Don't run a 'manel'

The importance of including female voices

The idea behind the bureau was to make it easier for organisations to do the right thing and find women for their panels.

Nomi Kaltmann.
Nomi Kaltmann.

arlier this year, I opened The AJN and saw an advertisement for what looked like an interesting panel being hosted at a synagogue in Melbourne. It was focused on the media and Israel and how the conflict is being reported in Australia.

I thought it would be interesting to attend the panel and hear about how local press and the media are handling a complex conflict where reporting requires sensitivity and nuance.

However, upon closer inspection I realised it featured three male panellists. I rolled my eyes. No way would I be interested in going to hear the panel anymore. No matter how interesting the topic is, on principle, my policy is to avoid attending “manels”.

Manels, short-hand for man-only panels, have been very common for many years. It means when an organisation invites only male speakers and does not have any female representation on their panel.

It’s frustrating that our Jewish community, which is usually so innovative and cutting edge in its approach in so many areas, still needs a reminder to invite women to panels. Women account for 50 per cent of Australia’s population, and in our Jewish community, represent half of the Jews in this country.

There are a slew of eminently qualified female journalists, experts on Jewish history, Israel advocates, and writers that could be invited to speak on a panel such as this.

I find it shocking that we are still having these conversations in the 21st century. It’s so boring and dated. Surely if the Jewish community wants to be successful into the future, it should remember to include women in leadership and on panels? How does a modern institution forget to include women in 2024? It’s frustrating and tiring.

However, I don’t just blame the institutions alone that host these men-only manels.

If men were being decent and considerate, they would do one of two things. They would suggest to the institution that they have forgotten to invite a woman to also speak on the panel. Or, if this courteous reminder fails, then they could take a stand and refuse to sit on a men-only panel.

Women’s rights have advanced with the assistance of men who are allies. And any man who agrees to sit on a male-only panel is implicitly providing agreement that in the 21st century it is okay to exclude women from important discussions. And that they are comfortable being in a space where the voices of women are missing. That’s not acceptable either.

I know that many synagogues and institutions are trying to do better in this area. And this is not a uniquely Jewish problem. But there is still room for improvement. And if we allow something like this to go unchallenged and without any ramification, we allow the problem to fester and continue.

If anyone in Australia’s Jewish community is looking for qualified female speakers, there are some fantastic initiatives to be aware of. In 2021, the Jewish Orthodox Feminist Alliance Australia (JOFA), the organisation I founded and am the inaugural president of, created a women’s speakers bureau. It can be found at jofaaustralia.com and lists more than 70 Australian women from across the country who are qualified to speak on a range of topics.

The idea behind the bureau was to make it easier for organisations to do the right thing and find women for their panels.

Likewise, the National Council of Jewish Women Victoria (NCJWA Vic) has many women listed on their Jewish women’s speakers directory (ncjwavic.org.au) who have indicated their willingness to speak publicly on panels and at events.

A quick perusal of these pages will show that Australian women are a really talented bunch. There are doctors and lawyers. There are barristers and judges. There are midwives and nurses. There are accountants and teachers. There are mothers and kallah teachers. They are Jewish educators and Rebbetzins. There are financial planners and philanthropists.

If you are looking for a qualified woman, you can find one, no problem, to speak on your panel.

Women have put themselves forward. They are ready and waiting. They just want the chance to speak! We can and should do better. Australian women deserve the opportunity to be heard.

If you run a community organisation or synagogue and are putting together a panel or discussion, do the right thing. Don’t run a manel. Have women represented in public. They are ready and waiting to speak.

Nomi Kaltmann is president of the Jewish Orthodox Feminist Alliance Australia (JOFA).

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