Ethiopian-Israeli Domestic Violence at Record-Low Levels

21 July 2009 By New Israel Fund

Even months into 2009, it looks like the wave of tragic domestic murders that plagued the Ethiopian Jewish community in Israel for the past 10 years has diminished. With six murders in 2006, three in 2007, one in 2008 and one so far in 2009, the trend is clear. A report issued by the Ministry of Absorption at the end of 2008 said the number of domestic violence incidences against immigrant women – and especially Ethiopian women -- is now the lowest in the past five years. The report also noted that the number of Ethiopian women immigrants in battered women shelters was down.

For the past three years, SHATIL's Coalition to Address Domestic Violence has used the wisdom, knowledge and commitment of Ethiopian-Israeli women and men to break the community taboo against discussion of this issue, raise awareness in the community and push the government to allocate thought, energy and resources to seriously tackle the problem. As a result of Coalition advocacy efforts, the numbers of Amharic-speaking social workers dealing with domestic violence has risen significantly, the government initiated a nation-wide TV and radio violence prevention campaign in Amharic; conferences, panels, film spots and plays were held and literature distributed throughout the community.

Said one Coalition member: "We wanted it to be talked about everywhere in order to prevent it. Everyone now knows how to identify the signs, where to go for help."

Shulamit Sahalo, the Coalition coordinator, said: "After months of effort in awareness raising and policy change in cooperation with the relevant government ministries, we are happy about this positive trend and pray to God that it continues."

Encouraged by the drastic reduction, the Coalition is continuing its efforts. At the moment, 17 Amharic speakers who work with the community are engaged in a special course that is training them to become group facilitators in domestic violence prevention. Co-sponsored by the Coalition, SHATIL and the Israel Association for Family Planning, the "Family in Transition" course covers such topics as transition between cultures, sexuality in the life cycle, myths about family violence, communication patterns among Ethiopian couples, as well as facilitation skills in 13 day-long sessions.

Despite a cultural inclination towards modesty and privacy in the Ethiopian immigrant community, the group is honest and outspoken and a special bond has developed between them because of the intimate subject matter. The participants say they feel they are on a mission to reduce violence in the community.

"The course opened a whole world of information to me," said one of the participants. "It's giving us the tools to take violence prevention into the community."

Said Miriam Avraham, a course participant and Coalition member: "My dream was always to sit in lectures like this, to learn new things, to get new tools and to go back to the community and use them. I got tools – and not just from the lecturers but from the group itself."