Hadassah Foundation grantee partner Itach-Ma’aki: Women Lawyers for Social Justice shares some of their many accomplishments during Covid-19. These accomplishments demonstrate their effectiveness as well the disproportionate impact Covid-19 has had on women and minority communities.

Legal Aid Hotline
Their hotline has received two times as many calls as it did prior to Covid-19. Many of the cases are from kindergarten teacher’s assistants, who have been deemed unessential and put out of work when the government shut down the national education system. Another group of the callers have been from workers who were placed on “unpaid leave” and are struggling to claim the unemployment benefits they are due from the National Insurance Institute. Cases surrounding the obstacles to receiving income support benefits owed by the National Insurance Institute have been particularly prevalent on their Be’er Sheva hotline, which deals largely with Bedouin women.

They received a large number of calls from women who are continuing to work as “essential employees” and are exposed to the virus seeking help protecting their health security. We’ve been able to direct them to municipal resources for their safety and national publications detailing measures they should be taking to ensure their protection.

Having listened to the concerns raised on the legal aid hotline, Adv. Maha Shehade-Suitat urgently approached the Ministry of Health and the Ministry of Labor and Social Affairs demanding that they publish clear guidelines for the health and safety of employees who continue to work during isolation, especially cleaning staff, healthcare professionals, restaurant and delivery staff, and nursing home staff. Her letter also addressed the concerns of pregnant workers and demanded that the National Insurance Institution (NII) issue paid medical leave for pregnant women. After sending the letter, Maha went to the Knesset Special Committee on Labor and Welfare to talk more about these specific needs with the head of the NII — who accepted her demands!

Appeal about the danger of guns: “We don’t need guns in our homes in these tense days”

Recognizing the additional risk guns pose in the home during self-isolation, especially in violent homes, a letter was written on behalf of the Gun on the Kitchen Table coalition an urgent letter to the Ministry of Internal Security and the Ministry of Labor and Social Affairs, urging them to collect all work-issued weapons from private homes. The ministries responded that they would do so, and police are in the process of collecting those weapons. This measure will help keep countless women safe.

Letter to the Ministry of Education

Adv. Osnat Ziv, who works on the Tel Aviv hotline, submitted an appeal to the Ministry of Education imploring them to clarify their communication regarding the implementation of workers rights and benefits in educational institutions. The agreement had determined that “non-essential workers” in the public sector would receive paid leave, but many women, in particular Haredi women working in informal institutions, had called the hotline expressing uncertainty around their own eligibility for these rights.

The ministry responded in 24 hours, providing us with the necessary clarifications to assist the many women who had called the hotline with concerns about this matter.

Appeal for the full reinstatement of welfare services

Seeing the responses to the questionnaire about women’s needs during this crisis, we and other legal aid organizations sent an appeal to the Directors General of the Ministry of the Interior and the Ministry of Labor and Social Affairs, pleading the case for the reinstatement of full social services. The Knesset Committee on Social Services reviewed it. Two days later, we received word that access to social services was to be improved.

Itach Ma’aki also submitted a position paper on the matter as part of a discussion at the Knesset’s Special Committee on Labor and Welfare, together with partners in other organizations and the Social Workers Union, and presented about the issue at the Intersectoral Roundtable on Women. Following these discussions, the emergency regulations were amended and most of the social workers were permitted to return to work.

Representation of women in the National Security Office

It’s hard to believe that this would still be happening in 2020, but the National Security Office appointed a male-only team of experts to outline the government’s policy for addressing the crisis brought on by COVID-19. In response, they approached the Prime Minister and demanded, as the law requires, that this crucial team of specialists includes women from a variety of population groups, including Arab and Ultra-Orthodox women who are uniquely affected by this crisis and whose needs are going entirely unaddressed. They also filed a petition to the High Court of Appeals on the matter, authored by Adv. Netta Loevy alongside another Hadassah Foundation grant recipient, The Rackman Center, in the name of 13 organizations.

Reinstating the Mayor’s Advisors on Gender Equality

A petition was filed to the High Court of Justice that urged the government to recognize municipal Mayor’s Advisors on Gender Equality as essential workers. Adv. Dana Myrtenbaum and Adv. Shirin Batshon, who both work closely with the Mayor’s Advisors in their capacities with the City for All project, argue that these advisors play a crucial role in policymaking by coordinating the municipality’s action on preventing violence, mitigating the economic impact on women, and urging the government to include more women and their perspectives in decision-making processes. Their omission from decision-making spaces during a crisis, they argue, will leave women particularly vulnerable.

Representation for women in the emergency coalition government

Prior to the formation of the emergency coalition government, the Prime Minister and the Civil Service Commissioner were approached to make sure that the upcoming government appointments would show an equal representation of gender. We demanded that new appointments be made to include more and more women until equality is achieved, especially amongst the directors of ministries. We will continue to follow-up with this as it develops further.

Protecting pregnant workers

Together with the Forum for the Enforcement of Workers’ Rights, there was a successful petition before the High Court of Justice for the repeal of the emergency regulations that forced women to choose between economic security and the potential health of their baby.

Adv. Maha Shehade-Suitat wrote a letter to the Ministry of Health asking them to author and distribute guidelines regarding the protections in place for pregnant women, as well as for other essential workers that are exposed to the virus. Adv. Osnat Ziv and Adv. Maha Shehade-Suitat also authored an appeal to the Association of Gynecologists asking them to acknowledge pregnant women who are forced to work with increased exposure to the virus as eligible for “bed rest benefits.”

Discrimination against 18-20 year-old Arab youth

Many Arab women under the age of 20 who were fired or forced to take unpaid vacation have been considered ineligible for unemployment benefits. This discriminatory policy would have forced many young people in an already-vulnerable portion of society to deteriorate into poverty, deepening an already-wide social gap. Adv. Maha Shehade-Suitat, together with the Association for Civil Rights in Israel and Adalah – the Arab Minority Rights Center in Israel, wrote a letter to decision-makers demanding that fired Arab youth receive the social services they are owed.

To learn more about Itach Ma’aki: Women Lawyers for Social Justice and their many accomplishments visit there website at itach.org.il.