ICJW has created an international Jewish Women Lawyers Corps to provide free legal advisory services to Jewish women around the world who are experiencing legal difficulties. In appropriate cases, these volunteers will litigate cases involving infringement of women’s rights, in addition to lobbying and drafting legislation where necessary.
Sharon Shenhav, J.D. has launched this project in response to the election in several countries of politicians whose agenda is to dismantle hard-fought legislation which protected the rights of women in the areas of health, equality in employment, marriage, divorce, custody of children, control over reproduction, domestic violence, immigration, guardianship and others.
She says: “Despite substantial progress on women’s issues in the past few decades, we are now witnessing a dangerous regression which will impact on the lives of women and their children. Much of the awareness of women’s rights and the progress made in enacting legislation to protect those rights is the result of a growing cadre of female lawyers in the past half-century. Success in obtaining court rulings in favor of women’s rights is a direct result of the intervention of female lawyers and the appointment of female judges.”
WHO ARE THE VOLUNTEERS?
Sharon recognizes that many of her generation of female legal activists are now retired, but still healthy and energetic. Knowledgeable and experienced, they are eager to use their legal skills as volunteers to promote women’s rights. She hopes that they will play a leadership role in the international corps of Jewish women lawyers. In addition, there are a many younger Jewish women lawyers who have left demanding full-time careers in order to raise children, but who may be willing to contribute their skills on a part-time voluntary basis. Many other successful Jewish women lawyers in private practice are interested in taking on pro-bono cases and would contribute their skills to aiding women. There is also a large cadre of female Jewish law students who are interested in being mentored by seasoned lawyers and contributing to their efforts with research and support services.
ICJW decided in 2017 to establish its International Jewish Women Lawyers Corps, and has already received a positive response from many of its affiliate organizations in the US, Canada, UK, Poland, Israel, Finland, Australia, Czech Republic, and Switzerland, where there are women who are interested in establishing a corps in their countries. Sharon has been networking with Jewish women lawyers and judges around the world in order to gather their support for the corps and to recruit volunteers.
BENEFITS TO THE VOLUNTEERS
In addition to the personal and professional satisfaction afforded by getting involved with important issues of women’s rights, corps volunteers will have opportunities to meet with local colleagues to discuss challenges, problems and solutions, as well as networking with international colleagues who are confronting similar issues. They will have opportunities to learn about areas of law that may be new to them, such as Jewish marriage and divorce, sexual harassment, immigration law, employment discrimination, health rights including reproductive rights, elderly rights, sex trafficking, domestic violence, etc. Corps groups will be encouraged to organize workshops and seminars on these topics. The Jewish Women Lawyers’ Corps will provide valuable mentorship opportunities, as well as opportunities for friendship, networking and professional development to all participants.
Since launching the JWLC in November 2017, Sharon met with Jewish women lawyers from France, Argentina, Colombia, South Africa, Australia, Canada, the U.S. and Israel at the International Association of Jewish Lawyers and Jurists in Jerusalem. She met with five lawyers and a retired Judge in London, as well as representatives of the Paper Weight Trust, a London-based organization which offers free legal advice. They hope to establish the first JWLG free legal advisory service in London in coming months.
In the United States, Sharon met with female lawyers in New York City, Washington, D.C., San Francisco and Los Angeles and has established groups in each city who are ready to establish free legal advisory services. Several of these lawyers are partners in major law firms and are recruiting colleagues, as well as donating funds to the project through the Friends of ICJW Foundation, which is a a 501(c)(3) organization in the U.S.
ICJW’s affiliate in the U.S., the National Council of Jewish Women, has offered space in their New York offices where JWLC volunteer lawyers can offer their services. Carol Gilligan, a world famous psychologist and a teacher at the NYU Law School, is recruiting her academic colleagues as well as law students to participate.
In Israel, a group of six women lawyers in Petach Tikvah has organized to provide free legal advisory services. One of the group is married to an Orthodox rabbi with connections to the ultra-orthodox (Haredi) community and we are hoping to establish the service in Bnei Brak and Har Nof, major Haredi communities in Israel.
ABOUT THE DIRECTOR
Sharon Finkel Shenhav, an international women’s rights lawyer, has been recognized as an expert on marriage and divorce in Jewish law. Based in Jerusalem, she was educated in the U.S., receiving a B.A. in Sociology from the University of Chicago and a J.D. (Doctor of Jurisprudence) from the Georgetown University School of Law in Washington, D.C. She has represented hundreds of women in Rabbinical Courts in Israel. In 1997, Sharon established and became the Director of the International Jewish Women’s Rights Project, a joint project of ICJW and the Jerusalem Center for Public Affairs, which was committed to restoring fairness and justice for women in the religious divorce process. Sharon has lectured in over 25 countries and has served as a consultant to lawyers, judges, rabbis and legislators worldwide. She has been a member of the Israeli delegation to the United Nations Commission on Status of Women. In December, 2002, she was elected to the Commission to Appoint Dayanim (Religious Court Judges) in Israel. She was re-elected to a second three year term in December, 2005 and was the only woman to serve on this statutory commission. In 2009 Sharon was awarded the Israeli Feminist of the Year Award by the National Council of Jewish Women.
Our picture shows Sharon Shenhav with Jewish women lawyers from the International Association of Jewish Lawyers and Jurists at their conference in Jerusalem, December 2017.
For more information about the JWLC, please contact: [email protected]