ICJW is supporting the campaign “16 Days of Activism against Gender-Based Violence” commencing on November 25, the International Day for the Elimination of Violence against Women, and concluding on International Human Rights Day, December 10.
16 Days of Activism against Gender-Based Violence is an international campaign to challenge violence against women and girls. Today, violence against women and girls is one of the most widespread human rights violations in the world. This period is a special allocated calendar space for all women’s organisations, including ICJW, to raise awareness about violence against women and its impact on a woman’s physical, psychological, social and spiritual well- being. The 2018 theme is ORANGE THE WORLD: #HearMeToo
ICJW affiliates and representatives work year round to deal with domestic violence and spousal abuse, and to counteract the damage done by violence against women and children.
Violence against women is endemic worldwide. Data from 80 different countries show that 35% of all women have been physically or sexually abused by an intimate partner or have experienced non-partner sexual violence. But these statistics certainly don’t tell the whole story. For example, in South Africa there is gross under-reporting: while a quarter of the country’s women has been raped, just 2% of those raped by a partner have reported the incident to police.
Domestic violence in South Africa is not limited to only one segment of society: it does not discriminate by colour, creed, social status or economic wellbeing. And while the figures within the Jewish community are far lower, Jewish women (and some men) are also victims of such attacks.
Following a shocking presentation at the ICJW Convention in 1993 in Johannesburg about the abuse of Israeli women, the South African community realized that abuse was also happening at home and that, although the methods of abuse may differ, the results are the same, and the actions are deplorable, despicable, and heinous. The Union of Jewish Women joined forces with WIZO and the Progressive Movement to launch an organisation called Shalom Bayit. Its primary aim is: To educate the community, and others, about the dangers and impact of domestic abuse. They hold annual seminars, the most recent of which, in August 2018, featured three speakers: a victim of abuse, a lawyer whose focus is domestic abuse, and a social worker from the Chevra Kadisha (the Jewish Helping Hand Society).
Koleinu South Africa was established in 2012 to provide an address to which Jewish victims could turn. A Koleinu helpline was set up with the help of Debbie Gross, founder of Israel’s Crisis Centre for Religious Women and Chairman of the Board for the Israeli Coalition of Rape Crisis Centres. In October 2018 a full-day seminar was held on domestic violence and child abuse, under the auspices of Shalom Bayit and Koleinu, for teachers, religious leaders and parents.
Many women’s organizations in Israel support and run shelters for abused women and their children, as well as programs for the prevention of violence in the family. Na’amat, one of our Israeli affiliates, runs a shelter that is used by 500 women and their children each year.
WIZO, another of our Israel affiliates, has been campaigning to prevent violence against women by lobbying for appropriate legislation, education, information and resource development, women’s professional training and job opportunities, and enforcement. They provide information for victims, and they run advertising campaigns to encourage men to receive professional help to alter their behaviour patterns. They also have a special program for women who are in the process of separating from their spouses.
Pioneers in education, WIZO holds lectures and workshops to increase awareness of domestic violence and about the prevention of sexual harassment in hospitals, child clinics, and schools, and in homes for children who have been exposed to violence. They have designed specific preventative programs for children, teenagers, and men, including a film for teenagers to help them to identify early signs of possible violence in their relationships and learn how to build healthy interactions with their peers. Workshops around this film are held in high schools, in the army, and in academic institutions.
The Israel Family Counseling Association (ALUMA) is supported by NCJW Canada and provides therapeutic counselling for couples, families and individuals. NCJW Australia supports the work of the Haifa Rape Crisis Centre.
In 2007, the Cooperation Feminine – our French affiliate – in cooperation with the Chief Rabbi of France, WIZO and other important Jewish organisations, created a helpline for Jewish women who are victims of domestic violence, known as “NOA: Oser le Dire” meaning “Dare to Speak”. @NoaOserLeDire
NOA’s team of women volunteers listen to the phone callers, who are mostly women of all ages and social conditions, from Monday to Thursday. These volunteers have been trained by a psychologist and they meet regularly to talk about the calls they have received. Most of the women who call are ashamed and they dare not speak to their families or rabbis. They need to speak to another woman who will listen, who is friendly, and who does not judge them and try to help. If requested, the volunteers will direct the callers to a team of doctors, lawyers, psychologists and social workers who are sensitive to the issue.
The NOA volunteers are also concerned about any children who may have witnessed violence, and they work in cooperation with social workers to help them. They are in contact with social workers, different rabbis, president of communities and schools. They are often asked to participate in meetings on the issue, and they also help to educate student rabbis in order to make them aware of the difficult problems linked to the victimisation of women.
At its start, NOA encountered an attitude of denial of the problem from France’s Jewish community. But today attitudes have changed and NOA is now well-known and respected. Calls to the hotline include women asking how to leave a violent husband but not daring to do so, “because of the children”, or “because he doesn’t slap me every day, only when he is angry.”
We all hope and pray that one day there will be no need for all these organizations, and that women all over the world will be freed from this kind of horrific and devastating violence.
Based on information provided by Robyn Lenn OAM, Immediate Past President of ICJW and Chair of the Status of Women Committee; Bev Goldman, National Vice-President, Union of Jewish Women of South Africa; and Aviva Kohlmann, representative of the Council of Women’s Organizations of Israel.