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IRAC – Fighting Gender Segregation on Public Buses
(IRAC versus the Ministry of Transportation, Egged and Dan Bus Companies)
Opened: Petition filed April 30, 2007
Decision: Case Closed; Court ruled that gender segregation on public buses is illegal
Issues: Women’s Rights, Gender Segregation, Religious Coercion
Facts of the Case:
Mehadrin buses are public bus lines run by the state bus company Egged that impose extreme religious practices, separating men and women as well as requiring “modest” dress for women (long skirts, no pants, covered sleeves and collar bones, etc). Women must board and sit only in the back of the bus. Beginning with only a couple of lines in 1998, there are not more than 50 such segregated bus lines across Israel. These buses are not well marked, are often cheaper, and are sometimes the only option for transportation from one city to the next. Women have been verbally and/or physically attacked and even, in some cases, denied entrance to the buses for not adhering to these segregation or modesty rules.
In 2007, IRAC filed a petition against Egged and the Ministry of Transportation representing five women who were verbally and/or physically abused on public bus lines that enforce gender segregation. Since then, there have been multiple Supreme Court hearings. In the first of these, in early 2008, the judges asked the Ministry of Transportation to create a committee looking into the segregated buses in order to determine whether the bus lines would run with the same policies or whether changes needed to be made in order to adhere to the law.
Two years later, the committee finally presented its findings to the Supreme Court after many delays by the Ministry of Transportation in creating the committee—initially it only included men from the bus company, but IRAC succeeded in getting women and representatives from the Ministry of Justice appointed to it—and then in releasing the findings. The committee argued that the bus lines should continue only under “voluntary segregation,” as forced segregation is illegal. The court asked that there be a trial period of voluntary segregation on these bus lines until the next hearing, during which the State was required to monitor these lines to see whether any further discrimination or abuse against women continued as a result of the segregation.
When IRAC noticed that the State was not monitoring incidents on these buses, we collected data ourselves with a network of volunteers and partner organizations. The final hearing on the case took place in November of 2010, and the State insisted that there were no problems on the segregated buses. But the court was more influenced by IRAC’s hard evidence that reported numerous cases of harassment, abuse, and even women being denied entrance to the bus.
The judges ruled that gender segregation on public buses was illegal, stating that “A public transportation operator, like any other person, does not have the right to order, request or tell women where they may sit simply because they are women…they must sit wherever they like.” Unfortunately, as they cannot prevent men and women on these bus lines from voluntarily separating themselves, the court did not insist upon ending the practice, continuing to allow the back doors to be opened for women to enter. Therefore, IRAC will continue to monitor these buses and will bring further issues of abuse or discrimination to Egged and the Ministry of Transportation directly, as per the judges’ suggestion. In addition, the judges ruled that Egged must establish a system for receiving complaints from women passengers.
After this long, protracted legal battle, the Supreme Court finally declared in January of 2011 that mandatory gender segregation on any public bus is illegal. Signs are now required on all formerly segregated buses stating that all passengers have the right to sit wherever they choose. While this is a major victory for IRAC in the courts, on the ground we are still monitoring the buses to ensure that the court decision is upheld.
IRAC has been continuing to monitor the segregated buses for the past six months to ensure that there is no forced segregation. A fulltime IRAC volunteer and several other volunteers have been riding different bus lines regularly in order to gather data about the buses and report on any abuses of the court decision. In general, we are seeing an improvement in the bus drivers’ behavior, with them helping women who are harassed. However, we are still receiving complaints of harassment and IRAC will file new law suits in 2011 on behalf of the women who have been harassed.