Lessons from Palestinian feminist organising

Nafisa Nipun Tanjeem | Published: 00:00, Mar 08,2024

THIS year, International Women’s Day is being celebrated with the theme ‘Invest in Women: Accelerate Progress,’ as determined by the United Nations. The UN Women says, ‘One of the key challenges in achieving gender equality by 2030 is an alarming lack of financing, with a staggering $360 billion annual deficit in spending on gender-equality measures’ (UN Women 2023).

What is the solution to this lack of financing for gender equality measures? The UN suggests ‘Invest in Women’ to ‘Accelerate Progress.’ It seems like the United Nations, along with most of the international, regional, and local non-government and human rights organisations, are obsessed with achieving ‘equality’ to liberate women.

                                                     Equality is not going to help us

IS EQUALITY a bad word? Of course not, but we need to ask: equality with whom and why? In most cases, the language of equality focuses on achieving equality with men. For example, it is often argued that women should be paid equal to men or that women should have political representation equal to men. Yes, we definitely need that, but there is something else to consider. Black feminist thinker bell hooks questioned the language of ‘equality’ many years ago. She pointed out that hyper-focusing on achieving equality with men within the existing system may serve a reformist purpose for privileged people, but it’s never enough to uproot what can be described as ‘imperialist white supremacist capitalist cis-hetero patriarchy’ (hooks 1994, 2000, 2023).

Of course, it is convenient for intersecting systems of oppression to give women more rights within the existing system and not to touch the system. Talking about and organising towards uprooting imperialism or capitalism requires us to ask uncomfortable questions, create a lot of trouble, and struggle a lot harder.

It is a much easier job to argue for things, such as whether we would need more women in the national parliament — women who might just be upholding the one-party democracy in Bangladesh. Celebrating women’s so-called leadership or honouring female CEOs and entrepreneurs rewards women who know how to speak the language of imperialism, capitalism, and patriarchy and how to serve these systems just like ‘successful’ men. When will we celebrate revolutionary women—women who create troubles, who question, and who say no to playing the game of the imperialist white supremacist capitalist cis-hetero patriarchy?

                          Danger of economising women’s liberation

THIS year, the UN has called for more ‘investment’ — an extremely capitalist and neoliberal term — in women. When we invest, there is an expectation of a return in exchange. According to the UN, the so-called ‘accelerated progress’ will be the return. hooks would perhaps ask, ‘Progress for whom?’ Or, more specifically, ‘How does this progress benefit or dismantle the imperialist white supremacist capitalist cis-hetero patriarchy’?

Also, the revolutionary transformation of social structures is often a long, painful process. It may take years of struggle and organising to challenge and uproot a system of oppression.

Where is the place for long-term revolutionary, transformative struggles in an age when women’s liberation is being economised and codified in strictly financial terms that expect us to invest resources for women because it is supposed to yield some kind of accelerated progress?

What if an investment does not return us the expected quick favour? What if fighting for women’s liberation means jeopardising and losing our privileges? Should we stop fighting for justice if we are not rewarded in an accelerated fashion?

               Palestinian feminists reject equality and UN campaigns

PERHAPS we need collective feminist soul-searching. I would argue that Palestinian feminists have offered us a powerful model of how to fight the imperialist white supremacist capitalist cis-hetero patriarchy. They realised long ago that just being equal to Palestinian men would not save Palestinian women. Palestinian feminists are struggling for liberation from ‘systemic gendered, sexual, and colonial violence, oppression, and dispossession.’

Men are neither the enemy nor the standard to achieve. Palestinian feminism calls for ‘anti-colonial and life-affirming decolonial vision and practice’ (Palestinian Feminist Collective).

Last year, the Palestinian Feminist Collective, a body of Palestinian and Arab feminists primarily located in North America who borrow inspirations from Arab, Palestinian, Black, Indigenous, and Third World feminist movements, called out the UN-launched UNiTE campaign (November 25–December 10, 2023) that included 16 days of activism to eliminate violence against women. Palestinian feminists insightfully pointed out that the global colonial feminist discourses, including the ones circulated by the United Nations, hyperfocus on interpersonal violence that depicts Palestinian women as helpless victims.

Colonial feminism justifies the Zionist settler colonial occupation, the seizure of Palestinian land and resources, and the genocide of Palestinian people to save Palestinian women from their own men, religion, and culture.

Palestinian feminists demonstrate how colonial feminism portrays Palestinian men as ruthless sexual predators and aggressors and as loveless fathers who use their children as human shields while defending the brutal colonial violence inflicted on Palestinian women’s bodies, sexualities, and reproductive capabilities by either calling it ‘collateral damage’ or, in the worst case, by making a case for Israel’s so-called right to defend itself (Palestinian Feminist Collective).

                        Palestinian feminists call out global empires

PALESTINIAN feminists haven’t hesitated to call out powerful global empires, including the United States, and powerful global reproductive rights champions, such as Planned Parenthood. The Palestinian Feminist Collective has recently issued a statement that pointed out that Planned Parenthood, a darling child of white American feminists, conveniently subscribed to the ‘both sides’ narrative and miserably failed even to mention the ongoing genocide in Gaza or the long history of Israeli settler colonial seize and violence in Palestine.

Palestinian feminists rightfully questioned why one of the world’s most resourceful and influential reproductive rights organisations failed to recognise what these feminists termed ‘reproductive genocide’ of Palestinian people, which includes ‘mass incarceration; psychological warfare; collective punishment; ethnic cleansing; gendered and sexual violence of women and girls by an occupying state or force; gendered and sexual violence of men and boys by an occupying state or force; and forced conditions of unlivability’ (Palestinian Feminist Collective).

                        Lessons on everyday slow reproductive death

PALESTINIAN feminists offer us some much-needed inspiration and tools to think about how we can fight against the imperialist white supremacist capitalist cis-hetero patriarchy in our own contexts.

As our government, NGOs and INGOs, human rights groups, media, and corporations succumb to the top-down UN-suggested prescription of ‘investing in women,’ as we wear purple, cut cakes, offer flowers to female-identified people, organise sponsored rallies, and post photos on social media, let’s take a moment to also ponder about how our communities have been facing a slow reproductive death.

As Palestinian feminists taught us, reproductive genocide is ‘policies, discourses, and practices that delimit, restrict, target, or diminish the life-giving capacities, choices, access, short-term health, long-term health, and life chances of communities…’ (Palestinian Feminist Collective).

As a community, I would argue we have been experiencing a slow reproductive death—a gradual annihilation of living capacities and access.

Our obsession with maximising capitalist investment and return has resulted in life-threatening, non-existent building and fire codes in major cities, while our politicians and policymakers keep telling us fairy tales of accelerated economic growth and development. After months and months of organising and advocacy and a series of threatening mass arrests of activists, the government and its corporate allies denied paying our garment workers a livable wage.

Our democracy, our freedom of the press, and our freedom of speech have died, but, make no mistake, we have the Padma Bridge, the metro rail, and dazzling highways. Just like a neocolonial discourse, the rhetoric of progress and development has been used again and again to justify and normalise our everyday reproductive death as we inhale poisoned air, as we continue to lose friends and families in human-made disasters, as we lose our freedom of expression and self-determination, and as our most marginalised and minoritised ones suffer the brunt of being born in the wrong place at the wrong time.

                                       Rejecting the blue pill of equality

IT IS time for our feminists to reject the blue pill of achieving elusive equality with men within the existing system. It’s time they get some inspiration from decolonial, transformative, grassroots, and transnational feminist organising, including the amazing work that Palestinian feminists are doing right now. It’s time we stopped uncritically accepting the UN-prescribed top-down bureaucratic feminist directives.

It’s time we topple the mass-NGO-industrial complex that has inflicted irreparable damage on our long tradition of independent, grassroots feminist organizing. It is time we addressed our obsession with the ‘success’ of privileged individual women who play the game of the imperialist white supremacist capitalist cis-hetero patriarchy. It’s time we engage in some soul-searching to find out what anti-imperialist, decolonial, and anti-capitalist feminist activism would look like in our communities.

Nafisa Nipun Tanjeem is a teacher, researcher, writer and activist. She is now an associate professor in the Department of Interdisciplinary Studies at Worcester State University in Massachusetts, United States.

Reproduced form https://www.newagebd.net/article/227317/lessons-from-palestinian-feminist-organising?fbclid=IwAR1zitZs0QXgbSDpaiM6AkWGhepwmD1eKJlPVStL4LxKV-yh6WA3GiGdg-A#google_vignette