In February 1969, Golda Meir was appointed fourth prime minister of the State of Israel. Despite this achievement, the inclusion of women in Israel’s cabinets is far from impressive. Dr. Ofer Kenig explains that after 70 years of independence, the time has come for Israel’s governments to strive for true equality and reflect greater gender balance.
The steady increase in the percentage of women in Israel's parliament has not been accompanied by a similar rise in their cabinet representation.
In February 1969, Golda Meir was appointed fourth prime minister of the State of Israel, thus becoming one of the first women in the democratic world to serve in her country’s highest political office. Despite this achievement, however, the inclusion of women in Israel's cabinets is far from impressive. From the State’s establishment in 1948 and up till 1974, there was only one woman cabinet minister—Golda Meir. The next women to become cabinet ministers were Shulamit Aloni (1974), Sara Doron (1983), Shoshana Arbeli (1986), and Ora Namir (1992). Until 1995, only five women had ever served in the Israeli cabinet. Since 1996, the situation has improved slightly with thirteen additional women appointed as ministers. As of January 2019, of the 246 ministers who have served in the Israeli cabinet, only eighteen – just 7% - have been women.
Which Portfolios Are Allocated to Women?
Three of the four top-tier ministries – Finance, Defense, and Interior – have never been held by women. The only senior ministry ever headed by a woman is the Foreign Ministry. Golda Meir served as Foreign Minister from 1956 to1966, and Tzipi Livni was Foreign Minister from 2006 to 2009.
While women have not usually held the most senior positions in the cabinet, they have been prominent in the Education Ministry, a realm that is often labeled as 'feminine.' Three women served as education ministers: Shulamit Aloni (1992–1993), Limor Livnat (2001–2006), and Yuli Tamir (2006–2009). In other so-called 'second tier' ministries, women have served as ministers of Health (Shoshana Arbeli, Yael German), Justice (Tzipi Livni, Ayelet Shaked), and Communications (Shulamit Aloni, Limor Livnat, and Dalia Itzik). Cabinet portfolios that are usually considered even more junior, such as the Ministry of Culture, have seen even greater representation for women.
Another analysis that demonstrates the marginality of women in the Israeli government examines how many women were in the cabinet at any given time. For example, at the time of its investiture (May 2015), Netanyahu’s fourth government included only three women out of twenty-two ministers. In fact, no more than four women have ever served in an Israeli cabinet at the same time.
In the current government, as of January 2019, only four out of the twenty-one current cabinet ministers are women. This is a very low percentage in comparison with other democratic nations. The annual Global Gender Gap Report, published by the World Economic Forum, includes data on the representation of women in cabinet. The most recent report from 2018, lists Israel in 74th place out of 149 countries.
The new government that will be formed in Israel following April elections provides a golden opportunity for the Prime Minister and the other coalition leaders to improve the representation of women in the cabinet. This should be the next natural step to the continued increase in the representation of women in the Knesset. After seventy years of independence, the time has come for Israel’s governments to strive for true equality and reflect greater gender balance.