Posted by: Liza Rosenberg | February 23, 2008

Hypocrisy in the Women’s International Zionist Organization

A news brief in yesterday’s Haaretz newspaper caught my eye.

WIZO: Increase in firings of pregnant women

There was a steep rise last year in the number of women who complained they were fired or had their work conditions significantly worsened because they were pregnant, or after they returned from maternity leave. The numbers were published by WIZO, the Women’s International Zionist Organization, in Israel. The number of complaints from women who claim they were fired while pregnant, undergoing fertility treatment or immediately after returning from maternity leave was up 64% last year. It is illegal to fire women in all these cases, unless the employer has received special permission from the Ministry of Trade, Industry and Labor. The number of women asking for advice about these matters rose 70% in 2007 compared to 2006. According to WIZO, the increase is partly the result of women’s increased awareness as to their rights. Nevertheless, there is also a real rise in the number of firings or other forms of harassment against women. At the same time, many women are still afraid to lodge a complaint against their employers for violating the law. (Haim Bior)”

The statistics are indeed alarming, but what disturbed me even more was the irony of the source. I worked for WIZO in the mid-1990s, writing speeches and other documents, performing secretarial duties and undertaking the occasional translation. At some point during my approximately 11-month stint there, I fell pregnant (in what was to be the first of my five pregnancies). And at some point during early pregnancy, I was given a letter, informing me that I was to be let go. Because I was pregnant at the time, I was told that the firing would go into effect at the conclusion of my maternity leave. In other words, that I wasn’t to return once my leave was up.

As I recall, they were claiming budgetary issues, but given that around the same time they brought in another young native English speaker who began to take over my responsibilities, I assumed it was due to a “difference of opinion” that I’d had with one of the senior board members. In any event, the reason didn’t really matter – what mattered was that I’d been given notice that I was being given the boot.

We were still in the early days of the pregnancy, and I figured that I still had several months to plan my future. I continued fulfilling my duties, such as they were, and continued to be pregnant. I wasn’t happy with the situation (an understatement, to be sure), but as long as I was pregnant, I had my job and my paycheck.

Without going into the gritty details, suffice it to say that working for one of the largest women’s organizations in the world was often a rather demeaning experience. I can remember at least two situations where people tried to use me and trick me in order to obtain information to which they were not privy. I remember how various board members (and often their secretaries as well) treated those of us without any real status. I would get reprimanded for not taking more initiative when editing documents, and would then be reprimanded for making too many changes (one instance of which, I believe, is the reason why I was fired). In short, outside of our little translators’ office (and our extended circle of administrative colleagues), the environment there – for me, anyway, was not terribly pleasant.

When I began to have problems with my pregnancy, I was doubly concerned. I was, of course, concerned for my pregnancy, and, unfortunately, I was also concerned for my job. It appears that my concerns were not unwarranted. Due to the nature and severity of the problems, we had to end the pregnancy. I was home recovering for several weeks after the procedure, and spent a great deal of that time worrying about my job, given that I was no longer pregnant. My experiences thus far in my workplace did not lend to optimism, and I wondered how things would play out.

I didn’t have long to wait. The day of my return, I was called into the director’s office. She left the door open while expressing her sympathies and asking how I was feeling, but shortly thereafter, she closed the door. She didn’t mince words. Now that I was no longer pregnant, the redundancy letter that I had received earlier on would go into effect immediately, and I was put on thirty days’ notice. She also said she was sure that I’d go on to have more children, and hoped that I would still enjoy the upcoming holiday (it was shortly before Passover). I was shocked, but not really. Through the grapevine, I had heard at least one other story about a woman who had lost her job there shortly after returning from maternity leave, though as it had been before my time, I wasn’t able to corroborate the story. So, when I was fired on the very day that I returned to the office after having terminated a second-trimester pregnancy due to a very severe case of Spina Bifida (the ultrasound technician running a routine scan in preparation for the procedure actually exclaimed out loud at the severity), it didn’t come as a huge surprise. I assumed they didn’t want to put things off, given that I was nearing the one-year milestone of my employment, and had I passed it, they would have been required by law to up the severance pay amount.

I probably should have pursued legal options, but in my naivete, I simply let it go. I was unable to verify if the actions they had taken (namely the firing letter while I was pregnant) were in fact legal, and I didn’t like the idea of taking on such a vast organization. That being said, they will never find support in my home. My second-hand clothes will be donated elsewhere, and I’d rather keep my son at home than send him to one of their child care programs. I realize that they do good work, but I’ve also seen the way they treat their own employees, and to this day, find it hard to believe that an organization that purports to stand up for women’s rights could fire a woman when she was pregnant (even a firing that was not supposed to come into effect immediately), and then kick her when she was at one of the lowest points in her life after losing that much-desired pregnancy.

Advertisements

Responses

  1. wow, that’s shocking! and in a way not. there are so many flagrant violations of workers rights in this country it’s not only disheartening – for us workers especially – it’s despicable. thanks for the notice. awareness is for sure an important tool in empowering workers – especially us women.

  2. Liza,
    Well written. I am not surprised that any organization with Zionist in its name doesn’t seem to live up to the standard for which it was formed.

    We see more clearly that without a strong connection to the G-D part of Eretz Yisroel, the ‘Zionist’ leaders have put more and more distance from the connection to G-D.

    So if they can take G-D out of the Zionist experience and connection to the land, how much easier is it to take women out of the WIZO mission?

    Hillel

  3. Wow… such a hypocrisy.

    Having said that, in order to prove that this is an organization that works that way, it has to be more than one case… It might have been a bad person at the wrong place which is not justifying the act – quite the opposite – one would expect such an organization to convey its ideas through its managers as well…

    Loose – Loose situation anyhow as it seems.

  4. Wow. Your last sentence really says it all. I know nothing about WIZO aside from their charitable works, but what you’ve described here is simply awful!

  5. In respect to not having to pay you severance, my understanding is that the Labor Courts now pretty much require it from either 10.5 mos or 11 months–precisely to prevent employers from abusing the system.

    That really sucks. I do not normally donate to WIZO (I have my own little charity-faves list) but now I know not to add them.

    How absolutely pathetic and shocking…


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s

Categories

%d bloggers like this: