The IDF has made great strides since its founding on the subject of women’s service. The host of positive changes can be attributed, first and foremost, to the tens of thousands of women who served and still serve in the IDF. Their indomitable spirit and physical stamina paved the way for those who came after them.
The question remains: how is it, after sixty years of women’s service in the IDF that the future of this enterprise still has to be debated. Why is it that at the flight school graduation ceremony, with women among those receiving aviator’s wings, the heart still trembles and press reports still refer to women pilots patronizingly? Why, with all the advances in equal opportunity legislation, are there still “invisible” signposts in certain areas in the IDF that read: “entrance to women forbidden!”
These and other questions underscore the need to draft a carefully laid out, multiyear plan that will remove the barriers, especially the subtle, concealed ones.
The establishment of the committee to “mold the vision of women serving in the IDF in the coming decade”, headed by Brigadier General (res.) Yehuda Segev, resulted from the need to create awareness of the issue and a clearly-stated vision. The committee did its job admirably and three years ago produced a fascinating document that offered answers and solutions. Although the general staff forum adopted the committee’s vision - an important step in itself - the real test will be the correlation between the impressive rhetoric and practical deeds.
Human resources managers are trying to implement the committees’ recommendations, mainly in areas that do not threaten the existing order, but the task is far from over.
What else has to be done before we can honestly say that we’ve made it to the “top of the hill”, that the IDF is an equal opportunity organization that utilizes its human resources to their greatest potential?
The length of compulsory service should be determined by the nature of the roles that men and women fulfill rather than by gender, as is generally done today. Also, the IDF’s screening process has to be gender free.
Today it is unequal. As long as the “quality group” is the leading factor and women are not allowed to take the “Milestone” test, then they are being discriminated. Occupational screening, which has been institutionalized in recent years, is a form of corrective affirmation, but it does not go far enough.
Expanding the number of women in the regular army and reserve units, where they have yet to reach a critical mass, is important in itself. The organizational climate toward women is not conducive to this. Traces of chauvinism and sexism still exist in the IDF.
An improvement in the atmosphere is likely to benefit both men and women. The “glass ceiling” that blocks women on their way to top positions in the IDF has to be broken.
The presence of women as senior officers is necessary not only for women but principally for the IDF as an organization. Women bring supplementary value to every discussion by dint of their inherent difference.
The common denominator linking these and other subjects is that none of them can take place in one fell swoop. In order for them to be realized, vision, determination, and commitment are needed.
Despite the obstructions and heavy tasks still ahead, I am optimistic because of my familiarity with the IDF’s needs, because of my trust in the commanders, especially those who are aware of women’s value and potential, and because of women’s faith in themselves, in the capabilities and that they bring to the army.
The question is whether the army’s helmsmen will display the wisdom and courage to take the initiative or leave it to women’s organizations and the legislative and judiciary branches to do the job.