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In 2024, International Women’s Day is irrelevant if it doesn’t centre on women in Gaza

March 9, 2024 at 2:23 pm

Emani Casir al-Hur, who lost her husband and 5 children in the Israeli attack on Sabra neighborhood in the central part of Gaza on Oct 28th, tries to survive with her daughter and mother in a cabin in the Mevasi area as she waits her children’s bodies to be taken out of the rubble in Rafah, Gaza on March 3, 2024. [Abed Zagout – Anadolu Agency]

Since its inception in 1977, International Women’s Day (IWD) has become a global phenomenon. Held annually on 8 March, the day is aimed at celebrating the contributions of women throughout history, taking the opportunity to shed light on women’s experiences and achievements, whilst continuing to spotlight persistent gender disparities and wider social inequality.

Over time, IWD has become more about its own hype, co-opted by bourgeois feminists taking to social media to “highlight the cause” rather than an opportunity to generate global solidarity and meaningful interventions. Despite the intersectional nature of feminism and global politics, many women who experience daily conflict remain voiceless, with the “actions” of IWD being more about celebrating women of the so-called Global North than those in the Global South. IWD is thus a sanitised version of feminism, a PR stunt for the United Nations (UN), whose brainchild it was, to pat themselves on the back and keep donations coming in.

“Inspiring inclusion” is the soundbite this year. The UN publicity is in overdrive, with its website boasting happy women making heart signs with their hands, with actions for the day seeking to help women and girls make informed decisions about their health and elevate women in sports, to name a few. Nowhere does it mention support for those experiencing conflict, nor does it even pay cursory attention to the genocide in Gaza. Given the timing of the day, taking place alongside one of the most catastrophic events to have affected the lives of women in conflict since the Second World War, the lack of reference to Palestine is particularly glaring.

READ: UNRWA: Horrific daily death toll of Gaza women

Since October 2023, over 9,000 Palestinian women have been murdered in Gaza as part of Israel’s brutal and ongoing war of erasure. One million Palestinian women have been displaced, and many have seen their children die. Miscarriages have increased by 300 per cent over the last five months, and women are giving birth without access to proper medication or even hospital facilities. After four full months of bombing, Palestinian women in Gaza are facing forced starvation and famine as Israel blocks humanitarian aid at the borders.

Yet, it would be a catastrophic oversight to believe that the systematic destruction that Palestinian women face simply manifested since October 2023 or is confined to the much-maligned Gaza Strip. Palestinian women throughout historic Palestine have endured persistent subjugation at the hands of Israel’s occupation for over 75 years and counting, a space considered a violent settler colonial regime and defined as an apartheid reality by many humanitarian organisations, including Amnesty International. In 2015, the UN’s Commission on the Status of Women labelled Israel’s occupation: “A major obstacle for Palestinian women with regard to their advancement, self-reliance and integration in the development of their society.” They stated at this time that it was “inconceivable” for Palestine to achieve the 2030 sustainable development goal of gender equality under the current siege of occupation.

Focussing on gender disparities in 2023 without mentioning genocide in Palestine is a farce, nor does the UN highlight disparities that exist between Palestinian females and their Israeli counterparts across definable goals such as health. Palestinian women have a life expectancy that is ten years lower than their Israeli counterparts and a maternal mortality rate four times higher. This has been the effect of the ongoing siege on Gaza, a situation which has been in place for over 14 years. Take, for example, breast cancer rates in Palestine. The impact on women is further evident when we consider the lack of diagnostic medical equipment, cancer therapies and cancer drugs, which has contributed towards the stark disparity in breast cancer five-year mortality rates for Palestinian women – a bleak contrast to those of 81 and 86 per cent cited from the UK and Israel respectively.

OPINION: How development aid undermines peace in Palestine

Despite the Israeli occupation being the biggest and most omnipresent impedance to Palestinian women achieving emancipation from the structures that reinforce inequality, it is conspicuously absent from humanitarian discourse and the international language that accompanies IWD. In 2023, on IWD, with the theme “DigitALL: Innovation and technology for gender equality”, the UN in Palestine cited the need for gender-responsive education and skills training, algorithms that align with human rights and gender equality and the need for investment in bridging the digital gender divide. Critically, it failed to consider the reality for Palestinian women living under occupation and neglected to mention the fact that Israel prevents 4G and 5G and high-speed broadband connection in many areas of Palestine or that it limits the development of digital infrastructure within the Occupied Palestinian Territories. The whitewashing of the deleterious effects of an enduring Israeli occupation and its associated apartheid practices allows for the maintenance of a much more palatable narrative for Israel and its friends in high places.

As recently as February 2024, the UN stated that it was alarmed by: “Credible allegations of egregious human rights violations to which Palestinian women and girls continue to be subjected in the Gaza Strip and the West Bank.” Their stance was to call for an immediate ceasefire alongside: “Sustained and unrestricted humanitarian access in order to facilitate assistance of food, water, fuel, and health supplies to meet the full needs of women and girls in the Gaza Strip.” No mention was made of Palestinian women living in the West Bank, and no call to action was demanded, nor was meaningful intervention cited.

IWD claims to be for the emancipation of women globally. Yet, after four decades of IWD, the narratives of Palestinian women and the injustices they suffer remain conspicuously silent.

With IWD falling concurrently at the same time as Israeli Apartheid Week, it is crucial that we continue to advocate for the rights of the women of Palestine and elevate the voices of those who are living under the brutality of Israeli apartheid and occupation. Anything short of this promotes an advocacy that is sanitised, safe and Global North-centric.

READ: First female Palestinian ambulance driver greets fellow women in Gaza on Women’s Day

The views expressed in this article belong to the author and do not necessarily reflect the editorial policy of Middle East Monitor.