The legal program was established at Kayan in 2006, with the goal of increasing Palestinian women’s access to justice, advancing their legal status, and ending rights violations against them within legal and judiciary institutions.
Personal Status Rights
Since 2006 Kayan has been working to secure and advance the personal status rights of Palestinian women in Israel. Personal status refers to a woman’s rights as related to family law, and can include but is not limited to: divorce law, child custody, alimony, inheritance, and assets. For Palestinian women in Israel, personal status law is a complicated matter. In Israel, there are both civil and religious courts that have overlapping jurisdiction over many areas of personal status. Each religious group has their own court system, with its own procedures, regulations, and laws. Thus, there are separate courts for each of the 12 Christian denominations, Islamic courts, Druze courts, and Rabbinical courts. In 1995, Israel first introduced secular family courts into the judiciary system, but these courts were only accessible for Jewish women. Kayan was part of a long-term advocacy process for opening the civil family courts to Palestinian women, and we finally succeeded in our efforts in 2000. Despite the fact that civil family courts now exist for Palestinian women, the religious courts are still the ruling authority over marriage and divorce, as there is still no civil marriage within Israel. Both the religious court systems and civil family courts continue to maintain patriarchal and gender-discriminatory laws, procedures, and perspectives. Thus, Kayan has created a personal status program that seeks to dismantle gender-discrimination in religious and civil courts and secure the personal status rights of Palestinian women. This work is based on three levels of intervention which include:
three levels of intervention
1. Free Legal Hotline
2. Awareness-raising and Education
Free Legal Hotline
Through Kayan’s free legal support hotline, we provide Palestinian women in Israel with free legal consultations and representation for matters of personal status. This free legal service is essential to the security of Palestinian women, many of whom are not economically independent and need support in the Arabic language. Furthermore, our lawyers bring a feminist perspective to their work, and an intimate knowledge of the context and status of Palestinian women. Thus, they are equipped to handle cases of domestic abuse and to provide consultations based on a firm understanding of the real threats that Palestinian women face. Many of the cases that we have handled, particularly in the religious court systems, have been precedent setting. Furthermore, all of the cases that we handle are used as research for our staff, who through working in the courts themselves, deepen their understanding of discriminatory laws and procedures and use this data for publications and advocacy.
Awareness-raising and Education
Kayan continuously raises-awareness about personal status issues amongst key target groups. Throughout the year we hold awareness-raising lectures, campaigns, study days, and workshops for women, lawyers, scholars, and duty-bearers. The goal of our awareness-raising work is to inform women of their rights; build the capacities of lawyers working in personal status law and provide them with a feminist and critical view of the court system; put key issues related to the court system on the public agenda; and to change social norms related to personal status (e.g. domestic violence, economic violence in marriage, and more).
All of our advocacy work for personal status aims at ending discriminatory practices, laws, and procedures within the court systems, and advancing justice and equality for Palestinian women within the religious court systems. Our advocacy tools include direct advocacy meetings with court officials and Ministry of Justice officials, high-court petitions, position papers, advocacy papers for the Knesset, social-pressure and awareness-raising campaigns, publications, and media work. A few of our past achievements include: successfully advocating for the inclusion of women arbitrators in the Sharia court divorce proceedings and holding gender-sensitivity trainings for Christian court officials. Key areas of work within each of the court systems currently include but are not limited to:
- Christian courts: changing court fees, transparency, and advancing gender-sensitivity.
- Sharia Courts: eradicating obedience laws, changing child-custody and remarriage procedures for women, enforcing the inclusion of women-arbitrators, and increasing gender-sensitivity within the courtrooms.
- Civil courts: promoting women’s rights in child custody laws, and advocating the Ministry of Justice to change their program on polygamy.