Battered Women in Israel Denied Critical Aid Due to Bureaucratic Delays

'Social Affairs Ministry is abandoning battered women,' says former MK Zehava Galon, co-sponsor of law whose deadline for implementation passed eight months ago

A battered women’s shelter in Herzliya.
Meged Gozani

The Social Affairs Ministry is not implementing the law that gives critical economic and social support to battered women, although more than eight months have passed since the deadline for its implementation.

In late June 2017, the Knesset passed into law a program to give housing, therapy and economic aid to battered women so that they could start new lives and not be forced to return to their violent partners after leaving a battered women’s shelter. The Social Affairs Ministry wanted two years to implement the law, but the Knesset Labor, Welfare and Health Committee insisted the law go into effect within six months – with a possible extension until the end of February 2018.

Yet months after that deadline, women leaving shelters are still not getting this aid, which is meant to include transition housing, family therapy, employment services, subsidies for higher education or vocational training and subsidized child care.

Nor are they likely to get these services soon, because the choice of suppliers for these services is subject to a bidding process that is far from complete. The Finance Ministry has allocated 10 million shekels ($2.7 million) annually to fund the program, but the money has yet to be spent.

Lacking realistic alternatives, some 30 percent of women who emerge from battered women’s shelters end up returning to their violent partners within a year.

The Social Affairs Ministry said that ministry teams are working “as quickly as possible to implement the law, but because of bureaucratic procedures that required two tenders, there was a delay; one of them is getting final approval and will be published shortly, while the other has been published and we are in the process of choosing the winning suppliers.”

“The Social Affairs Ministry is abandoning battered women,” said former Meretz MK Zehava Galon, who was one of the sponsors of the law. “Instead of being able to start new lives, they are being forced to return to the cycle of the battering man, because the 10 million shekels that are waiting for implementation of the law are lost in the ministry bureaucracy.”

Sources familiar with the issues have raised questions about why the ministry chose to invest time and money in soliciting bids and in outside organizations, rather than simply assigning these tasks to specific social workers in the local authorities.

Dina Havalin Dahan, who chairs the forum of nonprofit organizations that run the shelters, said, “We believe it would be proper to implement the law – by strengthening the ties between the shelters and the community services provided by local social service offices, along with antiviolence centers, in the communities where the women choose to live after they leave the shelter. In this way, most of the budget for the law would be allocated to support and purchase services for the women and their children, and not to building and maintaining a new bureaucracy … especially since anyway, at the end of the process, the woman and her children must integrate into the community, and if necessary get help from there.”

The second part of the law is meant to significantly increase the supply of transitional apartments for women who leave the shelters, where they can live for six months to a year, work and get professional help without having to worry about paying rent and other housing expenses. There are now 15 such apartments and the law promised eight more. While the ministry has issued a tender, it still hasn’t announced the winner that will operate these apartments.

“It would be an endless tragedy if bureaucratic helplessness blocks the implementation of such an important and historic law,” said Naomi Schneiderman, director of the Woman to Woman organization, who was involved in drafting the law. “It’s not clear why it was decided to implement the rehabilitation basket through outsourcing. But if that’s what was decided, the question is why things are being held up.” She said she hoped the ministry would be in contact with the shelters and make use of their expertise in planning the services basket, and that it would take into account the cultural and language needs of Arab women.

The Labor and Social Affairs Ministry said in response, “The Labor and Social Affairs Ministry supplies broad solutions for rehabilitation and preventing family violence. In the years 2016-2017, the funding for a woman in a shelter was increased 33 percent to 20,000 shekels a month; 23 new centers were opened, making a total of 113 centers and units for treating family violence operating at the end of 2017. Six units were opened throughout the country for employment rehabilitation for women who are victims of family violence. The ministry was involved in amending the income maintenance law to include actively examining the rights and eligibility of every woman in a shelter for income maintenance.”