Knesset moves bill forward to help battered women

So far, 2011 has seen 14 murders by partners; legislation would make women in shelters eligible for income support.

Domestic violence battered woman abuse 311 (photo credit: Thinkstock/Imagebank)
Domestic violence battered woman abuse 311
(photo credit: Thinkstock/Imagebank)
In a move that could encourage more battered women to take a stand against violent partners, the Knesset on Monday gave preliminary approval to a bill that will increase financial benefits for women taking refuge in state-run shelters.
If passed, the legislation, which was presented by nine Knesset members from across the political spectrum, will mean that a woman who stays at any of the 13 government-sponsored shelters for more than a month will be eligible for income support from the National Insurance Institute (NII).
Currently, women who do find the courage to walk out of a violent relationship must forgo any state benefits the minute they enter the shelter.
The legislation is likely to be brought for a first reading in the Knesset plenum as early as Tuesday, three days ahead of the International Day for the Elimination of Violence Against Women.
“Currently, battered women prefer to stay locked in a cycle of terror because if they move to a shelter the State of Israel will take away their income,” commented Meretz MK Zehava Gal- On. “Instead of being able to focus on getting the help they need and rehabilitation, they are left with the worry of how to take care of their children and pay off their financial debts.”
Likud MK Haim Katz, chair of the Knesset Labor, Welfare and Health Committee, which prepared the bill for its first reading, said the goal was to support the women by giving them the minimum needed to “live in dignity as they move on from a violent relationship.”
As well as Gal-On and Katz, other MKs involved in presenting the legislation are Dov Henin, Muhammad Barakei, Hanna Sweid and Afo Agbaria from Hadash, as well as Tzipi Hotovely (Likud), Einat Wilf (Independence), Nitzan Horowitz (Meretz), and Ilan Gilon (Meretz).
Despite this support, the Finance Ministry is opposed to the measure claiming the cost of keeping women in a special shelter is already very high.
“If we decide to give them this income support then they must carry a minimum deductible,” a representative of the ministry said in Monday’s committee meeting.
The Treasury is instead proposing to increase the “pocket money” women receive while they are in shelters.
A report released Monday by the Knesset’s Research and Information Department shows that so far this year 14 women were murdered by their partners and a further two murdered in “honor killings.” From that number, five were new immigrants from the Russian-speaking community, three from the Arab sector, two were refugees from Eritrea.
Released ahead of a special hearing on domestic violence to be held by the Committee on the Status of the Women on Tuesday, the data shows further that 12,260 cases of domestic violence were opened by the police since the start of the year, a fall of 4.5 percent compared to last year.
Women’s International Zionist Organization (WIZO) welcomed the bill’s preliminary approval pointing out that in most cases those who move into a battered women’s shelter are usually not able to go out to work and often the women face deep economic difficulties that are a distraction to the rehabilitation process.
“Most women arrive at the shelter with nothing and often the violent husband, as part of the terror, refuses to pay for the household expenses such as city tax, mortgage, water and more,” explained Ronit Erenfroind- Cohen, head of WIZO’s Department for the Advancement of Women and director of the umbrella organization for battered women’s shelters. “The women also have to bear the burden of the additional payments for her and her children and many end up with large debts and no means to pay them off.
“In some cases women are even forced to abandon the therapeutic process and return to an abusive husband because of the financial burdens.”
Erenfroind-Cohen said the bill was “born out of many years of experience that WIZO has caring for victims of violence, which shows there is a real need for financial support.”
Ahead of the International Day for the Elimination of Violence, which will be marked worldwide Friday, women’s groups are holding various events to highlight the on-going violence many women face.
WIZO will hold its annual event Thursday in central Tel Aviv, with a “March of Coffins,” representing the women who have been murdered. The march will culminate in a rally at the Tel Aviv Museum and include speeches from opposition leader Tzipi Livni and MKs Gal-On and Orit Zuaretz.
In addition, women’s rights organization Na’amat will hold a one day symposium on Tuesday exploring financial controls abused women are subjected to by their partners.
“It is a lesser known type of violence against women but it is a means of economic domination by men over women,” said Na’amat President Talia Livni, adding that sometimes it is accompanied by physical violence and ultimately means women are unable to escape violent relationships because of economic dependence on their partner.