Sat 2-March-2024

Feminists are silent in the face of the suffering of Palestinian women

Monday 12-February-2024

A few months back, I gave birth to a baby by an emergency Caesarean section. The mere thought of my body being cut in an operating theatre terrified me. During a C-section, seven separate layers of a woman’s abdomen are cut. Once the effects of the anesthesia wore off, all I could think about was the incredible bravery of a woman to consider having another child after enduring such excruciating pain. I did not feel like being in my own body for months.

Post-C-section, doctors prescribe multivitamins, painkillers and other medications to prevent infection. Pain relief is crucial, not only to reduce the pain, of course, but also because the mother has to breastfeed her baby and she must be awake and alert. Despite such medications, I faced two kinds of infections leading to frequent hospital visits. In short, it was a harrowing experience and I missed out on the joy of being a new mother, something about which I had long dreamed. Now when I hear the news of women in Gaza undergoing C-sections without anesthesia, my heart and soul tremble.

Palestinian women in Gaza are not only enduring medical hardships, but they are also facing starvation and a lack of proper, warm clothing over what is a harsh winter in the enclave. We cannot imagine the physical and psychological pain that they are going through. The critical question is: who is responsible for this and who is doing anything to stop the genocide? Most importantly, I believe, where are the feminists who claim to stand on the side of all women facing discrimination? The term “discrimination” barely captures the magnitude of what women in Gaza and the rest of Palestine have to endure as a direct result of the Israeli occupation and siege.

Last month, I was supposed to present a paper on feminism, and it left me exasperated to think that the issues that feminists champion seem meaningless when they don’t treat or regard all women as equals. Why are the real, existential issues missing from their narrative? The ongoing brutal genocide in Gaza, lasting over a hundred days (preceded by 75 years’ of “slow genocide”), exposes the silence of feminists, including those in “gender studies” departments and self-proclaimed women’s rights activists. It’s outrageous that they remain quiet in the face of such atrocities.

If this were a genocide perpetrated by the so-called Islamic or Muslim rulers, feminist voices would unite against them.

However, it’s disheartening that many so-called feminists make noises about issues such as the “headscarf” but are quiet when it comes to Israeli settler-colonial oppression inflicted on Palestinians. This selective activism reveals a bias against Muslim women, perpetuating a narrative that views them as oppressed solely by “their own men”, Muslim men.

We have seen self-proclaimed feminists applauding women burning headscarves in Iran yet they are silent when Muslim women face oppression from brutal non-Muslim forces. The narrative constructed by these feminists suggests that Palestinian women are oppressed solely by Palestinian men; they ignore the daily humiliations inflicted by the world’s most immoral army, the IDF (Israel’s so-called “Defense” Forces).

Thanks to the journalists risking their lives to cover the realities on the ground, we can see and show the world what Palestinian men stand for: family values, love, care, humility and resilience.

I came across a video on Instagram with a woman recounting how she and other women and little girls were treated by the Israeli forces. The soldiers stripped them and forced them to hand over their valuables, including their mobile phones and money. They were referred to derogatively as “animals”, the same sort of language used by Israel’s defense minister in October. Such abuse is common from Israelis on the streets and social media.

According to the UN, Israel has killed two mothers every hour and seven women every two hours in Gaza over the past few months. Heart-rending videos on social media expose the appalling conditions that women endure, either in makeshift shelters or in the rubble of homes destroyed by Israeli bombs. Some of them live with the knowledge that the bodies of loved ones lie crushed under the rubble just a few meters away.

While statistics convey the severity of the situation, it’s crucial to remember that the Palestinians are not just numbers; that they are real people like you and I; men, children and women, all of them suffering untold horrors. We need to look beyond the data and think about the women who are not part of the daily updates, and think of them as our sisters, and really mean it. Let us also remember that many of them have lost their sons, daughters, fathers, mothers, husbands and perhaps everyone in their immediate and extended families in appalling circumstances.

It is witless to expect Western feminists, who have been — ironically — paternalistic in their tone and have no room for diverse voices, to speak for the women of Gaza. What is truly disappointing, though, is that non-Western feminists who have struggled to have their own voices heard have not spoken out against the genocide happening in Gaza in real time on social media. Where are the multicultural, post-colonial and third-world feminists? How much pain and humiliation must the Palestinian women in Gaza have to endure before the so-called “feminists” wake up and challenge the colonial occupation?

-Afshan Khan is a candidate for a PhD in Political Science and International Relations at Istanbul’s Sabahattin Zaim University. Her article appeared in MEMO.

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