Walking through WIZO's Tel Aviv headquarters on the evening of October 31st was a sight to behold. Nearly 100 teenagers, representing half a dozen Israeli youth groups and volunteer organizations, sat in small circles engrossed in intimate discussions about gender bias against girls. Led by trained facilitators, each group's participants delved deep into the topic, drawing upon their own personal experiences at school, in the IDF and in their social lives.
The initiative, organized by WIZO Israel's Community, Child and Youth Division, was the final part of a two-day conference to mark The International Day of the Girl, an observance day declared by the United Nations in 2012 which supports more opportunity for girls and increases awareness of gender inequality faced by girls worldwide.
One of the most infuriating examples presented and discussed was a recent news story which reported that on the first day of the current school year, 12th grade male students at a well-known school in the center of Israel sat in front of the school's entrance and rated all the new females students as they entered the campus based on their appearance. Another topic the groups discussed was the double standard regarding wearing shorts at some Israeli schools. While boys were allowed to sport shorts, regarding girls it was deemed too distracting for the opposite sex.
"Today is all about changing the discourse regarding gender, and that begins with these teenagers," said Rina Keren, Chairperson of WIZO Israel's Community, Child and Youth Division as she observed one of the teen group discussions. "This change will shape our future."
Division Chairperson Rina Keren (far right)with some of the Day of the Girl conference participants
Marked for the first time by WIZO this year, The International Day of the Girl Conference began the day prior with lectures, seminars and panels on gender bias towards girls and girl empowerment delivered by professionals in the field. The speakers included: Gender and Peacebuilding Specialist Dr. Gal Harmat, who spoke about translating feminist theories into educational practices, Efrat Fenigson, a marketing expert, co-founder of G-CMO, co-host of the Market Shift podcast and Former VP Marketing at Airobotics, who gave a talk entitled "Dancer, Computer Programmer or Vice President of Marketing?" and Zehava Tamir M.e.d, a counselor on healthy sexuality and communication in the relgious world who spoke about "The Evolution of the Women's Gallery".
Top to bottom Dr. Gal Harmat, Efrat Fenigson & Zehava Tamir
WIZO: Empowering Young Girls
One of the highlights of the conference, which drew educators and youth workers from across Israel, was a special youth panel featuring the first female tank commander in the IDF, a young man who performs spoken word about gender inequality and two current participants in WIZO's Academia (Manhigut Tzeira – Youth Leadership) girls' empowerment program.
Created by WIZO Israel, the Academia program is geared towards teenage girls who excel in school and who demonstrate leadership potential. Three of the main issues the program focuses on are Gender Equality, Social Responsibility and Community Volunteerism.
"The Academia program embodies one of our highest goals: to empower women, starting at a young age," Idit Gindi, Director of WIZO Israel's Community, Child and Youth Division said. "It's so inspiring to see the heights to which WIZO can lift these young women."
"WIZO gave us tools," Danielle, one of the panel participants from the Academia program said. "We learned how to value and appreciate ourselves. WIZO taught us that we girls can accomplish anything we set our mind to."
"This day, The Day of the Girl is meant to bring gender equality to the forefront," said Jessica Nagid, a trained social worker and the Director of Programs for Girls in WIZO Israel's Community, Child and Youth Division. "It allows us all to talk to each other and express ourselves, without being dictated to - because I'm a "boy" or because I'm a "girl". It lets us talk about our feeling and emotions, which help us develop as adults. This day promotes the elimination of sexism and racism and the need to relate to each other as human beings – and that's the key to bringing about change."
WIZO Israel Chairperson Ora Korazim (first from right) with leadership and staff of WIZO Israel's Community, Child and Youth Division
"I applaud WIZO Israel's Community, Child and Youth Division for initiating WIZO's first ever celebration of International Day of the Girl, placing the spotlight on the future of Israeli society - our young women," WIZO Israel Chairperson Ora Korazim said at the opening of the conference. "For a century WIZO has been a leading volunteer driven movement promoting children, youth and women. The young women of today are the leaders of tomorrow and it is up to us to empower them."
Photo Credits: Yael Rasner