Challenging and adapting: WIZO leads the way

Challenging and adapting: WIZO leads the way

While WIZO is widely known as the largest non-government supplier of social welfare in Israel, with more than 800 projects throughout the country and consultative status at the United Nations via UNICEF and ECOSOC, it is also a dynamic, influential and constantly developing organisation.

In the past few years, the Covid-19 pandemic has changed the way we live around the world and the way we interact with others. It has created a sense of uncertainty and apprehension, perhaps never before experienced in our lifetime.

Yet, WIZO has taken the pandemic in its stride. It has not stood still. The organisation is constantly recognising the new challenges and adapting to continue the crucial work that was begun over a century ago.

We are all aware of a massive surge in domestic violence cases worldwide. According to a State Comptroller report from June 2021, the number of domestic violence complaints filed in Israel increased by 800%, a phenomenon mainly attributed to the country’s lockdowns and economic crisis. The report also noted a 26% increase in the number of women seeking help at domestic violence shelters around the country. Sadly, 25 women were killed by their partners during 2020.

To help combat this disturbing trend, WIZO has opened a new emergency shelter for women and children fleeing abuse. Due to the pandemic, those who presented to WIZO were unable to be moved into existing shelters for fear of spreading the virus. The emergency shelter was set up to allow women and their children to spend two weeks in isolation before being moved to an established facility. In its first eight months, 177 mothers and 270 children found a haven in which to safely quarantine.

For many women who are confined to home, it is sometimes impossible to reach out for help without alerting a violent partner. To this end, WIZO set up a silent hotline. Women are able to call the hotline using certain generic phrases that would identify their plight (for example, ‘I would like to order a pizza’).

WIZO also realised that, due to the pandemic, it was essential for our comprehensive day care centres, specifically those that operate in hospitals, to remain open. In early January 2021, WIZO arranged, at lightning speed, a vaccination program for its 200 strong staff to ensure that young children had access to care, so health care workers could continue their critical duties.

WIZO has recently initiated the Safety Net program to ensure that, especially during the pandemic, women and children who leave the confines of a shelter do not fall into the trap of returning to a life of abuse. It is well known that women who do not gain financial independence often fall back into the abuse cycle. Psychological support, legal aid, professional training and assistance with housing is on offer to help these women, and therapy, private tutoring and extra-curricular activities are available for their children.

While it is important to advocate for women suffering from abuse, it is equally important for both men and women to be educated in vital life skills and to avoid negative choices and violations. Consequently, WIZO has initiated the Mine and Only Mine nationwide domestic violence prevention program, which identifies and prevents violence during the early dating phase of romantic relationships. The program focuses on young women and men, aged 16 to 26 years.  

Often women going through a painful separation and/or divorce need support, and through WIZO branches in Israel, women are able to participate in a two-month course titled Continuing the Way. Led by volunteer counsellors, the course enables women to come together to empower and encourage each other through shared experiences, counselling and practical advice.

For a number of years, WIZO has conducted lectures and encouraged voluntary dialogue with Israel’s female incarcerated prisoner on topics surrounding gender-based violence and women’s issues. Before the pandemic lockdowns, these meetings took place in Israel’s only women’s prison, the Neve Tirza Prison in Ramla, where Muslims, Christians and Jewish female prisoners live alongside each other. Since the pandemic, the lectures have been run online with active participation by prisoners willing to make their voices heard. WIZO counsellors and volunteers work closely with the prison authority, to ensure the topics are suitable, empowering and educational.

The WIZO Leadership Academy program, operated in WIZO Israel branches, trains and inspires young Israeli women to become agents for change, promote social activism within their communities, elevate women’s status and create equality. The goal is to equip young women with the tools they need to aspire to a higher office within Israeli government.

A specialised program, Pninim, meaning ‘pearls’, offers underprivileged children the chance to acquire skills in science and technology. The program has recently been extended to children with autism and will operate in WIZO branches throughout Israel. The 10 session course uses technics games to teach mechanics and improve dexterity, coordination and motor skills.

WIZO is a forward-thinking, innovative organisation that takes a holistic approach when dealing with key issues that face women and children, and which ultimately impacts men, families and society as a whole. Our 101-year history has proven that WIZO has a formula that works!

Sylvia Green
Immediate Past Co-President WIZO Victoria