On the 21st of October, Kayan contributed for the first time to the Adalah Conference for Arab law students in Neve Shalom under the heading of “Legal Tools for Achieving Social Justice”. Along with other organisations concerned with Arab human rights issues, Kayan introduced its work to interested undergraduates by taking part in a “human rights fair” at which interns Megan Leatherman and Kim Zinngrebe represented and explained the work of Kayan’s Legal Department to the students. Moreover, Kayan’s Legal
Department Coordinator, Shirin Batshon, conducted a workshop which addressed the topic “Gender and the Law” exposing fourteen female and male participants to the complexities and controversies of Israeli civil and religious law regarding Arab women’s rights.
By default Israeli law is by no means gender neutral. To raise awareness of violations of women’s rights within the religious court system, in particular, Shirin presented an analysis of family law structures in Israel. Following the presentation, an open debate included questions such as whether there should be a civil legal system in Israel covering all areas based on the continuing
gender discrimination by religious courts or whether religious courts should be maintained based on an argument of the need to protect Arab rights to independent and institutional legal authority. Some of the participants felt very comfortable with the topic of gender and law having already dealt with it academically in the past. Interestingly, male and female students’ perspectives on this question differed significantly: whilst male students felt strongly about the need to prevent state interference with religious courts in order to preserve some sense of Arab legal autonomy in certain areas, female students expressed a clear concern about this argument claiming it to be a big excuse of the patriarchal elements within Arab society which, amongst other things, legitimise crimes against human and equal rights such as honour killings.
The workshop, furthermore, explored topics such as the level of involvement of the High Court of Justice when defending gender equality. Concerning interference in religious courts – which has indeed taken place in the past regarding issues such as women’s participation as arbitrators in Shari’a courts – it can be argued that the High Court of Justice does not sufficiently intervene in such matters. Shirin challenged the students to think about the essential message of the Israeli legal system and its inherent contradictions. Although officially, the State of Israel is a signatory to the United Nations Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination against Women, it simultaneously refuses to challenge procedural gender-based discrimination in the religious courts which continues to harm Arab women. Thus, the discussion addressed the contradictory behaviour of the state which maintains the religious court systems despite being aware of their negative effects on women.
Kayan’s participation in the conference was widely received as successful. Whilst Kayan’s interns felt that many students coming to the NGO fair were either very curious about Kayan’s legal work or already knew about it, Shirin described her workshop and the conference in general as having been an effective way of drawing Arab law students’ attention to the ways in which their academic qualifications can be employed for social change within the Arab community.