Social Affairs: Women without a name

In 2011 as many as 24 women were murdered in Israel by their partners or relatives.

Womens anti-violence protest 311 (photo credit: Courtesy Yael Tzur/WIZO)
Womens anti-violence protest 311
(photo credit: Courtesy Yael Tzur/WIZO)
It’s been just over two years since Sheikh Amin Kanaan’s daughter, Manar, was murdered by her husband, but the Druse spiritual leader from Kfar Yarka says not a single day, not even a single minute has passed without suffering the pain of her loss and wondering whether he could have done more to save her.
“She never did anything bad to anyone, especially not to her husband or her children, and there is not a night or a day where I can find happiness,” Kanaan said in an interview with The Jerusalem Post this week.
“This is the worst pain that anyone can go through.”
The sheikh, who now cares for his daughter’s two young sons while their father serves a 20-year sentence for murder, was among the speakers Thursday at a rally in Tel Aviv organized by the Women’s International Zionist Organization (WIZO) to mark the International Day for the Elimination of Violence Against Women, which takes place worldwide on Friday.
As part of the event, the women’s rights group, which runs the national helpline for battered women, carried 24 coffins in memory of the women they say were murdered in Israel this year by their partners or family members.
(Official figures put the number at a much lower 15 based on slightly different parameters.) “Israel has gone through many wars and suffered through hard times but nothing is as harsh as the war taking place in our society,” commented Kanaan, who now regularly speaks out against domestic abuse in his community and beyond.
He continued: “As a society, we are all responsible for what is happening and we all have to say that this is enough! We must do all we can to stop this violent phenomenon. There is no difference between the women who have been killed, whether they are from Kafr Yarka, Nazareth, Netanya, Tel Aviv, Beersheba or Kiryat Gat, we have enough resources to fight this.”
While Kanaan’s story is powerful and the 24 empty coffins used in Thursday’s protest are eerily symbolic, this year’s 16-percent increase in the number of women murdered by their partners is only the tip of the iceberg.
Professionals from WIZO and the Ministry of Welfare and Social Services, who work daily to combat domestic violence, say that behind the murders – the latest of which happened late Monday night – are tens of thousands of women who suffer daily from violent physical, sexual, emotional and verbal abuse by their partners.
“We estimate that hundreds of thousands of women live in fear and terror in their own houses every day,” commented Ronit Erenfroind-Cohen, director of the Division for the Advancement of the Status of the Women at WIZO. “If you add to that the children and other relatives who witness or suffer from some of that abuse, then we could be talking about millions of people.”
“We are not only talking about the murders, we are also dealing with emotional abuse, which is much harder to recognize but can be very harmful to a person,” she continued, adding that a television and online campaign launched this winter by WIZO addresses emotional violence.
“If a husband is asking his wife where she is going all the time, it’s usually not because he loves her but more about trying to control her,” said Erenfroind-Cohen, adding, “Sadly we have become a very violent society where women have been pushed to the sidelines and are treated like possessions.”
The organization, which is one of several women’s rights groups that work constantly to raise awarenessof domestic violence, believes that it is time for the government to put more emphasis on this issue and even to create a national authority to tackle violence within the family.
“In many developed countries such an authority already exists,” pointed out Erenfroind-Cohen. “Yet here we see the government doing very little and every year the number of women killed is increasing.”
Said Tali, the Ministry of Welfare and Social Affairs’ National Coordinator for Combating Domestic Violence, is also painfully aware that the number of extreme domestic abuse cases are increasing but, he said, the ministry is focusing more on this problem than ever before.
“I think just the fact that I was chosen for this job shows that the ministry has decided to put more emphasis on tackling domestic violence and especially on involving men,” said Tali, who took over the position a year ago after spending ten years in family services mediating divorcing couples. He is the only Arab-Israeli male holding such a highlevel post in the welfare ministry.
Although official figures relating to the number of women murdered by their partners contrasts with those put out by WIZO, Tali said that the discrepancy stems primarily from definition, with women murdered in so-called “honor killings” not being counted among final tally.
“I don’t believe that we should just be looking at these numbers,” he said. “We should be looking at the phenomenon in general because there are thousands of women who suffer every day in silence from all types of abuse.”
While the increase in both extreme cases and in those that do not make national newspaper headlines clearly disturbs Tali, he is also quick to point out that over the past year there has also been a sharp rise in the number of people visiting government-run centers that provide individual and family treatment.
Data released Monday by the ministry shows that last year some 9,749 families turned out to Welfare Ministry-run centers – a rise of 14% over 2009 – to receive treatment from specially trained social workers.
Specifically, the figures show that 2,888 men, a rise of 25% over the previous year, visited these family centers for treatment.
There are 86 centers dealing with all the various population groups country-wide.
“We know that we have to raise awareness even more and get people to open up and talk about what is happening,” said Tali, adding “We also need to increase our work with other offices, such as the prison services and the health ministry and improve the information sharing system, so that vital information is passed between the police, the health professionals and the education system to social workers.”
While Tali works with all sectors in Israeli society and points out forcefully that such violence “takes place in all communities,” he is also painfully aware of a sharp rise in domestic abuse cases in the country’s Arabspeaking community. Of the women murdered this past year, the official figures show four and by WIZO’s count (they also include women murdered by other family members in so-called honor killings), the number reaches nine.
“We are now trying to focus on the increase in domestic violence within the Arab population,” said Tali, adding, “The ministry has been very encouraging and I know there is still a lot to be done on this issue because it is very complex but I hope to develop a special program to tackle it very soon.” Although Tali points to the strides made by the ministry in tackling domestic abuse here, he also highlights that not every case is solvable.
“Many times when a woman is murdered, she has not even received treatment or advice from social services,” he said.
“Every case needs to be looked at individually; They are all very complicated and, just like when someone enters a hospital he is not always cured, it is the same with this. The treatment certainly reduces the chances of a murder happening but does not always prevent it.”