03 July 2006

we are not the gestapo.

With the workweek solidly underway, more people showed up today, and I met a lot more of the volunteers and permanent employees. Tamla spent the morning introducing me to everyone by telling them about my pet hedgehog (still enthralling after a night to ponder it, apparently) and that I would be working 40 (!) hours a week for a month. The hedgehog was an interesting tidbit for most, but everyone was shocked and thrilled to discover I'd be there 40 hours per week. Since Isha is dominated by part-time volunteers, the notion of having someone there all day, every day is rather exciting. At least I'll be keeping busy! I arrived prepared to continue stuffing envelopes all morning, only to find that they had all been finished. Hedva explained that the board had met the night before and finished stuffing during their meeting. Apparently, this truly is an egalitarian organization with no hierarchy.

Since my envelopes had been stuffed, Ranin recruited me for help with 1325 research. She's the project coordinator for 1325 and is developing a website that will be in Hebrew, Arabic, English, and Russian, and I'll be in charge of the English portion. I spent the morning reading up on the resolution and other efforts worldwide to implement it. I agree with the resolution in principle - I want to see protection for women in conflict, safe refugee camps, prosecution for rapists, women included at negotiation tables, in provisional governments and reconstruction, etc. However, a lot of the women implementing 1325 in postwar situations are talking about quotas of women in parliaments and governments, in peacekeeping missions, and in UN upper-level postings. I just can't see how forcing groups to take certain numbers of women is good for anyone in the short or long term. I believe in in a meritocracy, not affirmative action - while having women in positions is helpful, I think society is better served by the most qualified, regardless of his or her gender (or, as in the United States, their race). The lack of women in government, etc. starts well before elections and appointments, and addressing the problem at such a late point will only prolong the social inequalities that begin far earlier. By mandating the number of women in government, you perpetuate an attitude that they're not qualified on their own, and have to have seats reserved for them because they can't compete against the men in a fair competition. Why not fund girl's education and work to erase stigmas surrounding women in the public sphere instead? It will take longer, but the results will be genuine and longer lasting. Gender inequality took hundreds, if not thousands, of years to entrench itself in society, so how can we expect a quota system to turn it around in a generation?

I researched until lunch, much to the surprise of everyone around me. Hedva kept asking if I wanted a break even after I assured her I was fascinated by the reading and wanted to keep going. I suppose for them, they're here all the time and have no problems working at a leisurely pace and taking breaks to chat and smoke. But I'm only here for a month, and I want to leave feeling I contributed as much as I possibly could. Perhaps it's just that American work ethic, but I want someone here to remember my hard work fondly. Ironically, shortly after having this conversation with myself over lunch, I contracted a thoroughly unpleasant stomach virus. Hedva had already left for the day, but Tamla insisted I go home and rest, and take tomorrow off as well if necessary. "We're not the Gestapo," were her exact words. I think my surprise showed on my face, because she explained that some people are offended by such references, but for her, it's the first thing that comes to mind and one that everyone understands. I've used the term myself, but I guess I thought it would be a more sensitive topic here in Israel. Apparently not!

Hamas has given Israel until 6 AM tomorrow to pull out of Gaza or "face the consequences." Not surprisingly, Israel continues to refuse to negotiate with terrorists. We'll see how things go. Although I'm so close to everything, I'm getting my news from CNN every night in the hotel's business lounge, just like everyone back home. The more things change, the more they stay the same, I suppose.

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