More women in Israel’s new Knesset than ever before

Israel’s newly elected Knesset is barely two months old, and for all the challenges it has faced — including international pressure for a two-state solution, a struggle to form a coalition, and a plan to segregate buses that brought widespread criticism — the legislative body is already enjoying one major success: There are more women in Knesset now than there have ever been before.

“If you don’t have women around the table, then decisions are made according to what’s convenient for men, not what’s convenient for women,” said Rachel Azaria, a first-term Knesset member with the Kulanu party.

“Every Knesset, one after another, the number of women have been growing,” said Azaria, “and this is part of the way things are moving ahead. And I hope that one day we will be 50%. I think that will happen.”

Of the 120 Knesset members, 29 are women, who come from all across the political spectrum. Of the 10 parties in the Knesset, only the two ultra-Orthodox parties have no women.

The decision to keep women out of the party may have contributed to another ultra-Orthodox party’s failure to reach the electoral threshold required to sit in the Knesset. Eli Yishai’s Yachad party failed to garner enough votes to pass the percentage of blockage, which stands at 3.25%.

“There was a strong protest on behalf of ultra-Orthodox women who demanded from their own parties and said, ‘We will not vote for you if you do not let us represent ourselves and give us our own representation,'” said Merav Michaeli, a Knesset member with the Zionist Union party.

In 1970, Golda Meir became Israel’s first — and last — female prime minister. Since then, women have gained seats in Knesset, but they remain a minority, and they are still a very small part of the Cabinet.

The Knesset is 24.2% female, which puts it ahead of the United States, where 19.4% of Congress is female, but behind the United Kingdom’s 29.4%. According to the Inter-Parliamentary Union, Rwanda leads the world in female representation. Rwanda’s Chamber of Deputies is 64% female.

Many women in Israel’s Knesset want to require parties to have at least 40% women, which would more accurately mirror the general population. Now, only the left-wing Meretz party would meet that requirement.

“I think it’s my responsibility as a legislator to help women who cannot break this — it is not a glass ceiling, it is an iron gate,” said Michaeli, who introduced the legislation to require parties to increase the representation of women. “It’s our responsibility to take care of equality, to make sure that equality is not a matter of choice, but rather a mandatory issue.”