End the Tradition of Oppression | Sami Michael

ACRI President Sami Michael at the 2012 March

“A society that excludes women from the public sphere is sick and will never truly flourish” – read the speech by ACRI President Sami Michael at the annual Human Rights March 2012.
Numerous groups and populations in our society are discriminated against, but from all these groups – women are the ones facing the most prejudice.
Our society becomes more and more violent, more and more racist every day. And women – who make up half of the human race – pay the highest price of all, with their bodies and their souls. Discrimination against women, oppression of women, and violence against women are the most common forms of repression seen throughout the human race.
We wage heroic struggles for social justice, for democracy, for defending a homeland, and for freedom of speech, but at the same time we live in a society where women are murdered, raped, degraded, harassed, and discriminated against. Society tramples on women’s rights – and it doesn’t make a difference whether we are Jewish, Muslim or Christian, Israeli or Palestinian, Mizrahi or Ashkenazi, educated or ignorant, ardent right-winger or fervent left-winger, secular or ultra-Orthodox – society oppresses women.
The belief that only men are capable of a higher level of thought, while women will forever remain on the physical level, is commonplace even in supposedly enlightened circles, including among academics and great thinkers. This spiritual oppression, promoted by men and sometimes even by oppressed women, has far reaching consequences on the image of our society:
Under the tradition of oppression, a woman’s salary is lower than a man’s for doing the same job – wage discrepancies in Israel are among the highest in the developed world. We cannot tolerate this situation. Women are entitled to the same pay, not a shekel less.
Under the tradition of oppression, women are allocated limited places among the senior leadership – we will not tolerate this situation. Women are no less capable than men and are just as talented when it comes to science, education, medicine, politics, and business. Women are entitled to equal representation at the very top.
Under the tradition of oppression, women are considered inferior, sometimes even impure and wanton, punished by excommunication, brutal physical punishment, and murder. What type of evil lies in terms such as “murder for romantic reasons” or “honor killing”?
Under the tradition of oppression, a woman’s fate is like that of an animal, whose body may be traded. No! We must understand that trafficking in women is a crime against humanity.
Under the tradition of oppression, segregation between men and women in the public sphere is becoming more and more common. No! We will not tolerate this.
Under the tradition of oppression, when a woman asks for a Jewish divorce, rabbis and dayanim decide her fate and mostly side with the man – even if he was violent. No! We must break free of this twisted, disgraceful law. Under the tradition of oppression, when a woman wants to undergo an abortion, she must beg for approval from a special committee. No! A woman’s body belongs to her and the decision should be in her hands alone.
Woman is not the rib of man; she is herself a complete and unique being. A woman’s body, her soul, and her feelings are not the property of a man. Woman is not merely a helper, but an independent being and a full partner (and sometimes even the main breadwinner in a family).
A society that degrades women, harms their status, and excludes them from the public sphere is a backwards society, sick and unenlightened, which will never truly flourish – neither materially nor spiritually.
Billions are invested in national defense, but very little is in invested in defending women, who are exposed every day to oppression, harassment, violence, and murder. All too often women face discrimination, which means that society loses out on their enormous and blessed contribution.
As a man, I see women as full partners, the source of life and true friends. Anyone who harms women or oppresses them is my enemy. I yearn for a day when women will not have to seek cover in shelters and violent men will be the ones having to look for shelter from the public’s outrage and from the scorn of a fair society that views gender equality as one of the foundations of its existence. Because a man who subjugates a woman can never be a free man.
A just and robust society cannot exist between an abuser and an abused, the occupier and the occupied, a master and a slave. Equality for men and women is the greatest hope we have for a decent future to all humanity.

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Categories: Democracy and Civil Liberties, Racism and Discrimination, The Right to Equality, Women's Rights

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