"Groundbreaking: 20 Women who are Changing the Face of Israeli Medicine", TheMarker, June 2018
5 years ago, I was handling a call to the Israel Women's Network (IWN) Hotline by a woman who claimed she was sexually harassed during hospitalization. The process of consulting this woman exposed the fact that the health system in Israel had absolutely no tools, information or mechanisms to address complaints of harassment during medical care. This case, as well as my own personal experiences, became an engine for me, about 4 years prior to the #MeToo campaign, to embark on a journey to change the health system in Israel. At first, no one wanted to listen. I spoke with the national doctors' association, and they said it was their job to defend doctors, not harm their reputations. Then I spoke to the National Council of Women's Health, whose members demanded I show them data that prove what I claimed then, was a silenced phenomenon. I tried to explain that as long as the Ministry of Health denies there's a problem, they won't bother collecting this type of data, and the issue will persist. But I knew that gathering data was the first step to convincing them that a lot needs to be changed. Representing IWN, and in collaboration with Itach-Maaki Women Lawyers for Social Justice, we went to the Knesset, and demanded a hearing on the issue of sexual harassment by medical professionals. Itach-Maaki presented the results of a small survey they conducted among women in the Haifa region, where they discovered over 33% of participants had experienced some form of harassment by a doctor or other medical professional. At the hearing, arranged by the Committee on the Advancement of Women, we managed to convince a high-ranking official within the Ministry of Health, that a wide-spread national survey was required in order to properly understand the issue and how to address it.
The next step was to convince the Ministry that a survey is far from enough. By that time I was no longer with IWN, and continued working independently, to lobby the Ministry to hold a meeting about drafting new official guidelines on how to address sexual harassment by a medical professional, and how to maintain the rights and dignity of patients and their families during medical care. The meeting was held with several representatives of civil society, and together we presented the health policy professionals from the Ministry, with our expertise on sexual harassment and its prevention. Alongside working with journalists to expose the problems and put further pressure on the Ministry, it was finally agreed to draft new guidelines, and although the process has been very slow, we have made progress: we convinced the Ministry to create a special position to coordinate these efforts, we managed to bring in several expert consultants to comment on drafts, and were able to expand the scope of the guidelines to all aspects we believe require addressing in order to deal with the issue correctly and fully. Recently, the ethics committee of the National Medical Association sent out its own new guidelines with regard to protecting the privacy and dignity of patients in all invasive examinations and treatments.