ISRAEL: Women Living in Israel List Sexual Violence as Bigger Security Threat than Bombings

Thursday, August 30, 2012
Equal Power - Lasting Peace
Western Asia
PeaceWomen Consolidated Themes: 
Human Rights
Sexual and Gender-Based Violence

Women in Israel have very different views on what the basic threats against their security are, depending on factors as ethnicity, health status and socio-economic conditions. That is one of the major findings in the Israeli Women's Security Index, a survey based on interviews made with more than 700 women, both Jewish and Palestinian, living in the country.

The main idea behind the Women's Security Index was to examine the concept of security in the Israeli society and to see what elements that are crucial when it comes to women feeling safe or not.

In Israeli discourse the term security ”bitachon” is used mostly in a military sense. We wanted to find out if that really is the only threat to women's sense of safety, says Assia Istoshina, researcher for the Women's Security Index.

Less fear of terror attacks than of sexual violence

And apparently there is a need for a much broader discussion on security. Because although fear of military violence was present amongst the women's responses, there were other issues that were of much higher concern. This to an extent that was surprising even for the organizations compiling the study.

War, bombings and terror attacks evoke less fear than fear of sexual violence, economic worries and concerns for the the women's near and dear. We did expect that everyday fears would also be prominent in women's lives, but we did not expect them to be even more threatening than wars, says Assia Istoshina.

Big differences between groups

Being attacked on a dark street and fear of sexual attacks were among the top five biggest fears for all groups of women surveyed, regardless of ethnicity, socio-economic status, or state of health. But otherwise the fears differed a lot between different groups. The five issues that brought about a maximum feeling of tension and insecurity for Palestinian women, were:

  1. Losing their home
  2. Being attacked on a dark street
  3. Possibility of being arrested or detained
  4. War, bombing, terror attack
  5. Sexual assault

While Jewish women's biggest fears were:

  1. Worry that something will happen to someone near and dear
  2. Being attacked on a dark street
  3. Sexual assault
  4. Economic situation
  5. War, bombing, terror attack

1/3 of Russian speakers attacked

Still the group of Jewish women was not cohesive. For instance, 32 percent of Russian speaking Jewish women reported experiences of being humiliated or attacked due to belonging to a minority group, while only 14 percent amongst the general population of Jewish women had the same experience. Amongst Russian speakers there was also a much higher percentage that reported that they had been sexually assaulted by a person they did not know, 38 percent, compared to 16 percent of the general population of Jewish women.

Fear in interaction with the state

Assia Istoshina points out another interesting finding in the survey – a substantial number of the women felt high levels of fear and tension connected to their interaction with state institutions.

Provided we assume that the state mechanisms are there to protect people, and not to undermine their feeling of safety, this seems particularly striking, she says.

The organizations behind the survey now hope that it will be used by NGO's, activists and policy makers as a tool for changing the lives of women living in Israel.

Our dream scenario would be that the state would change its priorities and aim at, and invest in, creating a more safe society for women.