The leader of Israel's first haredi women's party said Monday that it is fighting in next month's general election to give a voice to a group that doesn't have a political voice.
Ruth Kolian, a 33-year-old mother of four, told journalists that she founded the party – "B'Zhutan: Haredi Women Making Change" – to combat wage discrimination, domestic violence and health problems she says are suffered by many haredi women, reports AFP.
The haredi community, who make up about 10% of Israel's population, are a powerful political force in the Jewish state but do not accept women candidates in their parties based on Jewish legal rulings by haredi rabbis.
Israel is holding a general election on March 17 and Kolian said her party has registered nine candidates for the vote.
Among the key issues the party will be promoting, she said, are health problems suffered by women in the community.
She said, for example, that haredi women suffer twice the national average rate of breast cancer deaths, largely because discussion and information on screening are considered "immodest" and therefore taboo.
When the Knesset's health committee held a special session on the issue in November, not one of its 18 haredi MKs – all men – attended.
"It was like a punch in the stomach," she said. "Because we have no representation nobody hears our voice. We are at the bottom of the food chain."
There are plenty of other grievances too.
Haredi women are expected to raise large families, keep house and financially support their spouses who spend their time studying, Kolian said.
They are afraid to complain to secular authorities about domestic abuse because they will be ostracized by their community if they do, she said.
"We will make history"
Kolian said she believes the new party could win five or six seats in the Knesset, but she has no polling data to support that view.
She said the party has raised a campaign fund of just 7,500 shekels ($1900) from private donors, but she is defiant nevertheless.
"With this we shall make history," she said.
She has petitioned Israel's Central Elections Committee to compel haredi newspapers and radio stations to allow the party to advertise with them, something which the community's modesty code says that women cannot do.
Her target audience does not use the secular media, which it regards as a corruptive influence.
Even if word of the party spreads, Kolian said that haredi women have traditionally not voted for whomever they please.
"The haredi woman votes according to what her husband tells her, which is whatever the rabbis decree," she said.
But she hopes to buck the trend and challenge tradition, citing as one of her role models African-American civil rights activist Rosa Parks.
"It's an honor to say her name," Kolian said. "It's no simple matter to stand up and say, 'Stop! You're all wrong.'"