Australia and, in Sydney, we now have three female rabbis attached to reform and Masorti (Conservative) synagogues. Over the years, I have been president of one of our major communal organisations and have been on the executive of four others including the roof body of the New South Wales community and the major fund-raising organisation.
Surveying the Australian scene today, however, we still have a long way to go. Our first female Prime Minister was poorly treated and driven from office (many would say, because she is a woman) and, in the Sydney Jewish community, there is currently only one female president of any major communal organisation, including our day schools and synagogues.
Why is this so? It is true that the way is open to women. But, most Jewish women in Sydney still shoulder the major roles of house management and child care whilst also holding down responsible jobs. Being a communal leader here is usually at least a half-time occupation, often more, but with no remuneration. Thus it is almost impossible for a woman to put her hand up for a leadership position until her children have grown and professional responsibilities decrease or she is wealthy enough to have paid assistance. So, until we make further strides forward in the general community and the tasks of managing home and family are more equally shared, women will continue to be underrepresented in Jewish communal leadership roles.
Ilona Lee AM
NIF Au Board Member