Written by Jan Jaben-Eilon Tuesday, October 05 2010
Snapshot: Ruth Halperin-Kaddari
Professor Ruth Halperin-Kaddari chairs The Ruth and Emanuel Rackman Center for the Advancement of the Status of Women, Faculty of Law, at Bar-Ilan University in Ramat Gan, Israel. She was recently re-elected as a member of the U.N. Committee for the Elimination of Discrimination Against Women (CEDAW), which was established in 1982. The 23 committee members review reports on the status of women submitted by U.N. member countries. The committee meets three times a year in either New York or Geneva.
Halperin-Kaddari served in an intelligence unit during her required military service in the Israel Defense Forces. She earned her first degree at Bar-Ilan, then her law degree at Yale University. She interned for Justice Aharon Barak who was president of Israel’s Supreme Court from 1995-2006. In 1997, after writing Israel’s report on women’s issues for CEDAW, she presented the report as part of the Israeli delegation to the U.N. First elected to the CEDAW in 2007, the 44-year-old mother of three boys and one girl – ages 9 to 22 – lives in Shoham near Israel’s international airport.
Womenetics: I know nothing about CEDAW. How many members are there? What other countries are represented on the committee? How many of the members are women? How long are the terms of membership? Do you get paid for this work?
Ruth Halperin-Kaddari: There are 23 members of CEDAW, currently two of them are men (Netherlands and Finland). Countries’ representation is very diverse, but reflects all five geographic regions of the U.N. (Africa; Asia and Pacific; Latin-America; Eastern Europe; and Western Europe and Others). Israel is in the “Others.” Terms are four years, with possible renewal in re-elections, if members are re-nominated by their countries.
We do not get paid. We receive a daily subsistence allowance, according to U.N. regulations.
Womenetics: Why do you think you received a second term despite the predominance of Moslem and Arab countries in the U.N.?
Halperin-Kaddari: I honestly did not expect to be re-elected. However, the final outcome (with the support of 103 countries) is the result of both very hard work on behalf of the Israel’s Permanent Mission to the U.N. staff, as well as a recognition of my expertise and contribution to the committee’s work, overcoming the opposition of Moslem and Arab countries to my re-election.
Womenetics: Why was it a dream of yours, to be on this committee? What is your next dream?
Halperin-Kaddari: When I first encountered CEDAW, http://www.unifem.org/cedaw30/success_stories, as the author of Israel’s initial (as well as second and third periodic reports) report to CEDAW, I understood the importance of this committee. I realized that this is probably the most influential legal mechanism on the international arena in the field of women’s rights, and being an academic who has always believed in the synergy between academia and the “real world,” who saw the academic role as a kind of vocation for social change, I knew this is where at some point in my career I wanted to be.
My next dream? To help CEDAW and other international women’s rights instruments and organizations become more effective; to establish a network of women’s organizations in the Middle East, with Israel part of it, with shared concerns and interests to advance women’s rights in the region.
Womenetics: What exactly do you teach as a family law professor?
Halperin-Kaddari: Teaching family law in Israel is unique, since the subject is entrenched in the complex and sensitive field of religion and state. So much of the course involves the religion-state relationship, as well as rabbinical (and other religious) courts and their interaction with civil courts. Apart from that, there are, of course, all other parts of family law, including marriage and divorce; same-sex families; parent-child relations; economic consequences of family relations and their dissolution; and more. My course is taught from a critical feminist perspective.
Womenetics: What kinds of issues have you dealt with on the U.N. Committee? Are these issues very different from what you see in Israel?
Halperin-Kaddari: The issues we deal with on the committee are mostly universal ones and appear in almost all countries. The differences are in the scope and the urgency of the various predicaments and concerns. Gender-based violence against women is universal, and so are under-representation of women in decision-making positions; pay-gaps; feminization of poverty; and so on. The situation of women in Israel is unique in two aspects: the place that religious law occupies, namely the control of religious law and courts over issues of marriage and divorce; and the place that security concerns and the military occupy in politics, public life, and budgetary allocation.
Womenetics: What can this committee actually achieve?
Halperin-Kaddari: There’s not a simple answer; things take a lot of time. I’ve struggled with this issue. I was more skeptical before I joined the committee than I am now. After four years, I know women’s situations would have been much worse if not for the committee and other groups like this. We see things changing all the time, slowly, but things are happening. This is partly due to the fact that many donor countries are now making a condition on acceptance of the money that the countries abide by our committee requests. This is indirect, but it’s important. And our concluding observations are being used by civil societies for demanding legal and policy reforms.
Womenetics: How do you balance being a professor, mother of four, and U.N. committee member?
Halperin-Kaddari: This requires constant juggling and paying a price. If I invested more in my academic career, like publishing more, that would make it more difficult to advance in my international career, and if I didn’t establish the Rackman Center, then I’d probably be a full professor instead of an associated professor. But I’m happy with the balance I’ve achieved. Like any other professional mother, I feel a constant struggle to balance my working time with mothering. But I know my children are very supportive and proud of what I’m doing. They saw me (in New York) working and speaking at the U.N.
Womenetics: What are your hobbies?
Halperin-Kaddari: I read when I have time for that, and I can find myself addicted to some of the TV series (Big Love; Mad Men) when I have time. I always visit museums when I travel.
Jan Jaben-Eilon was a founding staff writer of the Atlanta Business Chronicle. Since then, she has been the international editor of Advertising Age magazine and has written for such publications as The New York Times, International Herald Tribune, Washington Journalism Review, and Consumer Reports. She is the author of soon-to-be-published (There is) Life After Cancer. Jan and her husband have homes in Atlanta and Jerusalem.