Editorial: Dont take womens rights for granted

Imagine the chutzpah of 15,000 women marching through the streets of New York, demanding voting rights and equality in the workplace. That was how International Women’s Day began, way back in 1908.

Marking International Women’s Day on March 8, we take pride in how far women have come these past 104 years, though we must never forget how far we have to go.

Locally, the day was celebrated with events across the region. Most of them honored women’s achievement in business, philanthropy and the arts.

In the Jewish world, many organizations staged events. American Jewish World Service held a symposium in New York focused on women’s empowerment and foreign assistance programs that benefit women.

In 21st century America, we take for granted the equality of women. Hardly anyone blinks an eye at the sight of women rising to the top in politics, industry or any other field. 

Tragically, the same cannot be said in many societies around the world. Throughout the Muslim world, especially in countries such as Afghanistan, Saudi Arabia and Sudan, women remain savagely oppressed. In some situations their lives are at risk simply because they are women.

The situation for women isn’t much better in other parts of the Third World, both socially and economically.

Before we get too self-congratulatory, it’s worth noting that even in Israel, a country we rightfully laud as modern and enlightened, there remains work to do.

In a recent column, journalist Smadar Shir pointed out that women in Israel can legally be fired from their jobs for staying home with a sick child. The gender gap in terms of salary there remains unacceptably wide. And of course, the Women of the Wall continue their uphill battle for equal rights at the Kotel in Jerusalem.

Even here in the Land of the Free, we still see too many single mothers living in poverty. We see an erosion in reproductive rights occurring right now in the Halls of Congress, and we still must confront horrendously high incidences of violence against women.

We look forward to the time when an International Women’s Day would no longer be necessary, with women fully elevated to coequal status with men in every respect.

Until that day comes, it is safe to say a majority of American Jews support total equality between men and women. We know Jews, along with others in the broader community here and around the world, will continue to work tirelessly to close the gap when it comes to gender issues.