A Small Peek At A Major Issue In Israeli Society

IMG_0421This article provides a  look at the major issues faced by single mothers, as well as the roles of education and abuse in Israeli society. As well as some of the reasons and possible solutions to the problems faced by single mothers.  

There is a segment of the Israeli population that is often neglected and abused by the people with power. No its not Israeli Arabs, Druzim, Palestinians, religious or secular – its the single mothers in all of those groups. These women do not receive adequate assistance and protection from their government for a variety of reasons. Furthermore, they are often mistreated by their own communities and get only little financial support from the father of their children. It is a profound question that grazes several issues in the Israeli Society. As we go further with this article we will try to clarify misconception that accompanies this issue.

As Israel continues to  recover from the consequences of the global financial and economic crisis, many segments of society are not recovering at the same pace. Low income families, people with disabilities and children are suffering the most. The reduction of spendings on social welfare has created a wave of indignation from single mothers. Over that last decade economic spendings have been cut and it have led to a mounting level of poverty that now has become a serious issue. As of the latest figures available, 120,000 citizens who head a single parent household, 91 percent of this number are single mothers (this statistics does not include independent women who decided to have and raise their children without the active participation of the father or the complete absence of such). Most of them are drowning in poverty. Israeli culture is one in which single mothers are often ostracised. Employers typically ask women about their marital status and once they familiarise with their situation they tend to become less inclined to hire them. As a result of this blatant discrimination, these women are less likely to be hired by a serious company.

According to the Taub Center for Social Policy Studies in Israel,  Israeli households headed by single mothers have a poverty rate of 35 percent, about twice the rate for households where the mother lives with a partner. Single mothers in Israel obtain about 25 percent of their income from transfer payments, a rate lower than that for most countries studied by the Center. Israel was found to be among the lower ranking countries (e.g., US, Canada and Ireland) in terms of the level of support that it offers to single mothers, and in terms of the resources that it devotes to raising these mothers out of poverty. Along with the financial challenges, single mothers often have to run every aspect of minting a functioning household. This is made even harder due to a lack of  subsidised childcare options. Evidently, financial challenges reflect on the well being of single mothers. However, it is not likely to consider this the core of the problem.

The statistics will help provide a better picture of the current situation. Out of single mothers of all categories including Israeli Arabs, 91 percent are divorced and 13 percent are widowed. Approximately 3500 children are born to single mothers annually. It is estimated that regardless of their marital status, women have on average the same amount of pregnancies terminated. According to the Central Bureau of Statistics, there were 8225 married women who applied for abortions and 8276 unmarried women in 2013 alone. So what triggers women to make such a decision?

The Abuse Endemic

Cultural factors frequently define the number of incidents of sexual and domestic abuse. One of the central issues, albeit one that does not receive the coverage it so deserves, is the role of men in the well being – or lack there of – of their partners. Israeli society does not make a point of forcing men to take responsibility and fulfil their roles when they are divorced or separated. Despite numerous laws with regards to divorce, custody, and alimony, men frequently neglect the responsibility to take cake of their children and former intimate partners.

Studies show that despite all the obstacles related to financial challenges women are still willing to raise their children without a present partner or a husband. Although most of them don’t feel that leaving an abusive relationship can guarantee safety for them and for their children. Violence might escalate and turn into constant threats along with physical abuse. Anxiety caused by intimidation in most cases serves as a pivotal role in their decision to terminate the pregnancy .

How Psychological Trauma Contributes To Abuse

Any sort of abuse or violent behaviour creates a form of distress, known as psychological trauma. Under this condition people may feel stunned and unusually irritable. It might take years till a person recovers enough for being able to digest distressing thoughts and cope with flashbacks. Even if this individual doesn’t have prominent symptoms,  any immersion in the issue might cause emotional pain, accompanied by physical reactions such as rapid heartbeat, or in rare cases,  stuttering. Even the sound of an alarm that was set on the phone on the day when bad unexpected experience took place, might trigger vivid disturbing memories. In this day and age it is incomprehensible that any religion or ethnicity tolerates abuse towards women.

In addition to that in most cases men doesn’t realise the consequences of having an abortion. Aside from physical effects, such a harsh intervention into woman’s system messes up with her hormonal background that can create several psychological issues including changes to thoughts and behaviour patterns.

Education (And Lack Thereof) In The Public Sphere

One of the central issues, albeit a highly unreported one, is the role of education in this problem. There is no impetus on the part of the Ministry of Health, the individual Kupat Cholim, The Education Ministry, or even the IDF, to teach people about safe intimate relationship and the forms of contraception available to them. Unfortunately a direct consequence of this is a population of young women who find themselves pregnant and unsure what to do. While Israel has some of the most liberal abortion laws for a westernised country, many woman are left in an unfortunate predicament do to social pressure. As for the men? Many men who are not ready to become fathers often plead with their partner to have an abortion. In the case where a woman chooses to forgo having an abortion, these men unable to cope with the situation often choose to act violently towards their partner or to simply run away. There is no directive in Israeli society that teaches men to take responsibility and either stay with their partner or help provide assistance to them. (The exception to this rule, is the case where the expectant mother allows her partner to decide if he wants to be a part of the child’s upbringing).


Organizations In Israeli Society Working To Combat These Issues

Thankfully there exists a handful of organisations that help battered woman recover from the deviant behaviour of their husbands or partners. These organizations are dedicated to providing psychological and financial support to women who find themselves pregnant and alone. They also work to familiarize them with the consequences of having an abortion, and offer them alternative solutions.

Efrat's warehouse
Efrat’s warehouse


A non-profit organization – Jerusalem based Efrat – believes that the core of the problem is ignorance and lack of information available to the general public. Efrat takes a goal upon themselves to help single mothers at this intersection of their lives,  providing a friendly environment and financial assistance. “We don’t want women to jump into the decision to abort, without knowing that we are there for them”- said Ruth Tidhar, MSW, who is Assistant Director at Efrat. Along with psychological help, Efrat also helps to provide necessary baby gear such as strollers, baby clothing, toys, cribs and diapers which are unreasonably expensive in Israel.

The (Baby) Steps Needed For Change

In order to combat the situation, it is necessary for Israeli society to acknowledge the problem. According to a report from the OECD titled “Society at a glance”, 20 percent of the population lives below the poverty line. Unfortunately, the government does not have the funds to increase welfare. However, in 2014 a plan was implemented by MK’s Yair Lapid and Naftali Bennett at the behest of the Trajtenberg Committee to expand the number of government subsidized municipal day care centers by an additional 400, all around the country. Ensuring the availability and  accessibility of municipal day care, is a major step forward that greatly helps low income families. Another idea that should be implemented is to subsidise single mothers for the first three months after starting a job, so as to empower single mothers to genuinely improve their standard of living through paid work.

In order to reduce the rate of abuse, it is not enough to simply make changes to the law. Unfortunately the existing laws tend to favor the husband / male partner and pay no credence to the mental or physical abuse the mother may have been subjected to.  There are no government run protection mechanisms for victims, such as psychological and legal assistance to families and rehabilitation centers. Rehabilitation programs must be created not only for women, receiving constant threats from their partners, but also for their perpetrators. Unfortunately local authorities do not prioritize the prevention of violence and poverty. Prevention, is always cheaper to implement than providing a cure.