Cases of violence against women have seen a serious spike both nationally and abroad during the coronavirus pandemic, but the government has made only a minor increase to funding to handle the crisis, while other countries have boosted funding at a much greater pace relative to their state budgets.
The Labor and Social Affairs Ministry reported this week that the number of domestic violence complaints has risen by 300 percent since the beginning of the pandemic. From March through October, the number of such complaints reached 7,201, compared to 2,530 during the same period in 2019.
Since March, Israel has added to this budget only 10 million shekels (a little over $3 million) – just 0.00243 percent of the 411-billion-shekel state budget. New research from the Lexidale international policy consulting firm conducted on behalf of the Women’s International Zionist Organization, reported here for the time, shows that New Zealand allocated a supplementary budget of 220 million New Zealand dollars (464 million shekels) for the issue – an amount 164.4 times greater than Israel relative to its state budget. Canada allocated an additional 40 million Canadian dollars, 7.8 times as much as Israel; Australia allocated 150 million Australian dollars more, 12.33 times as much; and the Netherlands allocated 95 million euros, 13 times as much.
Israel has taken other steps to fight the soar in violence, including having the Ministerial Committee for Legislation meet and decide the coalition will support certain bills, as well as initiatives from the Social Affairs Ministry such as a new hotline, opening an additional shelter, financial help for women escaping abuse and expansion of ministry’s aid hotline – along with statements from ministers and visits to shelters for abused women.
But the other countries examined in the study show much deeper government intervention: Canada and New Zealand established new government ministries to deal with domestic violence, and which are to coordinate broader government policies. Other countries have passed new laws, such as an exemption for restrictions on movement for the victims of violence and the essential service providers for them, expansion of their rights to receive financial support from the government for medical care, and easier access to legal proceedings and legal advice.
Canada and the Netherlands have instructed judges to allocate more time for handling proceedings involving violence against women and to give them priority. Women were given free cellphones in Canada, and in the Netherlands a plan was launched for alternative housing for abused women. Courts in Australia were given authority to place people convicted of domestic violence under electronic supervision. A number of technological steps were also taken, such as setting up information stands in shopping centers for reporting violence in France, and virtual emergency button apps in Brazil.
Pharmacies in the Netherlands, France and Greece are required to offer preliminary treatment to anyone who uses the code word “Mask 19” and let them into a room where they can call a local organization and provide information to enable them to quickly locate the victim. The victims can ask the government for a refund for medical expenses caused by abuse.
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In the United States, the city of Los Angeles has launched the Safe Haven project, which is intended to provide alternative housing for 900 abuse victims. Chicago announced a plan in cooperation with Airbnb to help out victims who need housing, and Houston allocated $600,000 for the crisis.
The authors of the report say the study examined how different Western countries have handled the increase in violence during the pandemic. The goal is to adopt the most effective steps in Israel and increase the promised resources, said the report.
Rivka Neumann, the director of WIZO Israel’s division for the advancement of women in society, was behind the initiative for the study and who operates two emergency shelters for abused women, one of which was opened during the pandemic because of the large number of requests. She said about the study’s findings that “in everything concerning preventing violence against women, Israel entered the coronavirus crisis without any reserves.”
The additional sum the government has allocated is “ridiculous, and we cannot continue to operate the shelters under these conditions,” said Neumann. “Women’s organizations can no longer carry the country on their backs. All over the world, they passed progressive laws that make things easier for abused women. Why not here? Why don’t the police distribute emergency buttons to women? We speak with women who leave shelters, and they can’t find work. We need to start acting immediately and learn from the process. Before the coronavirus, there were 200,000 to 400,000 women in Israel who suffered from violence. I don’t want to know how many there are today.”
As a result of the study’s conclusions, WIZO is preparing a plan that includes recommendations for the government based on the steps taken in other countries, added Neumann.
The Social Affairs Ministry said that the one-time supplementary budget of 10 million shekels it received this year was used to help women who fled abuse but were unable to move to a shelter; for a shelter for women in isolation because of the pandemic; to build 60 municipal service centers; to double the number of staff at the ministry hotline center and expand the number language options offered; to launch a hotline for text messaging; to launch the a hotline for men and to send men removed from their homes to hostels in return for entering treatment.
The additional budget was also used for supporting shelters, purchasing computers for children, renovating emergency centers, and rehousing men, said the ministry.