The graphic in this poster shows three overlapping profiles of a woman’s face. In the profile to the left, the woman is gagged and blue as if suffocating. In the second profile, she has succeeded in removing the gag, her natural color is returning, and she is starting to speak.
In the third profile she is speaking forcefully — indicated by a series of outward arching waves — and articulating the words in the caption. Translated from Arabic, they read:
The transition from dark to light colors suggests the movement from repression to liberation.
It often comes as a shock to Americans to consider that Palestinian society must contend with the full range of public health issues that all other societies do: not only violence against women but also mental illness; aging; substance abuse; teen pregnancy; nutrition; sanitation; access to medical care; and more. The key difference is that Palestinians must deal with these concerns in the context of war, occupation, and exile. Since the end of World War II, Palestinian society has been buffeted by pressures almost inconceivable to ordinary Americans including five major wars, a hostile foreign occupation, massive internal displacement, exile, collective punishment, and dispossession-as-policy.
This poster has a double meaning in that it is not just about overcoming violence against women; it is also about overcoming resistance to the idea of women speaking out. For many Palestinian women, the first barrier in the struggle for equality is to be heard. This is no mean task in a society in which tradition and cultural practices have not generally been supportive of women’s active involvement outside the domestic sphere. Change in that direction is made harder by the extreme duress under which most Palestinians live.
For Palestinian women, liberation cannot be defined merely as freedom from domestic violence, or freedom to speak out, or even withdrawal of a repressive military presence from their land. It also must encompass the spiritual, creative, and emotional healing of a deeply traumatized civil society.
Enough Silence! was produced by the United Nations Development Fund for Women (UNIFEM) to announce a conference dedicated to combating violence against women. A number of Palestinian women’s groups participated in the conference, including:
The Commission in Opposition to Violence Against Women
This short yet diverse roster hints at just how energetically engaged Palestinian women are in the formation of contemporary Palestinian society.
In addition to organizing themselves professionally to address critical public health concerns, Palestinian woman have actively participated in a host of international forums, such as the United Nations’ Decade of Women; the Arab Labour Organization’s (ALO) Arab Women’s Office; and numerous bi-lateral European development efforts such as the Konrad Adenauer Fund, which seeks to empower Arab women’s groups through scholarships, exchanges, and grants-in-aid for political education and organization. The General Union of Palestinian Women (GUPW), which is represented in the Palestine National Council, the Palestinian parliament, is the main political forum for Palestinian women.
The efforts of Palestinian women to confront gender violence and their demand that they be allowed to assume the full range of rights and obligations in the national liberation movement presents a fascinating parallel history to the American women’s liberation movement, which emerged as a byproduct of the pre-Civil War era abolitionist movement in the U.S.
Irrespective of the role they played in the country’s founding revolution, American women were effectively locked out of political life in the newly minted nation that was crafted by the giants of democracy such as Washington and Jefferson, owing to repressive, long-standing notions of the appropriate role of women in society.
Activism for women’s rights, which got its original impetus from Quaker anti-slavery movements, began emerging around 1820. Yet it was so unsettling an idea that many women who are today celebrated as exemplars of democracy such as the Grimke sisters, Lucretia Mott, Harriet Beecher Stowe, Sojourner Truth, and Harriet Tubman, endured character assassination, public ridicule, social ostracization and physical harassment for their efforts. Palestinian women, in much the same way as the abolitionists and early suffragettes, must simultaneously address a range of complex yet sensitive issues: to serve the national struggle on the political, outwardly-focused level as well as to focus inwardly, and call attention to the human, personal and spiritual costs that occupation and war impose on Palestinians as civilians.© 2003 Liberation Graphics. All Rights Reserved.
Questions for A New
1) The poster calls for stopping silence and saying “no” to violence. Are these calls idealistic or pragmatic? How does either action work to reduce violence against women?
2) What is the position of the Israeli women’s movement relative to the rights of Palestinian women? Are there any institutionalized links between the American and Palestinian women’s movements? If no, why not? If yes, which ones and how do they differ from one another?
3) What roles have women (Israeli, Palestinian, and other) played in the efforts to bring peace to the Middle East? What contributions might they make now and in future?
4) What role, if any, does the Bush administration “road map” for peace in the Middle East include for Palestinian women and/or Palestinian women’s organizations?
Please send us your questions and comments (English only please!)
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