Shirin Batshon-Khoury Attends International Visitor Leadership Program in U.S.
In July, Kayan’s Coordinator of the Legal Department Shirin Batshon-Khoury traveled to the United States to participate in a month-long delegation that dealt with women’s rights in the U.S. The trip was organized by the U.S. Embassy in Israel and brought together five Israeli and five Palestinian women. The women traveled to Washington, D.C.; New York City; Manchester, New Hampshire; Sante Fe, New Mexico and Miami, Florida to meet with a number of NGOs and non-profit groups working on human rights for women, minorities, the LGBT community and disabled people. The delegation also met with various state officials.
The U.S. Department of State organized the trip in order to:
- Introduce the women’s rights movement in the U.S., including the historic and contemporary struggles facing women around the world;
- explore women’s access to and participation in the political process at federal, state and city levels;
- review legisltation and laws that grant and protect the rights of women;
- understand the role of civil society advocacy and public awareness raising;
- examine women’s studies programs at universities and student activism for gender equality;
- experience site visits and volunteerism with programs that support women throughout the community such as legal aid clinics and domestic violence shelters;
- learn about the rights and struggles of women from minority ethnic and racial groups; women with disabilities; childless women; and women from the immigrant and LGBT communities;
- meet with organizations that involve older women; and
- observe best practices in leadership development and capacity building.
The trip began in Washington, where the women were given an overview of the U.S. system of government, taught the history of the women’s movement in the U.S., and discussed the role of federal agencies in law enforcement and civil society support and empowerment of women. Shirin had the opportunity to meet with a number of high-level, American women in government, including a lawyer in the U.S. Department of Justice, the former general attorney in New Mexico, and three members of the legislative branch of the state of New Hampshire, all of whom shared their personal experiences as leaders in the American system.
The participants attended a number of workshops in leadership development and women’s rights and empowerment, while discussing their own perceptions and experiences. Shirin observed a number of positive and negative aspects of the American system of law, comparing it with the Israeli system in which she works. For example, the Equality Clause in the U.S. explicitly prohibits discrimination in the workplace on the basis of one’s race. Yet the clause does not include protections based on sexual orientation. In Israel, gay and lesbian employees are protected. Likewise, in New Hampshire there is no paid maternity leave, whereas in Israel this is a fundamental and protected right. Furthermore, if a woman in the U.S. seeks a restraining order in a civil case, she needs to hire a private lawyer, whereas in Israel the state provides public legal representation.
However, most of Shirin’s observations were positive. She was impressed by the office within the U.S. federal government devoted exclusively to the issue of violence against women. She viewed this office as a statement on behalf of the state, and said, “I don’t know if something like this can work in Israel, but this kind of thing gives inspiration, no doubt about it.” In Israel, battered Palestinian women without status are extremely vulnerable and often remain dependent upon abusive spouses. In the U.S., federal law provides protection to women who are able to prove circumstances of domestic violence and a woman can apply for status without her husband’s approval.
Shirin was also inspired by the work of the Asian American Committee in fostering networks and relationships with other minority groups in the U.S. She felt particularly inspired by “the thought of having all the minorities under one umbrella,” and went on to say, “In Israel, this is rare. You have an office that works on women’s issues and a minister that works on Arab issues, but the two are separate.”
The delegation, lasting from July 8 – July 30 allowed Shirin to meet strong female leaders in Israel, the Palestinian Territories and the United States, and gave her an opportunity to view her own legal work from a globally comparative perspective.