A Force for Change

An employee at Megemeria, Yvel Design Center

By Dahlia Bendavid

Sexual harassment. Gender bias. Pay parity. Work/life balance. Reproductive rights. Human trafficking. Objectification. Glass ceiling. Rape. Divorce. Domestic violence.

These are just some of a multitude of issues women may encounter at some point in their lives. Some are more serious than others. All affect women and their families. And yes, men may be dealing with some of these issues, but, let’s face it, women are definitely exposed to more of these problems.

What are you doing to address one or more of these areas, whether in your own community or for women living thousands of miles away?

Women want their voices heard. Women want to make a difference in the lives of others, especially in the lives of women. Women are taking action.

Fifteen years ago, visionary women in the Miami Jewish community stepped up.

The second intifada in Israel was in full swing, with rampant terrorism. Operation Defensive Shield was launched by the IDF and reservists were called up. The Federation system did what it does best – launched an Israel Emergency Fund and raised millions of dollars to provide medical services and trauma relief.

In times of war or crisis, employment declines, businesses close, family income decreases and domestic violence increases. Women and children tend to have extremely difficult experiences during times of strife.

A group of female leaders in the Miami community approached the Greater Miami Jewish Federation and requested to direct some of the Israel Emergency funds raised to help women and children, who in ordinary times are vulnerable, and during a crisis are at even greater risk. The Federation recognized the importance of helping this vulnerable group. From this, the Women’s Amutot (Hebrew for nonprofit organizations) Initiative was born. That inaugural year, $200,000 was allocated from the Israel Emergency Fund to organizations in Israel addressing economic empowerment of women and domestic abuse.

The work of the group evolved with the goal to create impactful, lasting social change. The Women’s Amutot Initiative was adopted as part of the Israel and Overseas agenda, funded from the Annual Campaign.

Fifteen years and $3.9 million later, our Miami Jewish community continues to make a difference in the lives of women in Israel. The Initiative focuses on marginalized, disadvantaged women in Israel from all sectors of society, including low-income Israelis, Ethiopian Israelis, Arab Israelis, Bedouins, Haredi, Druze and other immigrant groups. Working to empower women to improve Israeli society through social, economic, religious and political equality, the areas addressed are protection of women against violence, social empowerment, economic empowerment, and leadership development.

There is still a lot to do. Look at these statistics:

  • Only 20 percent of businesses in Israel are female-owned
  • There are an estimated 15,000 Israeli female victims of trafficking and prostitution
  • Every third woman going through divorce is subject to some sort of extortion or ‘get’ (Jewish religious divorce document) refusal
  • Only two percent of municipalities in Israel are headed by women
  • There are 17,000 divorced women in Israel that do not receive any child support
  • Twenty five percent of Israeli families are headed by women living below the poverty line

After 15 years of direct funding in Israel supporting issues affecting women, how do we know we are making a difference? We see the results of the work of many of the organizations we are supporting. Whether it is helping to change laws, providing microloans to women or helping women enter politics, the impact is growing.

Here is one example of a positive change. A few years ago, if a woman was a victim of sexual assault, there was only one hospital in Israel authorized to conduct a forensic rape exam. This hospital was in Holon in central Israel. If a woman lived in the South, it could take her hours to get to the hospital. Most likely, she would not travel there and there would be no justice. Fast forward to today. Due to the work of the Association of Rape Crisis Centers in Israel, the umbrella organization for nine rape crisis centers, there are now seven sites in Israel authorized to provide forensic rape exams. This has resulted in an increase in reports filed by victims and legal action taken against perpetrators.

Our community decided it was important to look inward to determine how we can help women and girls in our local community. Thus, the Women’s Impact Initiative was created two years ago. Based on the Women’s Amutot Initiative model, a committee reviews grant applications from Miami organizations that inspire and empower Jewish women and girls, and improve our community through programs that achieve social, economic, religious and political equality (list of current grants can be found here).

While providing direct service to those in need is important and necessary, in essence it is providing a temporary solution to larger issues. Focusing on real change takes time. We are proud of the progress being made, much of it with the support of women in the United States, through a network of women who are taking a stand and taking action. Whether locally in their own community, or in Israel, or even around the world, members of the Jewish Women’s Funding Network – A Force for Change are working hard at creating social change. Many members of the group are collaborating on a grant in Israel on the issue of a gender perspective on contracted labor, supporting work for women’s rights and gender equality in Israel with a focus on labor rights.

Social change is a process. With the dedicated and passionate work of women in our community, and in communities around the country, we know we can create a lasting impact and improve the lives of women and their families.

Dahlia Bendavid is the Israel and Overseas Director at the Greater Miami Jewish Federation and the professional for the Women’s Amutot Initiative. List of current grant recipients of the Women’s Amutot Initiative can be found here.