Work versus family
נובמבר 13, 2007. Haaretz: Avirama GolanYoung lawyers, mothers of young children, told TheMarkerwriter Nurit Roth this week (Hebrew edition, November 11) about their frustration with the competitive job market: Either they make up work hours at night, after taking care of their children, or they come to terms with their slowing professional advancement.
Few law firms are willing to be flexible about hours and to recognize work done at home. Most prefer not to hire women of childbearing age. The demands of the new labor market also affect men who are trying to combine a career and livelihood with family, undermining their position at work.
Young Israelis face a problem: Social norms pressure them to have children, nurture and educate them, and most want to do so, but the labor market does not allow them to have a life. It wants an indefatigable "workforce." Women are doubly punished. For many years now, they have been urged to study and learn a profession in order to join the labor force, but for most women, this comes at the expense of having a family - or raising their own children. Twenty percent of working women postpone professional advancement in order to take care of their children.
In this area, Israel lags behind not only countries such as Sweden, Denmark, the Netherlands and even France, which subsidize quality day care from 7 A.M. to 7 P.M., for example, but also the United States, which invented the free market. In recent years there, public institutions, with private workplaces in their wake, have been allowing mothers to work from home more, and are becoming more flexible about office hours. The changes are based on the understanding that they stand to lose their most skilled, dedicated and educated employees.
The presidential candidates in the U.S. have picked up on the changes and are competing among themselves to show support for organizations such as Moms Rising, and promise to provide parents of both sexes with more humane working conditions.
In Israel, in contrast, fewer than 30 percent of working parents are able to enroll their children in day-care centers, which in any event operate only until 4 P.M. (This year, 35 percent of Jewish parents and 84 percent of Arab parents were rejected for lack of space.) Since there are no companies that shut their gates at 3:30 P.M., parents must navigate between day-care and caretakers. Day care is subsidized only for the lowest wage earners. A couple earning NIS 5,250 each or more per month will pay NIS 1,793 for day care.
Childcare costs for two children, including one infant, usually exceed the mother's salary - even without figuring in wages for a housecleaner and other expenses that are not tax deductible. It is not by chance that a new-old trend has returned among the middle classes: full-time "housewives." The women who do not leave the workforce make 25 percent less than their male counterparts, whom they watch longingly as they cultivate social and professional networks in the evening, while they are putting their children to bed and completing work brought home from the office.
Young Israeli women, who are much more skilled and educated than their own mothers were at their age, are being kicked into the same despairing corner where their grandmothers were stuck. It is worse than the old situation; now everyone boasts about fake equality and preaches the religion of careerism and excellence in childrearing. It is destructive not only for women but also for the young fathers, who unlike their grandfathers, are involved in raising their children and are expected to "work on their marriage."
President of the Naamat women's organization, attorney Talia Livni, launched in April a convention to promote adapting the labor market to parenting, in cooperation with businesses. It's a welcome effort, but it is not enough. Only a resolute struggle by men and women who are not afraid to demand wise action from their employers will change - for the good of all (including employers) - the relationship between work and family.
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