We also need more local information about our communities

13 October 2005

I have been reading all your posts and wish to thank you for the opportunity to share our knowledge and experince. One of the things that I think we need to think about more is the unique situation in every region and country in the world. These differences can help us a lot in creating a joint agenda that could also translate into concrete action. 

I'd like to share some of our experience in defining the situation of women in Israel during the last fuve years, Since the outbreak of the Al-Aksa Intifada. The unique impact this outbreak upon women inside Israel has not yet been recognized. Unlike Palestinian women, who suffer and need to survive daily violence under the Israeli occupation, Israeli women, who belong to the stronger side, cope with problems deriving from violent attacks performed by organized Palestinian groups, as well from the ongoing economic crisis.

In the process of defining the gender aspects of these affects it has become clear that we need to listen to women’s stories. Israeli Women who participated in various activities in the Isha l’Isha- Haifa Feminist Center center told us about their experiences and feelings: Many had preferred staying in the private sphere and avoided unnecessary expenditures, fearing a suicide bombing attack. Women also reported that they spend more time on mothering and caring activities. Many felt very depressed, anxious and hopeless, while others devoted all their time to political activism and peace activism.

In order to document and understand these experiences and as part of the efforts to promote gender mainstreaming within the local discourses on the armed Israeli-Palestinian conflict, Isha l’Isha has initiated a research on the civil, economic and emotional experiences of Israeli women since the beginning of the Al-Aqsa Intifada (October 2000). This project, implemented between June 2004 and February 2005, focused solely on Israeli citizens, namely Jews and Palestinians inside the Green Line, including a small sample of Jewish settlers in the occupied Palestinian territories. The sample of 552 women covered a diverse range of class, ethnic, and national sub-groups.  

Each participant answered a cluster of questionnaires addressing a broad array of topics: background information, socio-economic status, proximity to political violence,  health (physical and mental), political and civil participation alongside questions on patterns of reaching out for support. 
The findings of the research were submitted to the 49th session of the CSW. The underlying conclusions of our research identified four main trends:
A. The effects of political violence on Israeli women are potentially intensified by their roles as emotional and physical care-takers of children, men, and the elderly, by their susceptibility to gender-based and sexual violence, and by their economic disempowerment. B. Despite their high level of mental distress and emotional fatigue, women do not tend to reach out for professional help, possibly because available programs are not appropriately adjusted to their realistic needs. While they do tend to appeal to friends and family for support, this general social solidarity does not necessarily suffice in cases of acute injuries. C. Women from marginalized groups are particularly prone to suffer the effects of the conflict, through economic deterioration, loss of family members in military confrontations, and in specific areas also increased exposure to attacks on civilians.  D. Despite their persistent silencing within the hegemonic discourse on national security, women in Israel have a political voice. Their knowledge bears crucial contribution to the management of the conflict and to its solution.

As a result of the research, we have begun to organize workshops that focus on women’s personal experiences during the second Intifada. In these gatherings many women share feelings of distress, anxiety and hopelessness. Others choose to discuss the marginalization of women’s experiences by the discourse of national security. Many share their belief in women’s power and potential, being those who maintain society and take care of children, husbands and communities. We also hear about their hopes: the birth of a new child, the love of family and friends, a promising career, the belief in God. By sharing these personal experiences we encourage the women to rethink about the issue of reconciliation and about their potential role as promoting peace in their communities.

These days we are about to publish a full report in Hebrew, and I do hope to update you later on about our current dilemmas and solutions..


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