Has the #MeToo moment passed? Is it just a hashtag that captured a moment or has there been real change in how we deal with sexual harassment?
In partnership with the Board of Deputies and the Jewish Leadership Council, I am proud that Jewish Women’s Aid (JWA) is launching a new project to create and embed a culture in Jewish organisations where harassment is not tolerated.
The project will enable organisations to hold up the mirror to their own practices, and we will help them to develop their policies and processes through HR and training tools, to inform a culture change.
At a time when the government has been criticised for not moving fast enough in its response to #MeToo and where industry is waking up to the need for effective sexual harassment policies, we have an amazing opportunity to be trail blazers in this area.
Based on an American Jewish model, B’Kavod, run by New York movement Gam Ani, this project will send a clear message that our Jewish community doesn’t tolerate sexual harassment, and that we are equipped to deal with it. Supported by professionals, we will train organisations from the top down and ensure that a whole-organisation approach is adopted in response to all forms of harassment.
For almost 30 years, Jewish Women’s Aid has worked across the breadth of the Jewish community with women affected by domestic and sexual violence and abuse, bringing a feminist understanding of domestic abuse, and a culturally specific understanding of the needs of the women who reach out to us for help.
Recently, JWA and our sector have been moving towards an approach where we work with all forms of violence against women and girls. This new project therefore fits firmly within our remit.
I am proud Jewish Women’s Aid holds the prestigious Quality Standard accreditation from our national body Women’s Aid, celebrating the high quality of our work.
We will, of course, work on our new sexual harassment project and other new areas of work to the same high standard.
We know that JWA’s service users have waited on average a shocking 11.5 years before seeking help – this is higher than the national average by more than two years.
They delay calling us for a range of reasons – shame, humiliation, lack of options, children, money – but they also delay because of community-related factors: they sometimes tell us that their perpetrator is influential and well-known, that he is powerful and has threatened financial ruin or lack of access to children.
Some of these factors may well be similar for women in Jewish communal organisations who are reluctant to disclose sexual harassment. We are sensitive to these, we understand them, and are well-placed to support Jewish organisations on their way through this complicated but important issue.
Through this project, we have an opportunity to set a benchmark in our good practice around sexual harassment and send out a clear message that it’s not tolerated in our community.