The Jusur (Bridges) Forum for Arab Women Leaders, in cooperation with Kayan Feminist Organization, organized the first grassroots rally against the murder of women. The rally was held at 5 pm on Wednesday May 27th 2015 in Umm al-Fahm.
Kayan and Bridges prepare for the protests
Since its beginning, Kayan Feminist Organization has been dedicated to working with grassroots women in opposing biases within their community. These gender-based biases are reflected in many policies and practices, including ‘violence’ and the murder of women under the guise of so-called ‘family honor.’
Different from the work of other organizations, Kayan is committed to creating a feminist organization that works with women in an equitable and non-discriminatory manner, and works equally with men and women without prejudice. They operate with the beliefs that all people have the right to self-actualization- the expressed right of self-determination, and that women must have full rights over their own bodies.
Kayan’s investment in grassroots women is fundamental to their vision of creating a sustainable women’s movement. By empowering women to be active leaders in the public, Kayan helps women to actualize their rights, and gives them the tools to work on local and national initiatives with a high degree of independence. From the many projects and programs Kayan has implemented over the years, Arab women are now more aware of social issues that effect their personal and economic rights. Due to their increased awareness, grassroots women are becoming more political, and are more engaged in both public life within their communities, and in social struggles stemming from issues such as the conflict between Arabs and Jews, issues relating to health, violence against women, and gender-based exclusion from public spaces and decision-making positions. From their social awareness and social participation, the women of Jusur realized the imminent need to protest against the murder of women.
Why protests in Umm al-Fahm?
The answer is why not?! Why not every day?! Why was this protest not yesterday?! The reality is, women are murdered every day and must have a right to live. Every hour, women are vulnerable to being murdered and losing their right to life. Institutional violence also kills women in a myriad of ways. By preventing women from expressing their feelings and ideas, depriving women of their rights to self-expression and self-determination, and preventing women from their rights to govern their own bodies and decisions, society imposes violence against women.
Why Demonstrate on Wednesday?
Unlike most demonstrations on the issue of violence against women, Jusur’s demonstration was not only held in order to remember women who were killed. Rather, the women of Jusur and Kayan believe that society needs to act pre-emptively, and start opposing so called “honour killings” so that they cease to occur. The women of Kayan are working to strengthen and empower women, and to raise awareness of women’s rights on a continuous basis. Kayan is now working to develop women’s leadership, while all the time remaining attentive to what is actually happening in the field. Kayan urges the women leaders to develop, systematize, and institutionalize the work of local women in order to ensure sustainability.
Among the issues that the women of Kayan boldly decided to act upon, is the subject of femicide. Working from different levels, the rally was a part of an ongoing project aimed at raising women’s voices and engaging with the community on the issue of femicide. The women of Kayan believe that protests are a necessary part of their work, and for this reason, Kayan will continue to hold rallies and protests in order to oppose the killing of women. For more than a year and a half, Kayan has worked on this issue, thus the rally is not part of a fleeting or temporary action; it is part of a work in progress which aims to educate women to confront violence and murder. Kayan is closely following what is happening in the field, and have noted that there are no other associations that directly confront the issue of femicide in a sustainable manner. Rather, other organizations hold demonstrations only in response to instances of murder. Kayan will continue to work on eradicating femicide by engaging its members in the field, who are all well aware of the critical problems faced by women in society. Kayan’s efforts come with many challenges, but at the local level, there are intensive meetings and weekly public programs that have helped the women against violence project to adapt to the changing conditions in the field.
The director of Kayan, Rafa Anebtawi spoke of the protests, stating, “During strategic planning meetings, the women of Jusur Forum decided that in addition to their annual national conference, they will formulate a plan to hold a national activity on the issue of violence against women. The women expressed that they feel a strong commitment to take an active role in opposing and ending violence against women, and the horrific phenomenon of murders in the name of so called “family honour.” The women’s engagement with this issue is essential, as our community is in denial about an issue that threatens the security and safety of women in their daily lives, and also threatens the health of our entire society. This year the Forum is focusing on the field, and this is the first time that women from the grassroots made a public action about this issue. Furthermore, the women chose to hold the rally in a very conservative area that has complex political and social issues. For the women, holding the rally here is a special challenge, and was a decision that required a lot of courage.”
The Jusur (Bridges) Forum of Arab Women Leaders
The Jusur Forum of Arab women leaders includes representatives from all of the groups working with Kayan and works on both local and national levels. When the Jusur Forum was formed in 2008 and launched in 2009, the objective was to develop a grassroots women’s movement. Kayan is ambitious to continue this work, and is moving ahead. As part of its principles, Kayan believes that the presence of socially active women in the field is as important as having women hold academic positions. The Forum, which began with 6 women, today boasts 40 women representatives from twenty villages- a model that is unparalleled in the entire region.
Members of the Forum meet between 5 and 6 times a year, and are now focusing on objectives that reflect larger social issues, such as a lack of women’s representation in politics. The ultimate aim is to cover subjects that effect all Arab women in Israel, and to respond to large scale societal needs. Violence against women is exemplary of an issue that threatens all women in the Arab society in Israel.
From Jusur’s beginnings, Kayan and the Forum members decided to work on increasing women’s representation in political and decision-making positions, and to work on the issue of violence against women within the Arab society in Israel. In their work to end violence against women, the Forum held strategic planning meetings in which the women conducted research on the phenomenon of killing in the name of so called “family honour.” Based on insights from the strategic meetings, Forum members decided to set up educational days to further develop their leadership capacities in opposing femicide.
Kayan and Baladna are confronting the issue of killing women.
Balanda Arab Youth Association and Kayan Feminist Organization conducted field research in order to examine the attitudes of Palestinian youth towards violence and the phenomenon of killing women in Palestinian society.
The objective of this research is to reveal how the youth understand violence. The research is part of a larger project funded by the European Union, that aims to confront violence against women in the Palestinian society, through cooperation between youth and women.
Dr. Suhad Azhar-Nashef, who works at Mada al Carmel and is a lecturer at the women’s studies program at the college and the Oranim Educational Qasimi Academy, was the leading researcher on issue.
In order to gather information, a form was distributed to 393 young men and women. The results showed high levels of support for the killing of women amongst the youth but also a high willingness to participate in activities that oppose the killing of women. The research also shows that 52% of youth agreed with the statement that “a woman killed to preserve family honor is ultimately a benefit to society.” 78.6% of the youths reported hearing about an activity meant to combat violence against women, and 55% have participated in such events.
It is important to note here that the research shows some contradicting attitudes. For example, youth who reported that they oppose the killing of women, also expressed their support for the killing of women when the victim was perceived to be at fault. A significant portion expressed that they both believe femicide works to deter women from behaving in ways that do not fit the expectations of society, and that they oppose the killings. The data reveals that a respondent’s opposition to femicide does not necessarily reflect a liberal attitude towards women. Rather, it often comes attached with prejudice against women, making community efforts to change Palestinian youth’s perceptions of femicide all the more important.
Assessing the role of political leaders
Rafa Anebtawi, the director of Kayan, views Arab society as failing to confront the critical issues women face at all levels of society, including violations of labor rights, sexual abuse or violence, and exclusion of women from decision-making positions. She states, “Dealing with these issues is not central nor is it at the top of the agenda for leading officials. Leaders believe that there are more pressing political and national issues than those that affect women. This is problematic in and of itself- the idea that women or young people or any other group are not considered as part of the political and social fabric of our society. This exclusion is directly related to the problem we are confronting today. The killing of women and the phenomenon of violence against women should be topics that are presented and treated as national issues. As a society, we are progressing in how we deal with violence, but what concerns us specifically is violence against women, because this violence is a systemic problem that is exacerbated due to the vulnerability of women and their perceived inferior status in society. In this way, the dominant patriarchy sanctions and gives legitimacy to the murder of women.”
In the Jusur forum, women agreed that the issue of the killing of women should be a priority for not just women, but society as a whole. A Jusur member from Nazereth said, “I see this rally as the fruit of a new life. It is important to me on a personal level, being a woman. Promoting the status of women and protesting against violence and murder is my responsibility as a female. Though some women have fear, I am confident that the voice of women is very important, and I hope remain thoroughly involved in this cause. Today, twenty women from Nazareth are participating. It is important to dedicate ourselves and our time to this issue. Two or three hours is not much, but it does a lot to raise community awareness of the murders. In conclusion, it is important to sway the public’s opinion in hopes of making the phenomenon of the murder of women disappear.”
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