Education, General

International Women’s Day: A Struggle on Many Fronts

1 Comment 08 March 2018

Leah Shakdiel

By Leah Shakdiel

International Women’s Day, March 8 has its origins within the socialist movement of the United States, and later was adopted by Socialist International. The first country to annually commemorate this date was the Soviet Union following the Communist Revolution  thanks to the tireless work of Clara Zetkin and other women. Only in the 1960s, when the socialist movement inspired the birth of the radical feminism, did others, including Israel,   adopt this date and began to struggle for its international observance.

Trying to place myself within a historic period, I am reminded of the years I spent working for gender equality at the Ministry of Education. When we published activities relating to March 8th, the overwhelming response was from Israeli Arab teachers and students from northern Israel whose families were part of the Israeli socialist and communist parties (such as Hadash). They knew of this tradition from their parents’ homes and their communities. The recognition of this date coincided with a very specific awareness of today’s content: identification with women’s struggle for equality came as an inseparable part of their participation in their struggle for general equality in society, in the class-economic arena, and also in the national arena – the struggle of the Arab minority in Israel for equality in the Jewish state. Yes, they understood the essence of the date more accurately than did the Ministry of Education, which had invited them, like the rest of the citizens, to the various events..

More particularly, as a Jew and as a Jewish woman, I owe my ability and that of my friends to develop Jewish feminism in our generations to women who understood and understand that they are fighting simultaneously, on two fronts:

On the one hand, research shows that the main inequality from which they suffer is not gender inequality, but that of class, racial, ethnic and national inequality. In other words, if the children of Israel are enslaved in Egypt, the women must fight for liberation together with their men, and if the destruction of the entire Jewish people in the kingdom of Persia and Medi was ordered, there too they must fight. Moreover, the general enslavement of their group also includes situations in which the men are more enslaved than women. For example, the wage gaps between Arab men in Israel and Jewish men are greater than those of Arab women and  Arab men, and the humiliation and oppression experienced by Arab men in the public sphere is more severe than that which are experienced by Arab women. Moreover, women often have more opportunities to help the whole group than do the men, as Esther explains to Mordecai, or as happened to women during the Holocaust, when Jewish circumcised men had a harder time hiding and pretending to be non-Jews.

On the other hand, women suffer from oppression in unique ways: they have to look after the children and the elderly, they are victims of sexual violence by men and so on. Moreover, in addition to their suffering as members of an oppressed group, they also suffer under the patriarchy and gender oppression of their own (oppressed) group. When they complain about it, they are told by men in their group that all suffering comes from the oppressor group. The women are told to postpone their struggle for their own equality and safety until better days when the struggle to liberate the entire group has ended.

As a result of their double oppression, these women accumulate important experience. They gain a deep understanding of the nature of oppression in the world, as well as in the development of various strategies for a double struggle on two fronts,  the internal and the external arenas.

On International Women’s Day we must contend with two barriers to fully celebrate and maximize this day to promote a holistic struggle for justice. Raising the issue of gender oppression, without linking it to other struggles, is possible for women of privilege. We must always be aware of the linkage, and while the struggle is just we recall that gender equality is essential to overall struggles for peace. This is why, for example, UN Security Council Resolution 1325 demands that more women be involved in policy making. Similarly, we must not be tempted to seeing this day as a day to advocate for women from weakened groups in our own society. Rather this day must always be about the experience of feminist activists from oppressed groups: a simultaneous struggle for the liberation of the entire group together with a struggle for gender equality while we struggle for women within our individual groups as well.

Rabbis for Human Rights was founded as an organization for the struggle for justice for non-Jews in the Jewish state, and in the occupied territories held by the Jewish state outside its borders. Non-Jewish people have been occupied by us every day for fifty years. RHR, seeing that the pursuit of justice must include all those oppressed in Israel and in the territory that it controls, expanded to work on social justice, human rights education and interreligious dialogue and struggle for human dignity. International Women’s Day for us is a reminder that non-Jewish women among us demand justice and fight for it, but not as a separate issue. This is part of the general struggle of all of us, women and men, for a just society and a just state. You can support RHR in the pursuit of this struggle by clicking here.

Leah Shakdiel is studying to become an ordained Orthodox Rabbi and is a member of Rabbis for Human Rights. She resides in Yeruham.

Your Comments

1 comment

  1. Philip McFedries says:

    I hear your heart and rejoice in your prophetic courage! [from New Zealand]

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