A conversation with Michal Gera Margaliot, Executive Director of the Israel Women's Network

In preparation for International Women's Day, the Executive Director of the Israel Women's Network (IWN) spoke to us about the state of women in Israel and about her perspective on how a feminist organization for social change operates in terms of resource development. About a year and a half ago, attorney Michal Gera Margaliot was elected as Executive Director of the Israel Women's Network, an organization that focuses on promoting policy and integration of gender-based thinking among decision-makers (gender mainstreaming) and works to solve specific problems that have been identified as strategic issues. Gera Margaliot explains how inequality between men and women hurts society as a whole and says the country must take responsibility for it. She stresses the need to ease the bureaucratic burden which is imposed on non-profit organizations, and hopes to receive recognition from funding bodies for the need to fund organizational infrastructures and overhead that maintain the activities of the organizations. She also aims to collaborate with other organizations in the field to consolidate small grants for large activities.



When Gera Margaliot describes the state of women in Israel today from a historical perspective, she pictures parallel processes of progress and regression that take place simultaneously. On one hand, she says, "The situation of women in general in Israel and in the world has never been better." On the other hand, "There is a backlash and new phenomena regarding the exclusion of women (pushing women out of public spaces) that are intensified. Sometimes the exclusion is tangible and there is even a sign that states ‘No women allowed’. Sometimes there is no sign, but structurally there is separation and in practice there are no women allowed. As stated recently by Judge Shaham in the ruling given in a petition we filed with the Jerusalem District Courtregarding segregation in a seminar by the Tourism Ministry: ‘Separation is a priori discrimination.’ The country makes the separation a standard and this harms women and their ability to take equal place in the public sphere. It is important to note that these are new phenomena in terms of the role that the state takes in them."


In addition, Gera Margaliot emphasizes that women are not a homogenous group. "There are groups of women whose status in society is excellent, while other groups of women are not doing as well. Our job is not only to strengthen the strongest, but to enable all women to realize and use their potential and ability."


Which trends do you identify today compared to previous decades?

"Let's take the employment market, for example. In the Jewish society in Israel, on one hand, the average participation rate of women in the work market has increased dramatically in the last 20 years, and women are currently working at a rate similar to that of men, above the OECD average. On the other hand, wage gaps remain, there is still sexual harassment in the workplace, and although many women "left the house", most of the men have not yet "entered the house" (do not take an equal part in the non-compensated work done in-house). They didn’t do it 20 years ago and they don’t do it today. This is a concrete ceiling for women, limiting their advancement in the workplace." Another area that has changed dramatically is the social attitude towards sexual harassment and abuse. "The law for the prevention of sexual harassment, which was enacted exactly 20 years ago (March 1998), revolutionized the social perception of that issue in Israel, and today men know what courtship looks like and what harassment and sexual abuse look like, even if some of them are not willing to internalize it. We know people who lost their jobs due to this behavior - Members of Knesset, ministers, managers and employees. On the other hand, in many cases, convicted sex offenders still receive ridiculously lenient punishments. So even in this area, there are no pure lines of progress or regression."


Tell us about the current activities of the Israel Women's Network.

"IWN is one of the oldest feminist organizations in Israel.  It was the first organization to promote many national projects, such as leadership and empowerment courses for women and programs to promote the integration of women into politics. A year and a half ago our Board examined the feminist field in Israel as well as models of activity around the world and defined the advancement of policy - legislation in the Knesset, government implementation and lawsuits in courts - as the central issue in order to change national and budgetary priorities. We are working to correct these priorities. The current priorities are very biased, and we want to create a situation where policy is determined in a way that considers how it affects women and men, as well as other groups within our society."


The process led to the decision to close projects and departments in the organization: “We do not focus on individual assistance and do not engage in psychological observation. We do not work for personal empowerment of women, but not because this is a job not worthy of doing. On the contrary, women certainly need to know how to demand more on a personal level - but because other organizations do it as well as we could." She emphasizes that this change is intended to enable IWN to "focus on what we do best and what is the most lacking in the field, which is a change in national and budgetary priorities at the policy level. We want a feminist world, a world where gender doesn’t limit you nor force you to do anything just because you are a man or a woman."


When you hear the phrase "Women and Philanthropy", what comes to mind?

"Many women are still wary to assume or exercise power, and by extension also wary of money. Even feminist women. Women and money is a combination that needs to be strengthened, as does the connection between women and philanthropy. When you say philanthropy it sounds like charity and charitableness. But as far as I'm concerned, putting money towards social change is not charity, it’s investment. Investment in my life, in the life of my family and in my community. Of course, we need to recruit wealthy women for this investment, but we must also contribute from our own resources. IWN is currently leading a process of increasing the number of small donations through standing orders as low as 10, 18, 30 NIS a month. Imagine everyone would put 10 NIS a month, what a dramatic difference in resources it would create.”


What are the challenges that the IWN faces in dealing with foundations?

Gera Margaliot emphasizes first of all that she believes in partnership with foundations. "Foundations have extensive experience because of their lateral perspective and organizations can benefit from it." At the same time, she lists a number of challenges that are relevant for any organization. "The fact that the application structure for each foundation is different, from the required content to the structure of the budget, makes it very difficult for continuous work. The resources required for submission and reporting are very high, and if there was a standardization of the applications it would make our work and the work of other organizations much easier." Another challenge in her opinion stems from a reduction in the overhead rate from the total grant budget. "In the past, it was customary to allow up to 20 percent overhead, whereas currently, 7 percent at best is allowed. My salary as Executive Director is paid entirely in the overhead section, even though I am completely involved in the content. And it's not just my salary, it's computers, phones, physical space - you cannot work without these things and foundations need to take that into account. "


When I ask her about measurement and evaluation, Gera Margaliot says she "understands the need to measure things, but not everything can be quantified. “It's easy to present numbers for some of the things we do: how many Knesset committees we attended, or count the times we appeared in media, but it does not make it more or less influential." Alongside these general challenges, Gera Margaliot stresses the unique characteristics of the feminist field: "There is simply no money", she says. “Since organizations are in a survival mode, we are not maximizing the potential of working together. Although this is not the sole responsibility of IWN, we see it as part of our role as a central factor in the feminist field to invest resources in an effort to create better communication between the various organizations and to promote networking and cooperation."


As a proposal for an effective action that foundations can take, Gera Margaliot notes that "There is great value in creating a shared physical infrastructure for organizations. We sit here in Beit Ha’amutot, and we work a lot more with the organizations that share the space - it facilitates collaborations. It is possible to collect several small grants to promote a larger common cause. If a foundation decides, for example, to finance capacity-development for ten organizations - say, implementing a CRM system, the cost per organization will be much lower than if every organization implemented it separately. We all know that a successful implementation of the CRM system will increase the quality of work by at least two levels, but almost no foundation agrees to finance it. "


Another way in which foundations can encourage gender equality is to find ways to require organizations to incorporate gender thinking.


What are the most significant achievements of IWN in recent years?

IWN has had many great achievements over the years, and it is important to mention them - the High Court of Justice ruling on Alice Miller, the High Court of Justice on the representation of women on boards of directors, the High Court of Justice Orit Goren on equal pay (link), dramatic legislative amendments, establishment of the Commission for Equal Opportunities at Work, the amendment to the extension of maternity leave, and more.


Since my time as Executive Director, during the last year and a half, we had a number of significant achievements - In the area of employmenttwo important rulings were rendered (the attorney Efrat Deutsch represented IWN): one where two Jerusalem Municipality employees sued the employer and received half a million NIS compensation for wage gaps. And the second, a court ruling regarding the Ashdod port also relates to wage discrimination. In addition, we established a unique hotline for Orthodox women. We also raise issues in the Knesset and are constantly working with the media to change public opinion and to reflect the processes that are taking place in society. We published reports describing the situation in Israel, what is happening in the world, and what needs to be done, because we want to promote a data-based policy. This is a series of actions that translate into something broader that we are very proud of.


Last week for example we had 22 news items in the media. That's a lot! We have dozens of news items per month. Because we understand the importance of communication. And this indicates relevance - many of the referrals come to us because we are relevantDecision-makers in the government and the Knesset also turn to us for policy recommendations. Of course, I cannot mention any by name, but there are a lot of them. Sometimes it has to remain behind the scenes, without the IWN mark. Sometimes you must work like that, and that's okay.


The writer is Executive Assistant to Founder & CEO at Marom Group