Women back on Israel’s religious airwaves
Anonymity is a funny thing. Sometimes, when nasty remarks are posted on the internet under the veil of anonymity, it is a sign of cowardice. Other times, anonymity offers the cover needed to push back against oppression.
In IRAC’s (Israel Religious Action Centre) legal struggle against Kol BaRama, the Israeli public radio station that targets the religious public and does not broadcast women’s voices, the plaintiffs were the many anonymous religious women who spoke out against this practice. Today IRAC has learned that their voices will once again be heard on all of Israel’s public airwaves.
Kol BaRama has exercised discriminatory practices against women’s freedom of expression for years, refusing to employ women, feature women as anchors, or allow women to be interviewed or to call in to shows. However, while they limited women’s voices, they did not limit programming geared towards women.
The segment on domesticity called Eshet Chayil, for example, featuring cooking recipes and exercises to do after giving birth, was run by men.
IRAC conducted an anonymous survey among 500 women representing a cross section of the religious community to ask them what they thought of the station’s policy. When the survey showed that over 30 percent of the women were offended by these practices, IRAC filed, on behalf of Kolech (an Orthodox feminist organization), a class action suit against the station for refusing to allow women’s voices to be aired.
With this case still in court, IRAC has now learned that the Israeli Broadcasting Authority (the regulator of public radio in Israel) agrees with us, and issued new terms that will force Kol BaRama to radically change its policy to remain on the air.
When we first began our battle against the station, the Broadcasting Authority asked us to agree to a compromise in which the station would be required to air women’s voices for four weekly hours. We fought on and it paid off. Under the new terms, they will only be allowed one hour each day in which they can broadcast a women-free program, and they must proactively include women leaders and experts in their programs. The station will lose its broadcasting license if it continues to prevent women from working in their offices or participating in their programs.
The phrase Kol BaRama, which literally means “a voice is heard on high,” comes from the book of Jeremiah when Rachel is crying for her children. How ironic that this radio station, named after the voice of our matriarch Rachel, has sought to limit the voices of women since its inception. But this station will no longer be allowed to force women to remain anonymous and fax in questions to be read aloud by men. Together, we have restored the original meaning of Kol BaRama: the voices of women are here to be heard.