Women’s Day at Israeli embassy is any other day 

“Our composition here is spontaneous,” says Kursh,“ but our foreign ministry pushes gender equality.

Written by Srijana Mitra Das | New Delhi | Updated: March 8, 2017 11:46 am
 Israeli embassy, women's day, International women's day, Israeli embassy on women's day, Israel Parliament, indian express news Head of Public Diplomacy Ditza Froim, Domestic Political Advisor Adva Vilchinski and Spokesperson Avigail Spira at the Israeli embassy. (Express photo by Tashi Tobgyal)

Israel’s biggest Embassy in Asia is in Delhi — and all its senior political diplomats, except Ambassador Daniel Carmon, are women. The Embassy’s political diplomatic team, Deputy Chief of Mission Dana Kursh, Head of Public Diplomacy Ditza Froim, Domestic Political Advisor Adva Vilchinski and Spokesperson Avigail Spira, explained the Israeli “women’s way” on International Women’s Day. “Our composition here is spontaneous,” says Kursh, “but our foreign ministry pushes gender equality. New entrants to the diplomatic corps are equally men and women.”

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Spira adds, “In my course, over 50% recruits were women. Among our top-most ambassadors and consuls, about 20% are women.” Vilchinski notes, “We’re part of a worldwide change; everyday, we see more women in public policy, as decision-makers, CEOs, particularly young leadership.” But, given universal pressures around family life, is being a woman leader smooth? Vilchinski grins, “Well, we brought our men with us. My husband works at a start-up. When he told friends, ‘I’m moving to India with my wife’, that surprised people. Usually, when men move with their families for work, no-one finds it surprising. But Israel challenges traditional notions. For instance, Israel’s Parliament passed a law permitting an hour daily for “parenthood”, both for men and women — this questions only women having to take care of children. Fathers or mothers can avail of parental leave.”

Kursh notes, “In our workforce, 67.8% of women hold full-time positions — and 75% women are mothers.” Upturning conventions is ingrained in Israel’s history. Spira explains, “When Israel was founded, Europe was just waking up to women’s rights. But Israel was built on community attitude, where men and women are equal. Men and women fought alongside, built the kibbutz together, broke patriarchal norms. Golda Meir was our PM way back in the 60s; today, we have the highest number of women ever in our Parliament.”

Military service is a huge help. Conscription in Israel is mandatory — men do three years, women two. Spira notes, 88% positions are available to women and 43% new recruits are women. There are female officers, soldiers, social workers, commanders, combatants, pilots. Vilchinski recalls, “I was a guide for the artillery force. It’s a typical ‘womanly’ post, training soldiers — but because women guides were so talented, they began training a few to be officers. In that course, I was the only woman with 31 men — I had a separate room, a bit far-away, so I had less time to change. But, otherwise, we were totally the same.”

Such eye-opening leads to greater success. Froim says, “The army is part of the secret behind Israel’s start-up story. Being an entrepreneur means you take quick decisions without all the facts, be daring — this is what the army trains us for. With the hard challenges, women grow up within months of joining the army; so do men. Some Israeli men come from very traditional groups; they wouldn’t associate with women freely. Suddenly, when they’re in the military, they have no choice. They understand that women are not just for marriage, reproduction; a woman is an equal — and a woman is going to save your life.”

Notably, a woman official of the Embassy was seriously wounded in a targeted terror attack in Delhi in 2012. But her successors show a feisty spirit. Ambassador Carmon says, “Israel believes in promoting women, empowering them to empower us. I’m lucky to be surrounded by the talent women bring.” But there are thorny stereotypes about women in positions of authority. Kursh says, “When I was heading for my first posting in the US, my CG was a woman — everyone warned me there’d be ‘cat fights’. But we worked together as a team. Here, in Delhi, it’s Israeli girl power at its best.”

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