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ISRAEL: Unholy Row In Jerusalem Over Status Of Women

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Equality campaigners say women in Jerusalem are facing discrimination and segregation because of the growing influence of ultra-religious Jewish leaders.

Jerusalem women facing marginalizationAn attempt to ban women singing in public places is the latest move to spark protests after a few extremist Rabbis declared it too sexual for men to hear.

"The female voice is beautiful and it is fine for women to sing to each other but we do not want men exposed to the temptation," Yakov Halperin, a religious member of Jerusalem's City Council, said.

Women's rights groups have taken to organising public sing-a-longs in the street in response.

"We cannot let them silence us," one woman said as a crowd of about 100 women sang beside one of the city's main roads.


I am a mother of daughters and I do not want them to grow up in a city where women are becoming invisible.

Idit Karni, Jerusalem resident

"This is a slippery slope and it's our democracy that's at stake," another protester said.

Even Israel's military, long a bastion of sexual equality, has been drawn into the row with some religious soldiers boycotting ceremonial events where female soldiers might be singing.

Military leaders have refused to bow to the demands for all male choirs.

The increasingly conservative attitude towards women reflects the steady demographic shift in Israel, particularly in Jerusalem.

The ultra-orthodox Jewish community - with its preference for large families - is the fastest expanding sector of society. Some sections of the community shun Israel's modern, liberal values.


Idit Karni

Idit Karni joins other campaigners in hanging posters of herself around Jerusalem

In religious areas of the city there are growing incidents of self-imposed "separation" of the sexes, despite laws banning segregation.

Frequently women sit at the back of buses, have separate entrances in some shops and different hours at medical facilities.

The practice is confined to ultra-observant neighbourhoods but women's groups claim it is part of the creeping marginalisation of half of the population.

They point to the trend among advertising agencies to use only images of men in their campaigns in Jerusalem.

Risque images of women that can be found plastered on billboards in Tel Aviv are considered offensive by the ultra-religious community.

"It is now rare to find any images of women at all, even those dressed modestly," Idit Karni told Sky News.

She has joined other campaigners in hanging posters of herself around Jerusalem to try to restore females to public view.

"I am a mother of daughters and I do not want them to grow up in a city where women are becoming invisible," Ms Karni said.

Liberal rabbis are backing the poster campaign.

"What we're fighting against is a few extremists who are trying to distort Judaism. The faith is all about equality, and so is Israel," Rabbi Uri Ayalon told Sky News.

The Jewish State prides itself on women's equality. Golda Meir was Israel's Prime Minister in 1969 at a time when Britain had not yet passed laws guaranteeing women equal pay.