On the eve of International Women’s Day, March 8, official statistics were released that show a sharp increase in the number of unemployed women in Israel. Once more, it has become clear that women are the ones paying the highest price for Netanyahu’s “economic reform.” According to the Central Bureau of Statistics, the unemployment rate for the last quarter of 2003 was the highest since the establishment of the state: 10.9%, or 287,000 unemployed. For women, the situation is even more serious. The Central Bureau of Statistics shows that unemployment among women for the same period reached 11.5%.
Given these disturbing figures on the size of women’s unemployment, it is important to add that partial unemployment among women also increased. The same statistics show that the number of those working part-time in 2003 rose by 6.2%. It is well known that most part-time jobs are filled by women. In other words, women were forced to accept part-time jobs given the dwindling number of overall jobs.
The sharp increase in unemployment among women and their crisis is a direct result of the extreme neo-liberal policies followed by the Sharon-Netanyahu government.
On one hand, women are the primary victims of cuts in welfare benefits since they represent the majority of recipients. Single mothers and other female welfare recipients are the ones who are responsible for the children whose benefits were cut, and they also represent the majority of the elderly, whose benefits have also been chipped away. The infringements on social security benefits also affect women in particular. The retirement age for women jumped from 60 to 64, but with no guarantees that they will be able to remain in their jobs until this age. They were also harmed as a result of cutbacks to health benefits, since women use these services more than men. Due to their low incomes, they find it difficult to defray the cost of health services (from the cost of medicine and doctor’s visits to universal health coverage).
On the other hand, cutbacks in the public sector lead to layoffs of women in particular, who represent the majority of civil servants in fields like education (teachers, nannies, psychologists, counselors), health (nurses, hospital administrators), welfare (social workers), and city administrations and institutions like universities (employees, administrators). At the same time, private employment is being closed to women, as seen for example in the recent closure of textile factories belonging to Triumph.
Arab women, women in the suburbs, women over 40, and single mothers are the most affected by cutbacks and job losses among women. For example, there are almost no job opportunities for Arab women with an education except in the public sector, where they receive the minimum wage or even less. At the same time, wages for Arab women in the private sector (employees in a law office, for example) are in general extremely low, lower than the minimum wage. A major target for the government, single mothers who receive welfare benefits are now poised to become the victims of the Wisconsin Plan, which aims to reduce the number of women on the welfare rolls at any cost.
Last year we saw ongoing battles in professional syndicates, run by civil servants and local authorities, most of whom are women, against changes being made to social security rights, layoffs, and the demand for deferred wages. Single mothers also waged a battle last year, symbolized by Vicky Knafo and the protest tent set up near the Ministry of Finance in Jerusalem.
But these important battles did not become a war for radical social change because there was no basic understanding of the link between money and authority and between neo-liberalism and occupation and settlement.