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Special Report
Last Updated: 05/05/2004
The Privatization of (Women’s) Education
Gal Harmat

Gal Harmat with an Economic Analysis of the privatizing process taking place in Israel, and the actual effects it bears for young women

According to the Israeli government 2001 Report of the committee for women status in Israel, in the year 2000, women were 45.44% of the labor force in Israel, of whom only 15.8% held full time jobs, compared to 34.1% of the men. Women's average monthly salary was 60.18% of that of men. The average wage-per-hour was 80.5% of that of men. Among Arab population, the participation of women in labor force was significantly lower - only 22% of the women have participate, while the rate of unemployment was higher than among the Jewish population, rating at 11.7%. The average salary of Arab women was 71% of that of Jewish women.

In general, women in Israel usually work in the lower-paid occupations like services, education, health, welfare, and clerical positions (Blue and pink Collar trades), while they are considerably under-represented in the prestigious and profitable white collar trades such as hi-tech, high management roles, engineering and the like. It is said that the education system in Israel has full gender equality, and if indeed considered from the perspective of the amount of years attending school, among the Jewish population of Israel there is no educational gap between men and women[1][1]. Nevertheless, much more boys then girls study in the scientific-technological and other tracks that prepares and channels them to well-earning professions. Another mesmerizing fact is that while women earn 57% of all academic degrees, and although 46% of the doctoral students are women, still, only 22% of senior faculty members and 7.8% of full professors are women[1][2]. Add to that the common perception among the public and decision makers that women's salary is to be considered as a second salary, therefore a lower one, even in the occasions when they earn more and are equally or more educated than their spouse, and you would see that education, considered as a crucial factor and tool for achieving social and economic mobilization, seems to be not functioning as expected when it comes to women in Israel.

The Education System case: equality without equity

The process of privatization in Israel started after the failure of the Oslo Peace Accord in 1999-2000. Up until then Israel functioned as a welfare state to a high degree. With the privatization process, the social democracy in Israel is being slowly abolished, and the state remains neither social nor democratic.

Until 2000, all citizens of Israel enjoyed access for free public education, ensured and protected by law, including empowerment programs for poor and marginalized populations. As part of the new reform, Israeli municipalities started leading a new system that had been crowned the appalling name The Self Management of schools .

This very nicely put term actually meant that school principles were now also assigned the work of company directors, having to raise funds for their school on their own and taking care of a balance budget, as if school is functioning as a business. Simultaneously, in addition to the Self Management process, Israel initiated another new policy: instead of distributing recourses according to each school's particular needs, the education ministry decided on equal distribution of resources to schools according to the number of students each school had, neglecting other parameters all together.

These new policies created a situation where, although basic education is still free, in wealthy areas, mainly in the center, when a school ran out of funds, parents were asked to pay for their children's education. In other places, where parents could not afford to pay, the students received much less class hours, no field trips, and lower standard of education, although they were funded equally . When the standard of education was lowered, more students dropped out, and the schools now received even fewer funds in areas where more investment in education was actually needed.


Commercialization of education

As part of the self management and self fund-raising policy, schools in Israel were suggested to rent their property (classrooms, gyms etc') in after school hours and school vacations. In the center of Israel, where prices are high and people are traditionally wealthy, the renting business went very well. Many workshops and night courses for adults and adolescents rent the empty classrooms and halls for very high prices.

However, in the periphery, where poverty is a fact of life, it was much more difficult for the schools to rent their rooms for different private companies, and when they did succeed, it was for much less. In addition, in these neighborhoods children usually do not have many playgrounds and usually use the schoolyards in the afternoons instead. Now, when school is rented, even this opportunity is being denied of them, and they are out on the streets. Concerned parents, especially women and single mothers, had to stay at home during after school hours to look after their children, thus having their possibilities for making a living narrowed down.

Privet companies that wanted to promote products could now donate money to schools and, in return, to have their commercial advertisements presented at school grounds, even inside classes. Of course, most companies preferred to advertise their market goods in wealthy schools located in the center. Since less economically appealing, schools in poor areas had to agree to have classes taught by commercial companies representatives, teaching the students, as part of actual school curricula, about their companies products.

It has been shown that commercials basic work assumption is to make people believe that there is something fundamentally wrong with them, that they lack something. Advertisements effect girls and women more then men by weakening their, already lowered by society, self-esteem and self-confidence. Therefore, they feel as if they need to consume more then men, sometime just in order to be a good woman - whether a traditional housewife or a modern feminist, there is always something lacking. That is well portrayed in Betty Friedan strong words, 'If they are [TV advertisements] not responsible for sending women home, they are surely responsible for keeping them there' [1][3][1][4].

Since showing successful results in achieving the self management goals, at least where it did, this process of commercialization of education, with the comodification of schools grounds and curriculum and the apparent gender bias, was not questioned and was accepted as legitimate and adequate by teachers, school principles and the Education Ministry experts who advise and assist them.


The Gender Perspective

With the new self management program, the Israeli government has actually triggered the creation of a gray education system, that allowed parents who can afford it to buy quality education for their children, while parents with fewer economic means have to compromise on schools and standard of education that will not allow their children the option of entering the higher educational system.

The privatization reform has affected all the students in the periphery, but girls were effected even more then boys. Girls are, traditionally, moving to live with their husband after getting married, while sometimes even moving in and living with his family. Boys, on the other hand, are traditionally staying a part of their nuclear family, giving support and helping with the livelihood, even when moving out of the house. The students in the commercialized classes are mainly female students, since the school invests more formal education hours in boys. Both the school and the companies, with the support of the families, see girls as potential wives; therefore, formal, good education is not considered as necessary for them, but rather a house-wife-consumerism education.

For that reason, it makes more sense for poor families with very limited resources to invest in the education of their boys then in the education of their girls. Parents who have financial difficulties are often prone not to invest in their girls education, putting much more for their boys education. Girls are perceived as a lost investment, a waste of money, since they will marry a man and his family will benefit from that. The opportunity for a cheap, though less formal, education for girls offered by schools, is making young women ignorant, uneducated and not prepared for higher education. This way, the state of Israel is actually responsible for the exclusion of the next generation of possible women academicians, politicians and independent businesswomen.


Is that a story of success?

The economic gap between the rich and the poor in Israel has deepened during recent years (2000-2003). 16% of the women in Israel live now days in poverty, compared to 14% of the men. The difference may lie in the fact that most single families are those of single women.

Having sometimes to choose between basic needs like food and education, people in poor neighborhoods were not able now to send their children to extra curriculum activities, which were given free of charge in these neighborhoods up until the self-management reform, as part of a program of community empowerment of the peripheries. Nevertheless, since the standard of education in the central, wealthy, schools has risen during the first year of the program, it was declared a success, although the standard of education in the poor areas schools dropped severely. Privatization, it has been shown, according to its advocators, can work. Two years into the process, children from the poor schools could hardly even apply for high schools in the center, due to the extra costs.



Israel should invest in equal education for boys and girls by promoting equity according to one's needs and not by advocating equality per capita that suppress poor populations education and on top of that women's education.



- The Israeli government (2001), the committee for women status in Israel, 2001 Report, Israel.


- The Israeli Universities association (2003), The Israeli Universities 2003 Report to the Israeli governmental committee for women status in Israel, Israel.

- Friedan, B. (1963). The feminine mystique. New York: Dell

[1] While among the more traditional Arab population the numbers are much lower.

[2] The Israeli Universities association (2003), The Israeli Universities 2003 Report to the Israeli governmental committee for women status in Israel, Israel.


[4] Friedan, B. (1963). The feminine mystique. New York: Dell.

Gal Harmat, copyright 2004. You can contact Gal by email:

Gal Harmat is now doing her graduate work at the Gender and Peace Building department, in the University for Peace, Costa Rica.