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This Woman Was Forced To Switch Seats In A Flight To Accommodate Orthodox Men Who Refused To Sit Beside Her Because She Is A Woman.

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I have always wondered why men and women can’t just get along and have live in harmony together in this concrete jungle that we’ve built together. But, then I remember that this crushing patriarchy will never allow it. Men, I have realised, have this distinct urge to prove they are always better at everything than women are. From things as insignificant as driving to well, running a country. It’s just the way of the world. 

What can we do except try and try to close the divide? Which of course is a herculean task. But recently, it’s started to feel like every time we make some progress, we have twenty more incidents to prove that we have not moved forward at all. 

Having said that, today I wanted to discuss an incident that is the very definition of gender discrimination. You see, a British-Israeli woman is suing EasyJet airline because they demanded that she give up her seat on a flight because an uber orthodox man refused to sit beside her. Why? Well, because she was a woman. 

Now women are being treated as untouchables in parts of the world. This just keeps getting better. 

Melanie Wolfson, who moved to Israel 13 years ago, lives in Tel Aviv and this happened with her while she on a flight to London. In the complaint filed on her behalf by the Israel Religious Action Center (the advocacy arm of the Reform movement in Israel), she is demanding 66,438 shekels (approx Rs 14,50,447) in compensation from the airline. 

According to the complaint, Melanie, who is a professional fundraiser, said that she had paid extra money to get an aisle seat on the flight on October 10. However, when she reached her seat, an ultra-orthodox man and his son were already seated in the row beside her. As soon as she sat down, the son climbed into the seat behind them (to avoid physical contact with her, presumably) and started looking for male passengers that she could switch seats with. A few minutes later, he came back and the father asked her to switch seats with a man who was seated in front of them. 

Talking to Haaretz, an Israeli newspaper, Melanie said that she was incredibly, “insulted and humiliated” by the request. She said, “It was the first time in my adult life that I was discriminated against for being a woman. I would not have had any problem whatsoever switching seats if it were to allow members of a family or friends to sit together, but the fact that I was being asked to do this because I was a woman was why I refused.” 

Even though she kept refusing, the father kept insisting that she switch seats. According to the complaint, he was extremely careful to not even look her in the eyes while speaking to her. After a while, the flight attendant intervened and asked Melanie to switch seats. She also offered her a hot beverage free of charge for the inconvenience. Begrudgingly, Melanie had no choice but to move since she feared she would delay the flight. 

I think it will take a lot more than one hot beverage to make up for this kind of discrimination. I understand that being an extremely orthodox person means that you can’t sit next to or speak to a woman who is not related to you. The problem here is that the men expected her to move because she was the woman. That is downright sexist. 

Anyway, after this incident, Melanie lodged an official complaint with EasyJet and told them about her having to move seats and how that was a violation of the anti-discrimination laws. But she did not receive a revert to her complaint. 

And then a little while after that, this happened with Melanie again. She was flying to London with EasyJet once more when two Orthodox men asked her to move seats. She flat out refused this time. And eventually, two female passengers agreed to switch seats with the men so they wouldn’t have to sit next to a woman. 

Seriously?! And not one person saw a problem with this?. Just because you follow a certain faith doesn’t mean you can inconvenience and discriminate against others. This time around as well, the flight attendants did nothing to support her. But they did offer her another hot beverage. Now, I think they make extra hot beverages for all the women who go through this. 

After this second incident, 38-year-old Melanie decided to file a lawsuit against the airline and demand compensation. She is also demanding that EasyJet specifically state in its guidelines that their employees are prohibited from asking women to switch seats because of their gender and that they must be allowed to sit in their assigned seats.  

Also Read: Women In Switzerland Screamed For A Whole Minute To Protest Against The Pay Gap And Domestic Abuse. Will They Be Heard?

EasyJet is being sued for violating an Israeli law enacted in 2000, which prohibits discrimination against customers on the basis of their race, religion, nationality, land of origin, gender, sexual orientation, political views or personal status. 

This is not the first time an incident like this has happened. Many women before Melanie have been asked to shift seats on an airline because orthodox men refuse to sit beside them. 

In their religion, it is prohibited for them to sit next to or talk to a woman who is not their wife. Okay, understandable. It’s their faith. And though a lot of people wouldn’t see it this way, what is not okay is discriminating against someone because they are of a particular gender. Being a woman does not make us untouchables! Also, people need to stop using religion as a viable excuse for discriminating against women. Because it’s not. 

I just find it very hard to believe that even in 2020, after all those dialogues, monologues, women marches and protests, gender discrimination continues unabated. 

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