Kayan is proud to be a part of Haifa Women’s Coalition, a union of four organizations working under the same roof in Haifa for the actualization of women’s rights. This series of articles aims to give insight into the organizations of the coalition to broaden an understanding of how feminist organizations are working together to promote women’s rights in Israel and Palestine.
Regardless gender, age, socio-economic background or geographic placement, everyone should be able to enjoy equal rights as citizens. Itach-Maiki – Women Lawyers for Social Justice, works to actualize human rights of women at the margins of society, creating change through both society and the legal system. Itach-Maiki strives to make the law more accessible in order to increase women’s knowledge of their rights.
Founded in 2001 and now active with offices in Haifa, Tel Aviv and Beersheva, Itach-Maiki works to address the distinct needs of each region, as well issues that all women deal with, as for example sexual violence and discrimination in the labor market. Services vary from the provision of legal advice and consultation for women through a legal hotline, to rights advocacy vis-à-vis the authorities and civil society.
In Haifa, Itach-Maiki’s key programs include the Women Legal Leaders initiative and the Feminist Legal Clinic Program in cooperation with the University of Haifa’s Faculty of Law. This program engages law students and women from diverse communities with the aim of challenging legal obstacles that women face. The program encourages participants to recognize and discuss the problems women face and how these are connected to the law and social change. The organization is at the center of a critical dialogue concerning the role of social movements not only in legal reform, but also in the interpretation of how the law is implemented. The organization invests considerable effort in the recruitment of participants in order to ensure as diverse a group as possible – including socio-economic background, age and sexual orientation. In addition to Arabic and Hebrew, staff advocate Revital Kishinevsky hopes the organization will soon be able to publish legal resources in additional languages in order to reach an even broader target audience in Israel.
Kayan’s Legal Department and Itach-Maiki have much in common; both aiming to provide women knowledge of their rights, as well as the tools to demand them and lead a social change in their communities. Socio-economically marginalized women are often unaware of the law or unable to actualize rights that should include all citizens of Israel. To alter the status quo, Kayan and Itach-Maiki collaborate to offer rights education courses and lectures for women about: employment rights, violence against women, feminism, and empowerment. This ongoing and natural cooperation enables each organization to benefit from the other’s expertise in a joint call for action at the local and national levels.
Though Itach-Maiki and Kayan often focus on similar issues, their methods are distinct. While Kayan has worked for years with a large number of community-based women’s associations, Itach-Maiki has maintained its program for over two years with the same group of participants. After the program the group either continue independently, or the group ends. Itach goal is to start up and develop a dynamic group that can work as a voice and face in the public sphere in a specific topic. To empower the women to become Legal Leaders, the group members participate in an intensive course series about feminism and diverse aspects of the law. Kishinevsky stressed that after the group is consolidated, it is the participants themselves who determine the issues about which they will work and the channels they will employ. Non-hierarchical – a key strength of the model – the staff, law students and grassroots women each contribute their own knowledge and diverse experiences. Since the group is responsible for its own trajectory, the focus and objectives of the program have varied over the years; points of interest have included discrimination against disabled women in the domain of healthcare and of the myriad barriers faced by Palestinian, Druze, Jewish and Bedouin women in divorce proceedings.
Currently, the program aims to highlight an ongoing erosion of the rights of Palestinian women in the workforce, an issue for both Kayan and Itach-Maiki. Many women remain uninformed of their rights and the state does little to ensure enforcement of labor law in the Palestinian society. Since 2008, Kayan has advocated women’s economic and labor rights, including fair wages and protection from sexual harassment in the workplace. Kayan has worked extensively to empower Arab local authority appointees for the promotion of the status of women regarding gender-based discrimination in the workplace and employers’ obligations to ensure a secure and equitable work environment.
The existence of parallel civil and religious court systems in Israel has implications for the equal treatment of women. Where these separate court systems have overlapping authority regarding personal status issues, jurisdiction falls to the first court in which the case is filed. This so-called “race of authorities” is problematic for several reasons. Firstly, the court that “captures” the case will maintain jurisdiction should it be reopened in the future. Therefore, even though the parties may not be in conflict at the outset, should a woman later decide to pursue legal recourse, she may find herself with asymmetric rights in the religious system. Furthermore, when a woman experiences marital difficulties that might not necessarily warrant legal action, because she may not want to risk standing before the religious court, she may be compelled to open a case in the civil court as a precautionary measure. Such pressures limit women’s choices to work through problems independent of the courts and can have lasting negative consequences.
Itach-Maiki and Kayan have successfully cooperated to increase knowledge about the legal system and guide women through these complicated processes. In the Rights of Druze Women in Divorce, the partners sought to address the widespread disenfranchisement of Druze women, who frequently lose property or custody over their children, and are often ostracized from their communities after divorce. The project aimed to increase rights awareness among Druze women, as well as challenge community prejudices concerning women’s divorce and property rights. The program was unique in its mission and achievements, and was responsible for bringing this issue to the public discourse for the first time.
To make women’s voices heard in the public sphere, Itach-Maiki advocates gender-inclusive public decision-making through court petitions and direct engagements with governmental institutions. The organization’s ongoing advocacy work is critical to apply pressure not only upon the courts and governmental officials, but also throughout the public discourse. It is therefore essential that the issues brought up are both derived from the women’s self-articulated needs and requests, and that the women themselves take the lead in resulting activism and advocacy. More than anything, it is this fundamental principal that Kayan shares with Itach-Maiki; both organizations seek to empower women at the grassroots to create sustainable social change.
For more information about the work of Itach-Maiki, please visit their website.