Itach-Ma’aki – Women Lawyers for Social Justice
Legal Aid Hotline:
Since restrictions tightened here on March 15th, our hotline has received dozens of calls every week, with more and more calls each day.
Many of the cases are from kindergarten teacher’s assistants, who have been deemed unessential and put out of work when the government shut down the national education system. Another large chunk of our calls have been from workers who were placed on “unpaid leave” and are struggling to claim the unemployment benefits they are due from the National Insurance Institute. Cases surrounding the obstacles to receiving income support benefits owed by the National Insurance Institute have been particularly prevalent on our Be’er Sheva hotline, which deals largely with Bedouin women.
Finally, we’ve received a large number of calls from women who are continuing to work as “essential employees” and are exposed to the virus seeking help protecting their health security. We’ve been able to direct them to municipal resources for their safety and national publications detailing measures they should be taking to ensure their protection.
We’ve also been using our Facebook platform to ensure that women know their rights. It is crucial that women know that even in a crisis, violations to their worker’s rights and to their rights as equal citizens of Israel are unlawful and unacceptable, and that Itach-Ma’aki is there to help. Here you can see an example of one of our posts reminding pregnant women of their unique labor rights and offering our pro-bono support if they believe they have been wronged.
Appeals To Top Decision Makers:
Call for protections and information about health rights
Having listened to the concerns raised on our legal aid hotline, Adv. Maha Shehade-Suitat urgently approached the Ministry of Health and the Ministry of Labor and Social Affairs demanding that they publish clear guidelines for the health and safety of employees who continue to work during isolation, especially cleaning staff, healthcare professionals, restaurant and delivery staff, and nursing home staff. Her letter also addressed the concerns of pregnant workers and demanded that the National Insurance Institution (NII) issue paid medical leave for pregnant women. You can read this letter, in Hebrew, here. After sending the letter, Maha went to the Knesset Special Committee on Labor and Welfare to talk more about these specific needs with the head of the NII — who accepted her demands!
Appeal about the danger of guns: “We don’t need guns in our homes in these tense days”
Recognizing the additional risk guns pose in the home during self-isolation, especially in violent homes, we wrote on behalf of the Gun on the Kitchen Table coalition an urgent letter to the Ministry of Internal Security and the Ministry of Labor and Social Affairs, urging them to collect all work-issued weapons from private homes. The ministries responded that they would do so, and police are in the process of collecting those weapons. This measure will help keep countless women safe.
Letter to the Ministry of Education
Adv. Osnat Ziv, who works on our Tel Aviv hotline, submitted an appeal to the Ministry of Education imploring them to clarify their communication regarding the implementation of workers rights and benefits in educational institutions. The agreement had determined that “non-essential workers” in the public sector would receive paid leave, but many women, in particular Haredi women working in informal institutions, had called our hotline expressing uncertainty around their own eligibility for these rights.
The ministry responded in 24 hours, providing us with the necessary clarifications to assist the many women who had called our hotline with concerns about this matter.
Call to halt Negev housing demolitions
On March 20th, Itach-Ma’aki and 22 other civil society organizations sent an urgent letter to the Attorney General demanding that they put an end to the housing demolitions taking place in the Negev during the COVID-19 crisis. You can read our letter here.
In their reply, the municipality wrote that enforcement authorities are not blind to the current emergency and the particular hardships it places on populations such as the Bedouin in the Negev. They informed us that they intend to reduce the number of demolition orders, limiting them to new illegal constructions.
Appeal for the full reinstatement of welfare services
Seeing the responses to our questionnaire about women’s needs during this crisis, we and other legal aid organizations sent an appeal to the Directors General of the Ministry of the Interior and the Ministry of Labor and Social Affairs, pleading the case for the reinstatement of full social services. The Knesset Committee on Social Services reviewed it. Two days later, we received word that access to social services was to be improved.
We also submitted a position paper on the matter as part of a discussion at the Knesset’s Special Committee on Labor and Welfare, together with partners in other organizations and the Social Workers Union, and presented about the issue at the Intersectoral Roundtable on Women. Following these discussions, the emergency regulations were amended and most of the social workers were permitted to return to work.
Representation of women in the National Security Office
It’s hard to believe that this would still be happening in 2020, but the National Security Office appointed a male-only team of experts to outline the government’s policy for addressing the crisis brought on by COVID-19. In response, we approached the Prime Minister and demanded, as the law requires, that this crucial team of specialists includes women from a variety of population groups, including Arab and Ultra-Orthodox women who are uniquely affected by this crisis and whose needs are going entirely unaddressed. We also filed a petition to the High Court of Appeals on the matter, authored by Adv. Netta Loevy alongside the Rakman Center in the name of 13 organizations. An article about that petition was published in Globes, which you can read (in Hebrew) here.
Reinstating the Mayor’s Advisors on Gender Equality
We filed a petition to the High Court of Justice this week that urged the government to recognize municipal Mayor’s Advisors on Gender Equality as essential workers. Adv. Dana Myrtenbaum and Adv. Shirin Batshon, who both work closely with the Mayor’s Advisors in their capacities with our City for All project, argue that these advisors play a crucial role in policymaking by coordinating the municipality’s action on preventing violence, mitigating the economic impact on women, and urging the government to include more women and their perspectives in decision-making processes. Their omission from decision-making spaces during a crisis, they argue, will leave women particularly vulnerable.
Representation for women in the emergency coalition government
Prior to the formation of the emergency coalition government, we approached the Prime Minister and the Civil Service Commissioner to make sure that the upcoming government appointments would show an equal representation of gender. We demanded that new appointments be made to include more and more women until equality is achieved, especially amongst the directors of ministries. We will continue to follow-up with this as it develops further.
Protecting pregnant workers
Together with the Forum for the Enforcement of Workers’ Rights, we successfully petitioned before the High Court of Justice for the repeal of the emergency regulations that forced women to choose between economic security and the potential health of their baby. This was reported in two Haaretz articles about the appeal and the cancellation of the regulations.
Adv. Maha Shehade-Suitat wrote a letter to the Ministry of Health asking them to author and distribute guidelines regarding the protections in place for pregnant women, as well as for other essential workers that are exposed to the virus. Adv. Osnat Ziv and Adv. Maha Shehade-Suitat authored an appeal to the Association of Gynecologists asking them to acknowledge pregnant women who are forced to work with increased exposure to the virus as eligible for “bed rest benefits.”
Discrimination against 18-20 year-old Arab youth
Many Arab women under the age of 20 who were fired or forced to take unpaid vacation have been considered ineligible for unemployment benefits. This discriminatory policy would have forced many young people in an already-vulnerable portion of society to deteriorate into poverty, deepening an already-wide social gap. Adv. Maha Shehade-Suitat, together with the Association for Civil Rights in Israel and Adalah – the Arab Minority Rights Center in Israel, wrote a letter to decision-makers demanding that fired Arab youth receive the social services they are owed. You can listen to Maha’s interview on Radio A-Shams (in Arabic) here.
In The Corona Crisis, Women Are The First To Get Hurt.
Netta Loevy, Mekomit.
“During the corona crisis as in wartime,” writes our Policy and Advocacy Director Adv. Netta Loevy, “women’s rights issues are required to wait. The prices women pay are less heard in the media, but will have heavy, long-lasting, and decisive impacts on women and girls, and society as a whole. Concern for women’s rights should be an integral part of addressing the current crisis.”
Netta’s article is based on the conversations had during our emergency Zoom meeting with our 1325 Steering Committee members — each of them experts and activists involved in numerous organizations who work to represent and protect women across the country. You can read Netta’s article here.
The Obvious Generals.
Ela Alon and Mazal Saul, Haaretz.
Together with the CEO of Koach L’Nashim, our CEO Ela Alon published an article in Haaretz about what’s happening in government while we’re all focused on the corona crisis, and the gendered implications of current government action.
“Men are the ones in charge of managing the corona crisis despite the fact that public health is a female-dominated realm,” they write. “In the political-political sphere, too, discussions are being conducted with nearly no women or other disadvantaged populations.”
These two champions of women’s civil society in Israel prod: what kind of result can we expect when crucial discourse takes place without women at the table? You can read their article here.
Corona Is Not The Only Dangerous Thing Happening In Israel Right Now.
Ela Alon, Mako.
With women absent from decision-making bodies, our CEO Adv. Ela Alon writes, our male decision-makers have been ignoring the sensitive needs of populations at risk — as if leaving them behind them won’t massively impact society.
“It is clear to all of us that beyond stopping the spread of the virus, the corona crisis has and will continue to have widespread consequences for all of society. It is important to remember that there are additional risks to the population, beyond the virus itself, and our failure to respond to them will make matters worse.” You can read Ela’s article here.
Maha Shehade-Suitat. Radio A-Shams.
Adv. Maha Shehade-Suitat was interviewed on the popular Arabic-language Israeli radio station, Radio A-Shams, about the letter she wrote together with other legal aid organizations demanding the end to the discriminatory anti-Arab welfare and social services policies. You can listen to her interview here.
Israel Sees A Rise In Domestic Violence Amid The Coronavirus Crisis
Eetta Prince-Gibson, Moment.
For this article, Eetta Prince-Gibson spoke with experts in the field of domestic violence in order to sort out the concerns of women suffering and of crisis centers and legal aid organizations as they try to protect women against the increased violence they are facing. Adv. Maha Shehade is interviewed, alongside the executive director of the Association of Rape Crisis Centers and the head of the women’s advancement division of WIZO.
Maha spoke about femicide in the Arab sector and the ways in which authorities have long neglected the needs of Arab women. “Most of these problems are not new,” she says, “but the corona crisis has both created new problems and placed a magnifying glass over the existing situation.” You can read the full article here.
Whose Security Are We Worried About?
Peri Feldstein, Times of Israel.
We recommend reading this article (in English!) by Peri Feldstein, our excellent intern who came to us through the New Israel Fund’s Social Justice Fellowship. Peri’s article discusses the ways in which certain civil, social, and human rights of the most at-risk are marginalized and ignored during crises, and explains the societal impact of the “good excuses” our mostly-male policymakers are using to bulldoze our rights.
Protections for Tel Aviv’s most vulnerable
Itach-Ma’aki submitted a letter alongside Achoti and 17 other civil society organizations to the Tel Aviv-Yaffo municipality proposing 9 provisions for the maintenance of society and the protection of the city’s most vulnerable. Those provisions included measures such as temporary childcare solutions for essential workers who are single parents, grocery coupons for the poor, and municipal tax exemptions for the at-risk, among others.
In response, a senior official at the municipality scheduled a weekly Zoom conference with our 19-organization coalition to brainstorm best solutions for extending social services. This is quite the achievement, and we are excited to bring our unique gender approach to these conversations.
Civil Society coalition for the implementation of the UN’s 2030 Agenda Sustainable Development Goals
Alongside our partners in the Agenda 2030 CSOs Coalition, we have started examining the corona crisis, both globally and locally, through the SDG lens. This crisis poses major challenges to many of our partners in civil society efforts — with more work but less time and budget for action. We do, however, appreciate the opportunity for numerous collaborative initiatives and joint calls to the government at this time. In order to support and broaden collaborative efforts, we started a Facebook group for the dozens of NGOs in our SDGs coalition.
Itach-Ma’aki is leading the Agenda 2030 CSOs Coalition together with the Heschel Center and Manhigut Ezrachit, in collaboration with Henrich Boell Foundation.
Closed At Home: The Gendered Lens of the COVID-19 Crisis — a panel with Standing Together
Adv. Netta Loevy, our Policy and Advocacy Director, spoke on a panel organized by Standing Together about the problems that arise when we treat a public health crisis like we treat a war and how the consequences are felt most deeply by women. Simultaneously, women are excluded from decision-making bodies and positions of influence where they might be able to raise their concerns, Netta said in her presentation, resulting in a severe lack of protections for women. You can learn more about this panel and the participants here.
Giving from the Heart national matching campaign
Itach-Ma’aki has been included among 12 NGOs participating in the National Giving from the Heart Campaign. As such, any donation we receive through the end of April will be matched by philanthropic foundations. This is a great opportunity for our supporters to double their impact, and an incredible opportunity for Itach-Ma’aki to widen the circle of women who receive assistance from us. We published this campaign on Facebook and over email through our English and Hebrew newsletters. The campaign can be accessed here.
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