Netta Loevy is an uncompromising lawyer of discriminated women in Israel, prefers to be called an activist. She and her colleagues at the NGO Itach-Maaki are improving lives of women and are promoting the agenda of Women, Peace and Security.
This piece is part of our dossier "No Women - No Peace: 20th Anniversary of UNSC Resolution 1325 on Women, Peace and Security".
While Israel was in the midst of the coronavirus lockdown, the NGO Itach Ma’aki – Women Lawyers for Social Justice started appearing on local news. It seems that in April 2020 everyone was talking about the petition they had filed against the National Security Council (NSC) of Israel – a governmental department that is supervised by the prime minister – demanding to incorporate women in the Exit Strategy Committee established at the time, in which 23 men and no women were appointed to devise recommendations on how to ease the coronavirus restrictions for the whole county.
It was one of those absurd cases of women’s exclusion, since any exit strategy would have to take into account women, their families, and their working places. It was extremely upsetting for another reason: the usual excuse to exclude women from the NSC committees – that there are no female experts in the field of national security – wasn't appropriate here, since the matter at stake was civil, preparing the country for the ‘day after’. There are many professional women in the spheres of public health, education, economy, welfare, etc.
Netta Loevy, from Itach Ma’aki, the lawyer who had filed the petition together with the Rackman Center, was quoted on every news platform saying ‘how irrational and shameful it is’. After the High Court of Israel criticised the NSC, nine women were appointed to the committee. A few weeks later, when the NSC had nominated a new committee for dealing with a potential second wave of the coronavirus, it included nine women and four men. It also included members of minority communities, such as Arab and Ultra-Orthodox women, and a female economist was appointed as director.
Loevy testifies that the coronavirus crisis was an ironical fruitful period to advance women’s causes. ‘After the first two weeks of lockdown, we've realized that we can achieve more than usual. For example, there was a coronavirus regulation allowing employers to put on leave pregnant women, which is usually illegal in order to protect them from being fired because of their expected child. We filed a petition and to our surprise, it was changed in no time.’
Human rights laws are a dramatic tool to change the lives of individuals
Loevy (41) lives in Tel Aviv, where she and her husband Izhar, a social worker and psychotherapist, raise their three boys (nine, seven and three and half years old). Her mandatory army service was at the army's radio station, one of the most popular radio stations in Israel. After the army, she completed a bachelor's degree in history and philosophy at Tel Aviv University, while working as a news reporter and an anchorwoman at TV Channel 10 News. She also directed two successful documentary films. She was a promising young journalist and a documentary filmmaker, but felt that her calling was somewhere else. While trying to figure out what that was, she started volunteering at the Worker’s Hotline, a veteran local NGO which helps migrant workers in Israel.
‘It was there that I had realised how civil and human rights are an important tool to change the lives of individuals. I was working with the Chief Legal Counsel of the organisation, Yuval Livnat, and decided that this is what I want to do.’ So, at the age of 26, Loevy started studying for a second bachelor's degree, this time at the law school of Tel Aviv University.
‘I sometimes feel that the title of a lawyer doesn't exactly fit me. Several times during my law school studies I wondered whether I will find myself in this profession. I had to study subjects that I knew I would never put into practice. Thanks to the long-term vision and the Refugee Rights Clinic operated by the law school, where students practice with real cases alongside professional lawyers, I've accomplished the degree.’
The first job she ever applied for as a human rights lawyer was at Itach Ma’aki, a non-profit lawyer’s organisation for social justice, which was established in 2001 to voice and empower disadvantaged women in Israel. ‘For me, this is feminism, a force that serves all women, not just the ones whose voices are being heard’, Leovy explains.
Adding women to the army lines is not the solution for peace and security
Israel is a militarised society – the term ‘security’ receives a literal meaning here. In such a climate, it is hard to broaden the term to more than border clashes, weapons, and national security affairs, yet Loevy and her colleagues are doing what only few years ago seemed impossible. ‘I notice how the general public is slowly redefining “security” to mean more than just military security and terms such as “health security” and “women’s security” are more common. Many countries have translated UNSC Resolution 1325 into the need to add women to the army and military security zones. But Israel is an example of how this path does not yield the solution. Women take a core part in the army here and it doesn't change the narrative towards peace. The solution should be approaching security in a broader sense.’
‘The notion of women’s participation has come a long way in the Israeli public consciousness since my colleague, Anat Thon-Ashkenazy, initiated the 1325 Project at Itach Ma’aki, with the collaboration of Heinrich-Böll-Stiftung, twelve years ago’, says Loevy. Together with other organisations, Itach Ma’aki led creative pathways to advance the implementation of the resolution in the complex reality of Israel. They led the creation of a unique Civil Society 1325 National Action Plan together with more than thirty-five NGOs, and initiated a special training course and lectures giving hundreds of women in Israel acquaintance with the UN resolution.
‘Even though representation of women from diverse backgrounds in decision-making positions is a necessary condition to improve society, it is not enough. In the past years we have been witnessing a major deterioration in the sense of what peace is, both among the Israeli public and our politicians. Peace became a “forbidden” word, while the normalisation of the occupation is rising.’
‘It is challenging to advocate for “Women, Peace and Security” when two of these words are considered “irrelevant” in the Israeli discourse. However, we continue to vigorously promote the resolution's principles, which haven't been tried yet in addressing the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. We find 1325 to be a useful tool for a stubborn violent conflict. Bringing gender perspectives and diverse women to decision-making positions in the peace and security arena is crucial for effectiveness and impact. I am very much inspired by other countries where women had an important role in peace agreements, such as Northern Ireland and Colombia.
When you are raising three children in Israel, one must find cracks of optimism and try to broaden them.’