It’s been two month since Hamas attack on the south of Israel. The following bombardment by Israel on Gaza has led to a global outcry for ceasefire and a free Palestine. Feminist movements around the world join these calls for an immediate and lasting ceasefire. At the same time, feminist solidarity is being questioned from within and attacked externally.
Simultaneously, social media feeds are beginning to reflect news from the massacres in Sudan, massive exploitation in the Democratic Republic of Congo, and the fossil fuel lobbyists facilitating deals at COP28.
The world is waking up to the injustice caused by centuries of colonisation, occupation, slavery and capitalist exploitation. Yet, polarisation and misinformation can hinder the important reckoning needed.
The Feminist Confusion in the Israel-Palestine Conflict
Over a million people have signed the petition for an immediate ceasefire. Feminist organizations and actors are advocating for an immediate ceasefire, a release of all hostages and the protection of civilians. A feminist movement for peace must include a reckoning of past and present occupation.
For decades, the apartheid against Palestinians has been ignored. Aid organizations and local feminist movements have advocated for the equal rights of Palestinians and an end to the apartheid and occupation, without much success.
In recent weeks, feminist activists and women’s rights organizations have been accused of ignoring the sexual violence on Israeli women perpetrated by Hamas on October 7th. They have also been accused of spreading antisemitism when calling for the freedom of Palestine in demonstrations and marches around the world. Peace marches have been named hate marches by politicians like Suella Braverman, who has since been forced to resign.
Propaganda is rampant and polarisation is increasing in online and offline spaces. In combination with the accusations some may choose to remain silent, as they’re afraid of spreading hate or participating in such an increasingly polarising topic. A decision that may lead to more criticism from other feminist activists.
Many of us are taking time to learn and listen. We are appalled by the horrific attack by Hamas, and know that nothing justifies attacking civilians. It is feminist organizations that have and will continue to lead the efforts against sexual violence in all its forms. The brutal and deadly occupation and apartheid against Palestinians in Israel, on the West Bank and Gaza has led to an immense loss of life for decades. This is a feminist issue.
Feminist activists and organizations need to stand against the forces trying to silence our calls for peace, freedom, equality and justice. A feminist perspective requires intersectionality and the acknowledgement of the importance of decolonisation, demilitarisation and standing with those most vulnerable.
With the rise of anti-semitism and Islamophobia and the unfathomable death toll in Gaza, feminist voices are needed more than ever. These voices will call for freedom and reconciliation, rather than polarisation and hatred.
As media and politicians set groups of people against each other, feminist movement-builders need to be careful to not repeat the same mistake. Whether we’re calling for an end to the gender-apartheid in Afghanistan and Iran, peace in Sudan or Myanmar, abortion rights in the United States, refugee rights in Europe or the freedom of Palestinians, these calls do not stand in conflict with each other. They stand together.
Using language that sets rights of some against the rights of others creates confusion, uncertainty and counteracts the movements of change we aim to support.
Hijacking the Movements and Discrediting Feminist Leaders
One way the feminist movement is being discredited, is by people of power and the media equating antisemitism and pro-Palestinian sentiments. It is incredibly dangerous to equate calling for the freedom of Palestinians with the hate of Jews. That equation can only lead to an inequality in the humanity, dignity and right to a life of freedom. Similarly, equating Israel as a nation and its government with Judaism or Jews, is also incredibly dangerous. Jewish people around the world will face the consequences of that equation.
A state must be held accountable for its actions – by its own people and by international laws and agreements – no matter what state this is in the world.
As Israel criticizes the United Nations and human rights organisations, it’s like the government is “femwashing” its actions and leadership. These accusations are echoed by pro-Israel voices and addressed to western feminist leaders and experts. The extreme-right party in leadership in Israel needs to instead listen to the people within the country and around the world calling for an immediate ceasefire, and the women’s rights organisations working locally for gender equality in the country.
As Greta Thunberg leads chants that “there’s no climate justice on occupied land” she has been called an antisemite and accused of dividing the climate movement. Fake images have spread of her holding an antisemitic book, and accusations hail down against Fridays for Future on social media. Still, feminist activists at COP28 continue to point out the intrinsic links between militarisation, occupation and the climate crisis.
You can read what Greta Thunberg and Fridays for Future Sweden writes about speaking out about Gaza here.
Those discrediting feminist leaders are not standing for peace and freedom for all. They are standing for polarisation and the justification of their own superiority.
We should of course continue to hold each other, organisations and institutions like the United Nations accountable. This is an important part of decolonizing and strengthening feminist movements. However, the criticism needs to be with a feminist and intersectional lens.
Feminist solidarity means standing with those most vulnerable.
A feminist solidarity is one that sees the interlinkages of our shared humanity and planet.
The polarisation we are witnessing today will affect the movements we so deeply care about. As we move forward advocating for human rights, social and climate justice, equality and peace, we must stand in solidarity with those most vulnerable. Feminist solidarity recognises the impacts of the military industrial complex and capitalist exploitative structures. It encourages us to listen to and learn from those most affected.
As we will continue to work in an increasingly digital landscape, where AI and algorithms impact what we see and hear, we’re challenged to be vigilant of online sources, credibility of news and social media posts. We must be careful to trust news reports with a sole source and be aware of promoted content and propaganda. Similarly, misinformation and conspiracy theories that take focus away from the real reporting from the crisis need to be debunked instead of repeated.
Feminist advocacy for peace and freedom is increasingly challenging work.
This work requires us to take action in the long run and build resilience. This involves setting the boundaries we need to continue to show up in ways that are meaningful. It means taking time to honour our bodies, including our mental health and wellbeing. Rest and self-care are important ingredients for resilience.
“Until we are all free, we are none of us free.”– Emma Lazarus, Jewish author and advocate for refugees and the poor
The words have been repeated many times, by among others, Dr. Martin Luther King Jr, Audre Lorde and Maya Angelou. Advocating for peace and freedom may lead to us being called naïve or weak. Those who benefit from current systems of power and abuse will do what they can to defend them. However, the global majority is calling out its failings. People around the world will continue to echo “Ceasefire now!” and the words will not seize to resound until they are true.