Israel’s 1st Gender-Equality Minister

She’s a political hardliner and not a dyed-in-the wool feminist, but Gila Gamliel is progressive when it comes to women’s and gay rights, gender segregation and related issues.

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Israel’s first-ever minister for gender equality is an anomaly of sorts.

On the one hand, Gila Gamliel is a political hardliner known to challenge leaders of her Likud party who have dared to express support for territorial compromise with the Palestinians. On the other hand, she stands out among her fellow cohorts in the party for her unabashedly progressive views not only on women’s rights, but also on gay rights.

A recent law passed in the Knesset that prohibits marriage under age 18, for example, owes much to her.

“Many Knesset members and organizations had been trying for years to get the minimum age raised [from 17],” observes Prof. Ruth Halperin-Kaddari, chair of the Rackman Center for the Advancement of the Status of Women at Bar-Ilan University, “but she was the only one who somehow got it through. She was behind this initiative from beginning to end.”

Gilad Kariv, executive director of the Israel Movement for Reform and Progressive Judaism, notes that Gamliel was one of the first politicians in the country to speak out against gender segregation in public spaces.

“She was very vocal and clear on this issue,” he says. “She has also been quite outspoken about advancing women in the job market.”

A 41-year-old mother of two and resident of Tel Aviv, Gamliel initially entered national politics in 2003 after serving as the first female head of the national student union. The daughter of a Libyan-born mother and a Yemenite father, she holds a bachelor’s degree in Middle East history and a master’s in philosophy from Ben-Gurion University of the Negev. She used a three-year break from the Knesset between 2006 and 2009 (when she was voted out) to study for a law degree.

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