Naomi Dickson, CEO of Jewish Women’s Aid
In the first two months of this year, seventy women have called Jewish Women’s Aid (JWA) seeking help in their abusive relationships. This is double what we received in the same period last year. Seventy women who are being physically, mentally, sexually, financially and emotionally bullied, harassed and controlled in their intimate and closest relationships. Women who felt unsafe in their own homes, who feared for their children, and who were brave enough to make a phone call, and to name what was happening to them as abuse.
Is this progress? Over the last two years, JWA has experienced a sharp and sustained increase in the number of women seeking support from us. People often ask me if this means that there is more domestic abuse happening in our community. I am pretty sure that the answer to that is no. What we are seeing is women who are empowered to pick up the phone and call us. Women who are courageous enough to call out the behaviour of their partner, and who are prepared to take the first, very brave step to a life without fear.
Mostly, the women calling us are not those who have been abused for the first time in their relationships. They are women who have lived in an abusive relationship for years – they have experienced controlling behaviour from their partner over a period of time, behaviour which has worsened and escalated until she feels increasingly unsafe for herself and for her children, and until she feels she has no option other than to seek help.
Women are feeling empowered to call us for several reasons. Domestic abuse has risen in the public consciousness over recent years through governmental campaigns, media storylines, proposed changes in law and MPs and celebrities speaking out. Jewish Women’s Aid has played its part too – we have chosen to make our awareness-raising campaigns bigger and bolder, and these in turn have been supported by an increasing number of community leaders, speaking out against domestic abuse. We have reached out to greater numbers of community professionals – rabbis, rebbetzens, therapists, welfare workers, healthcare professionals and emergency services personnel – and given them the tools to identify, signpost and support women who are victims of domestic abuse.
Is this progress? Yes it is. The Anglo-Jewish community now acknowledges that domestic abuse is an issue in a way it has never done before. Women are reaching out for support to JWA with the encouragement of their friends, doctors, rabbis, rebbetzens and family.
But I would like to see a community where women don’t need to feel that they have to wait until the abuse escalates before seeking help, where they are educated to identify it at an early stage. I’d like every professional in our community to understand the prevalence and presentation of domestic abuse so that they can support the women who need it. And I’d like every young person to be educated to avoid abusive relationships through JWA’s healthy relationships in schools programmes, and our Safer Dating sessions for students and young professionals.
Seventy women in two months is too high – together with the community we need to prevent domestic abuse happening in the first place, and that is the progress we need to push for.
Michelle Mitchell, Head of Major Giving at World Jewish Relief
I’ve been working in the fundraising team at World Jewish Relief for nearly six years. During that time, I have also been fortunate to have two gorgeous daughters, who are four and nearly one. At the end of my first maternity leave with my eldest, I reduced my working hours from full time to three days a week. Between having the two girls, I was also promoted twice.
I’ve worked very hard over this (slightly manic) period in my life, but I have also been fortunate to be employed by an organisation that has demonstrated a genuine commitment to advancing the careers of working parents. However, I know from friends of mine who work across a range of sectors, that this is not commonplace. The legislation that exists to support working mums (and dads) only truly works when combined with fair and equitable pay, affordable childcare and an organisational culture that rewards the quality of a person’s work, the impact that they have and their potential to achieve more – rather than simply looking at the hours that somebody spends at their desk.
I’m grateful to be working for an organisation that recognises how much give and take goes into advancing the careers of those who have familial responsibilities. If I need time off to care for my kids when they’re sick, I’m given it, no questions asked. Equally, when a humanitarian disaster strikes, as they often do on one of my non-working days, I’ll move heaven and earth to get into the office to launch the emergency appeal. I’m lucky to have a very supportive family, who pitch in on these occasions, or when I need to travel abroad for work, and I recognise how impossibly hard it must be for those who are on their own.
Fair and equitable pay, affordable childcare and reward principles are all important discussions for us to be having, but I feel that it is a privilege for these to be our issues. Globally, women are much more likely to live in poverty, be unemployed and face unjust discrimination - just because they are women. They have less access to land, education, income, decision-making, political influence and opportunity. Through my work, I’ve met single mothers in Ukraine who were totally unable to get a job due to the discrimination they faced, and have been forced to take benefits so they could feed and clothe their children. I’ve heard harrowing accounts of women forced to flee war, doing whatever it took to ensure their children’s survival. I’ve shut my eyes to block out images of mothers holding starving babies, their faces haunted by the devastating knowledge of the pain that their children are in, and yet, unable to do anything about it.
It may be up to each and every employer to ensure that they are treating their mums fairly, but it’s up to each and every one of us to look beyond our own problems, see the immense struggle of others and react with generosity and compassion, however we can.
World Jewish Relief is striving to raise the profile of the global issues facing vulnerable women and girls and increase awareness of the inspirational work that we do around the world to support them. If you would like to get involved, please email me at firstname.lastname@example.org
Laura Marks, Association of Jewish Women
As a middle aged, white, Jewish women in 2018 with equal rights, equal pay and a loud voice, it’s easy to forget that the job on equality is far from won. Im still campaigning for a louder female voice in our Jewish community but my passion, is for the women who are really struggling, hurting, and fleeing and those women don’t have a voice.
New figures show that 74% of British companies pay their men more than the women.
and In London men earn £70 billion more than women.
Whilst 700 million fewer women than men are in paid work around the world.
Inequality is also at the heart of gender-based violence, including domestic violence, sexual harassment, and rape in conflict. Violence against women affects, on average one in three women.
Women do at least twice as much unpaid care work, such as childcare and housework as men and more than 60 million girls and young women—some as young as 10—get married before the age of 18.
The world is an unfair place.
On March 4th women (and some great men) will gather in cities in Britain, for the March4women - a global movement for gender equality. I’m hoping that Jewish women will come along. We can hold our banners high, and stand in sisterhood with women of all faiths, and none around the world highlighting inequality and injustice.
I’m so grateful to the women who came before me for campaigning for change for women in the past, and I hope that as Jewish women, we never rest whilst people suffer.
As we are taught, Tzedek, tzedek tirdof: Justice, Justice we shall pursue.
Rabbi Laura Janner-Klausner, Senior Rabbi to the Movement for Reform Judaism pays tribute to renowned Jewish educator Maureen Kendler in a video about equality and pressing for progress through Love and education.
Lead, the leadership development division of the JLC
I am delighted to be taking part in the JLC campaign to support International Women’s Day.
IWD is a great opportunity to celebrate the leadership of women in the Jewish community. And there are many. Many who have stepped up to lead, to take responsibility and to make a difference to communal organisations and through them, to peoples’ lives across the Jewish community, the UK and to global projects and priorities. Stepping up to lead is a positive choice for women and for men, either in a lay or professional context in the Jewish community. And we celebrate and thank those who do.
The issue of gender equality in Jewish community leadership has moved forward considerably over the last 6 years. In 2011, the JLC launched a Commission on Women in Jewish Leadership to recommend ways of advancing more women to senior professional and lay roles in the community, chaired by Laura Marks
The Commission reported in 2012 with a series of recommendations.