In response to haredi efforts in Israel to increasingly segregate public areas by gender – the latest move is to make psychiatric hospitals single-sex only, which you can read more about in the Forward’s article here, an Israeli feminist organization is setting up a hotline for women to call to file complaints about discrimination or attack in public places.
The hotline is being called Hashme’eini, the feminine term for “Let my voice be heard,” and is being established by Kolech, the Israeli feminist organization for religious women. It is being supported solely by the New Israel Fund, which is spending $7,000 on it for its first year.
The hotline phone number is 02-671-1911.
According to an English translation of the Hebrew press release sent out by NIF:
The hotline is for women who wish to express their opinions, and to those subjected to any type of discrimination, insult or attack in the public sphere/space in places such as public transportation, sidewalks, performances, public institutions and others.
The goal of this initiative is to make recommendations regarding advancing/improving the rights of women in the public space, as well as their status, wellbeing, dignity, and to advise and be advised.
Hashme’eini is to go live this Sunday, and will be open Sunday, Wednesday and Thursday, between 3 and 5 p.m.
It is being staffed by Orthodox and Haredi, or ultra-Orthodox, women who can respond to callers in Hebrew, Yiddish and English.
According to NIF spokeswoman Naomi Paiss, the ultimate goal of the hotline is “advocacy.”
We need hard data on the increasing attempts at gender segregation in Israel, and the hotline will give us first-hand reports, she said in an email interview.
As important, the volunteers will be trained to address callers’ concerns in terms of halacha, or Jewish law, and Orthodox culture, and inform them of their rights.
“As time goes on, I expect we will work with Kolech and other women’s groups to influence government policy on these issues.
NIF has for the past several years run a program called “New Voices in the Stadium” to work to counter racist invective at soccer games. According to Pais, it uses volunteers to monitor and report racist language in soccer stadiums, and has been “a huge success on a limited budget.”
Racist taunts have been part of soccer games in countries around the world. In a New York Times article in 2004, an Israeli Arab who had played on the Israeli national team said that “People yell ‘Death to the Arabs’ like it’s going out of style.”
As a result of NIF’s effort, Paiss said, “the amount of invective has decreased substantially. Even Beitar Jerusalem’s captain said he would welcome an Arab player.”
Haredi leaders have recently moved to force women and men to walk on opposite sides of the streets in largely haredi areas of Jerusalem. For more about it, see this article from YNetNews, the English-language website owned by Israeli newspaper Yediot Achronot.
Perhaps one day, as a result of the new efforts by Kolech and NIF, fervently Orthodox women will again be free to walk both sides of the street.