It was because these people had faith that they won wars over other countries. They were good leaders. They received what God promised to them. They closed the mouths of lions, and stopped fire that was burning. They got away from being killed with swords. They were made strong again after they had been weak and sick. They were strong in war. -Hebrews 11:33-34a

Forty years after the death of Golda Meir, Israeli Prime Minister (1969-1973), is to have an institute honoring her legacy. This was announced by WePower at a side event in New York. The event titled “The Accelerator for Political and Public Rural Women Leadership: From Social Involvement to Ad-Hoc Coalitions,” was hosted by an Israeli NGO calledWEPOWER,and held as part of the 62nd UN Conference on the Status of Women.

The event held in the heart of the City’s Times Square, drew collaboration and participation of numerous organizations from the US and Israel such as the Jewish Women’s Foundation, the Hadassa Foundation, Greater Miami Jewish Foundation and the Friedrick Ebert Stiftung and others.

It was in the form of a panel discussion that posed such questions as “can we change the gender gap in politics and higher positions? Can we do it fast and across the board?

Such questions come against the backdrop Israeli women comprise 51.4 percent of the population; of there are 120 women MPs in the Knesset (equivalent of parliament), there are a mere 13 percent elected women in local municipalities, 2 percent women in mayoral positions and zero percent in top managerial positions in government agencies.

I was startled with the paltry statistics of women in elected positions presented in the discussions. Israel is after all, the land of the great Golda Meir.Dubbed the “Iron Lady,” Golda Meir was a strong-minded woman of Israel’s politics in the1960s and 1970s; this was before the accoladebecame said about British prime minister Margaret Thatcher. (Margaret Thatcher was prime minister from 1979 to 1990).

I remember admiring Golda Meir – well-known for two major events during her reign (1969-73): the murder of eleven Israeli athletes at the1972 Summer Olympic Games by the terrorist group Black September, and of course the twenty-day Yom Kippur War between Israel and the Arab states led by Egypt and Syria in October 1973.

Her heroics and candor tremendously inspired me and ignited a championing spirit that is as fresh today as it was then as a young girl.

Golda Meir was the third female prime minister in the world.The world’s first woman prime minister wasSirimavo Bandaranaike; she was elected head of state of Sri Lanka (then called Ceylon). She served from 21 July 1960 to 25 March 1965. The second female prime minister wasIndira Gandhiof India (elected in 1966).

At the WePower event, during the question and answer time of the short two-hour meetings (as usual the CSW sessions tend to be, due to large numbers of activities in the three- week meetings), a delegate from Zimbabwe who is to contest for a seat in parliament sought assistance from the Israeli counterparts to ensure a win by more women in the forthcoming elections.

International Relations Manager for WePower pointed the delegate to the numerous programs that are available at WePower, which was formed in 2000 as an NGO and focuses on advancing women to top and influential positions, especially elected office.

As a rejoinder to the question from my esteemed Zimbabwe colleague, I wanted to find out if the Israeli advocates, use the memory of Golda Meir and other political pioneers like her in their campaigns. In response, I learned that the Golda Meir Heritage Centre is soon to be established in Tel Aviv.

A founding figure in the nation of Israel, Golda Meir served in the Knesset for 25 years, and is undoubtedly one of Israel’s greatest leaders.

The meeting was challenged to look at women heroines from around the globe and use their achievements to propel themselves in their campaigns, as the Gold Meir Heritage Centre embarks on empowering women by promoting and developing local community and political leadership; this would actively include “research and implementation in the fields of women’s leadership in light of Golda Meir’s legacy,” according to the Centre’s managers.

“We are also championing preparing women for elections and political activities,” Diana Tenenbaum said.
Other sections at the Golda Meir Heritage Centre include a tourism centre, politics college, museum of women’s leadership in history.

A museum of women’s leadership in history? This reminded me of my first hero: growing up as a child in the UK, I remember huddling up with my brothers and sister as we fearfully watched the epic drama Joan d’Arc.

There was not a dry eye in the room, as this fearless woman won many battles for her country (France), but was later charged with being a heretic and burnt at the stake in Rouen by the English on 30 May, 1431. In my studies later, especially in high school, I deliberately chose assignments on Joan d’Arc, having captured vivid images of this heroine.

This was my first heroine and I draw strength from her courage. It is the same inspirational courage that I also draw from fearless women like Golda Meir. As WePower upholds, women propel social change!

The Golda Meir Heritage Centre is long overdue. It is a welcomed entity and one I have placed in my bucket list I “Must-See.”

Janet Karim is the author of the forthcoming book Gender Equality: Women are the change you wish to see.

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