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Candy Crush: Out, Learning Leadership Skills: In

“I never thought it was strange that there are fewer women in government than men; I simply thought they were less talented. Through the course, I came to realize that there’s a real problem here,” says one participant of a WIZO Young Leadership Course.

In a time when public opinion is formed on Facebook, most of us are already well aware of the problems women face in “real life.” Women are chronically underrepresented in politics, business and public life, and constitute a small portion of leadership positions of government, private and public companies. Part of the problem stems from the lack of education for the younger generation, a generation that is largely defined by their passivity and a lack of developed social consciousness.

In the face of this challenge, WIZO has taken up the goal of influencing the next generation of girls to take a break from Candy Crush [a popular smartphone game] and to join a young leadership course, which will develop their leadership skills as well as their social awareness and involvement. By providing girls with a wide set of leadership tools, WIZO endeavors to increase the chances that they will one day join the ranks of society leaders and influence wider Israeli society.

In the coming days, WIZO will be officially launching the second year of its women’s leadership course in six cities, Hadera, Nahariya, Neve Sha’anan (Haifa), Rosh Ha’Ayin, Tel Aviv and Herzliya. Just recently, WIZO Neve Sha’anan officially opened its women’s leadership course under the management of Nitza Sobobitz, with some girls participating from the “Technion Leaders” course.

“I never thought it was strange that there are fewer women in government than men; I simply thought they were less talented. Through the course, I came to realize that there’s a real problem here, that it’s harder for women to reach these positions because for men the army serves as a springboard [for these leadership positions and careers],” explains Sapir Ashrov, a sixteen-year-old graduate of the Hadera course.

During the period of adolescence, girls begin to formulate independent identities as women, and simultaneously their personal value systems and their understanding of the wider world begin to take form. During this vulnerable stage, a program that promotes values and social progress would be able to influence their developing identities, and thereby help them to develop into confident women with an interest in leadership. Following participation in such a program, a large portion of them will be motivated to pursue leadership paths in the army and afterwards involvement in local and national politics.

Adi Shoach, who teaches a women’s leadership workshop in Hadera, explains that girls arrive to her workshop who have never read a newspaper. These girls are disconnected from what is happening in the country, and the workshop opens their eyes to women’s rights and social issues that they previously had never considered. While they arrive at Adi’s course with markedly low personal ambition, by the end of it they typically undergo a personal transformation in which they demand more from themselves and their lives.

“I am talking about the transformation of Cinderella to Pocahontas, a passive girl to a take-charge woman. I explain to them that in order to become a leader in society, they first need to learn how to conduct themselves – this includes learning time-management skills or bodily self-control, such as yogic breathing exercises.

“I asked them, who earns more, mom or dad? Everyone said, ‘Dad.’ By the end of the workshop, they spoke of their ambition to earn more when they’re older. The workshop changed how they looked at the world, and they understood that it’s possible for things to be different. Later, I was happy to run into a portion of the group and to hear that they’d suddenly developed an interest in local politics.

“The workshop also addresses their [romantic] relationships. For example, many girls didn’t understand that if their boyfriend cuts off their phones or forbids them from meeting with their friends, this is a type of violence. Through the course of the workshop, they internalized what equality in their romantic relationships actually looks like and learned not to allow violence to take place in front of them. Violence is not limited to physical abuse; rather, there are many other forms that must be addressed.”

Workshop participant Sapir Ashrov’s understanding of the world and of WIZO changed last year when she completed the women’s leadership workshop. “I wasn’t aware of the deplorable state of the status of women in Israel. For example, I didn’t know about ‘get’ [Jewish divorce] refusers. I am positive that in the future what I learned will influence my voting choices and my personal life.”

Women’s leadership courses are important tools to help girls connect to the values of feminism and democracy. Through the courses, girls are encouraged to develop themselves, to try to see personal projects through to completion, they develop the ability to stand before the community, to think positively and optimistically, and to learn about the women in their families, to investigate how the choices their grandmothers and mothers made impacted their lives for the better and worse. Not only will girls develop themselves on a personal and political level, they will connect to WIZO, and join the movement bringing an era of change to Israel.

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