The feminist case for peace
Welcome to the Impact newsletter, a weekly dispatch of feminist journalism from around the world. This week, I am sharing the views of feminist advocates on the case for a meaningful peace between Palestinians and Israelis. I do so in the hope that these insights will be useful to all of us who are overwhelmed and appalled by the horror and suffering this war has wrought.
More than 15,500 people, including more than 6,500 children, have been killed in Israeli attacks on Gaza, according to the Hamas-run health ministry. In Israel, around 1,200 people were killed and 240 hostages taken in the Hamas attack on October 7th, according to Israeli officials. Hamas has been designated as a terrorist organisation by the United States, the United Kingdom, Canada and the European Union. During a week-long temporary ceasefire that ended on December 1st, Hamas released 105 hostages in exchange for 240 Palestinian prisoners.
Witnesses and first responders to the October 7th attack have shared harrowing stories of sexual violence perpetrated against women and girls by Hamas. The UN has called for an investigation into these crimes. In Gaza and the West Bank, 1.2 million women and girls were identified as being in need of protection from gender-based violence before Israel’s latest bombing campaign — UN Women has warned that number will only have increased since then. The UNFPA, the UN agency responsible for reproductive and maternal health, further estimates that 180 women are giving birth every day in a situation where hospital care has all but collapsed.
What does feminism have to say to this misery?
To some, it may feel pointless to talk about feminism in the face of so much bloodshed and trauma. But I believe that for feminism to have relevance right now, it must have an answer to the indiscriminate killing of thousands. It must have answers to the massacring of civilians, to the taking of hostages, to sexual violence used as a weapon of war, to collective punishment, to mass graves, to a situation human rights groups have described as “apartheid”1, to the imprisonment of children and to the denial of basic healthcare to an entire population forced to live without reliable access to electricity, water and fuel. It must be able to rise against anti-Semitism, Islamophobia, and the hate crimes that have erupted around the world since the latest escalation of a conflict that started long before October 7th, 2023.
Feminism stands for our shared humanity. It demands that we all live freely and equally, that we all have autonomy and dignity. It holds that one life is not worth more than another; not based on gender, not based on race, religion, sexuality, disability, or any other characteristic.
There are people out there right now using the tenets of feminism and the language of women’s rights to argue for an end to the conflict. I spoke to some of them about their vision for a solution to this war. My intention is not to tell anyone how to feel or how to act, but rather to illustrate how feminism can provide us with an ideological framework to respond to atrocities in which humanity is stripped from whole populations, and can help us envision alternative solutions to those we are often provided. I approach this with the humility and the curiosity that is required of me as a journalist and with the hope I maintain that inclusive, intersectional feminism will provide a vision for a more just future.
At the time of these interviews, a temporary ceasefire was underway. Fighting resumed on the morning of December 1st.
“A ceasefire is very much in line with feminist principles, values and leadership,” Lina AbiRafeh, a global women’s rights activist and former aid worker who specialises in the gendered consequences of war and disaster, said. “Wars are gendered and women suffer before, during and after in very specific ways.”
The Women’s International League for Peace and Freedom campaigns for peace and security based on feminist principles through addressing the “root causes of conflict”. These include escalating militarisation and its effect on women.
“Destroying civilian infrastructure has a disparate impact on women; it destroys the health, education and social services they rely on, and the spaces and sectors from which they often lead and publicly participate,” Salma Kahale, the organisation’s director of Middle East and North Africa programmes, told the Impact newsletter in a statement.
“Occupation and the accompanying militarisation create a political economy that enables and supports war and violence, increases the creation of militarised masculinities, and undermines and mitigates against effective women’s participation in public and political affairs.”
AbiRafeh sees women’s rights as part of the solution to this escalating militarisation: “We will avoid the stereotype that women are more peaceful inherently, but it is true that women have been working across divides to foster peace and create some semblance of coexistence.”
One such group is Women Wage Peace, a grassroots organisation of Israeli women peace advocates. The group’s co-founder, Vivian Silver, was killed in the October 7th attack. On October 4th, Women Wage Peace and the Palestinian organisation Women of the Sun had gathered to promote their “Mothers’ Call” to end the conflict. Despite the catastrophic violence that has been unleashed since October 7th, the two organisations continue to work together, Yael Braudo-Bahat, the co-director of Women Wage Peace, told the Impact newsletter.
“Our partnership became more crucial and our mission became more urgent, because if the conflict is not resolved, then the next round will be much harsher and much more violent,” she said.
Reem Hajajreh, the Director of Women of the Sun, echoed this commitment. “This is a historical partnership of women which aims to encourage both sides to support a peaceful resolution of the conflict and to bring the leaders of both sides back to the negotiation table in order to sign an agreement which would ensure freedom, peace and security to women and men on both sides and to our children and future generations,” she told the Impact newsletter in a statement.
“While efforts are made, we feel that women’s voices and stories are not adequately highlighted amid the war,” Hajajreh said.
The Mothers’ Call advocates for a resolution of the conflict in line with UN Resolution 1325, which holds that women should be involved in peace processes around the world.
“Women are everywhere in this war, but they’re not around the decision-making tables,” Braudo-Bahat said. “When women are involved in a peace process, the agreement is reached faster, and it’s much more resilient and sustainable.”
For now, in the midst of this conflict, many feminists are simply asking to be heard.
Women Wage Peace are campaigning for the sexual violence perpetrated against the victims of Hamas’s October 7th attack to be recognised and addressed by international women’s rights groups.
In Gaza, women fighting for survival amid the rubble are asking not to be forgotten. In an article for The Institute for Palestine Studies, anthropologist Sarah Ihmoud shared a message for feminists around the world from a young woman in Gaza, Mona Ameen.
“Tell the women and feminists that huge numbers of mothers lost their children and huge numbers of children will complete their lives without their mothers,” Ameen said. “Tell the world that I am here — one among many … Please keep talking about us, keep telling and spreading our stories and what is happening now, and keep us in your prayers.”
This conflict does not spare anyone of any gender, but it is clear that women are suffering in specific ways while at the same time being under-represented in decision-making about the war. This is why feminism needs to be a vital part of the path towards an eventual peace, AbiRafeh said.
“I’d like to see feminist principles underlie not just the call for ceasefire, but the call for what comes after that: how we’re going to allocate aid and how we’re going to build a sustainable and meaningful peace that respects the rights, dignity and freedom of everyone,” she said.
Human Rights Watch and Amnesty International, two sources we use often in the Impact newsletter, have found that the laws, policies, and practices of the state of Israel towards Palestinians constitute “apartheid” under the definition set out in the Apartheid Convention and the Rome Statute. Not everyone, including the French National Assembly, agrees with the use of this term to describe the situation.