Tuesday, December 01, 2020

What the Women’s Boat to Gaza means to women trapped in the Strip

By Matt Matthews - September 19, 2016
Section: [Main News] [Features]
Tags: [Freedom Flotilla] [Gaza Blockade] [women‘s rights]

The Women’s Boat to Gaza, a transnational, all-female coalition of activists, is on its way to the besieged Strip.

The two-boat convoy is following in the wake of several previous 'Freedom Flotillas’, including a 2010 mission in which 10 activists were killed by the Israeli Forces. 
Products blocked by the Israelis since the 2007 imposition of the blockade include fruit, vegetables, meat, wheat, wheelchairs, medicine, fuel, cement, A4 paper, crayons, musical instruments and shampoo. 
Some are banned because they are 'luxuries’, and others because they are 'dual use’ products which could allegedly be used to resist Israeli aggression. 
Gazan women, and their counterparts on board the flotilla, have told the Palestine Monitor that the siege is cruel, illegal and sexist.
Amal Syam is the Director of the Gaza Women’s Centre, a female-led organisation which has spent 25 years improving the lives of women in the Strip.  
To Syam, “internal divisions” in Gazan society have a negative effect on women there. But she believes issues such as “early marriage, domestic violence and female unemployment” can only be tackled by challenging the Israeli stranglehold on Gaza.
“You cannot talk about a better life for women here without first ending the occupation, without ending the siege, without ending the offensives,” she said. “The occupation kills women directly.”
For example, the centre provides vocational training to disabled women, enabling them to start up their own businesses: “but we must talk about the hundreds of women disabled by the last Israeli offensive,” Syam added.
The blockade, in particular, disproportionately affects women. According to the Food Security Bulletin, nearly half of all Gazans live without secure access to food, as the Israeli administration has sought to suppress the amount of calories entering the Gaza Strip below healthy per capita levels.
Pregnant and lactating Gazan women, and the children under their care, are therefore at acute risk of malnutrition. “Women have been unable to find food for their babies,” Syam said. “They’ve been unable to get medicine inside Gaza.” 
Household essentials, such as tin cans of food, have been turned away as they could purportedly be fashioned into crude weapons. Care-giving roles, in Palestinian society traditionally apportioned to women, are made exponentially harder by these restrictions.
And the siege also comes with a psychological toll, Syam explained: “Women here can feel lonely and isolated, particularly when they’re trapped under Israeli fire. We feel the silence of the international [community].
“So it’s good for us to see women coming to support us and to tell us we are not alone in the world. They believe what we believe: that we need to be free, and to live a life of dignity.”
One of these women is Ellen Huttu Hansson, a Swedish activist sailing with the flotilla since it left Barcelona on September 14. “The goal is to successfully reach Gaza, but it’s the trip there that is really generating awareness and opposition against the illegal things that Israel is doing,” she told the Palestine Monitor.
“We are sailing to raise Palestinian women’s voices. They are the centre of society, those who keep it moving and going under these extreme circumstances,” she added.
A 2016 United Nations report singled out Israel for harsh criticism as an abuser of women’s rights. Yet the Israeli government uses the question of female empowerment as a political tool, suggesting their society is more liberal and progressive than Palestinian culture.
“Regardless of what some people claim – that Gazan women are oppressed for other reasons – we say they are oppressed because of the occupation,” Hansson said, echoing Syam’s analysis. “And that is what we need to change.”
One half of the convoy, the ship Amal-Hope, has had to turn back due to a technical failure. But her sister vessel Zaytouna-Oliva made it safely to international waters, and will be arriving to challenge the blockade towards the end of October.

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