Gaza's Blockade Silences Voices Of Women
We have just visitedthe Gaza Strip where we met many courageous people trying to live relativelynormal lives despite the crippling effects of the illegal Israeli blockade. Theblockade was imposed to punish the Hamas-led government, but it is women and childrenwho are paying the highest price.
In our conversationswith a range of women, we learned that despite the apparent "easing"of restrictions by Israel and Egypt, important socio-economic indicators suchas poverty, malnutrition, unemployment and family violence are getting worse.Women in this conservative society find their domestic responsibilities madeall the more difficult and time-consuming by the blockade -- and they bear thebrunt of society's frustration and anger in such trying times.
Equally disturbing arethe creeping restrictions on women's freedom imposed by Hamas activists. Theserestrictions are not being imposed through the introduction of laws, but ratherthrough party-led initiatives that are enforced without any system of accountability.For example, there is no legal decree stating that all schoolgirls must wear aheadscarf, yet those who don't wear it are harassed. Women are punished if theysmoke in public, while their male compatriots are allowed to do so. And at thebeach, Gaza's main source of fun and entertainment, women and men are strictlysegregated.
The erosion of women'sfreedoms is compounded by their lack of participation in politics. In Gaza,women already struggle to be heard. The absence of women from politics in turnfuels perceptions of women as passive; they are seen as victims of the ongoingconflict, rather than active participants in shaping opinions and politicalprocesses. Despite the extremely challenging circumstances in which they live,it was therefore encouraging to meet a remarkable group of women in Gaza whoare working hard to counter prevailing stereotypes. They are doing it inparticular through a UN mechanism called 1325.
Ten years ago, theUnited Nations Security Council adopted Resolution 1325, which recognized thatsustainable peace could not be achieved in any conflict without the fullparticipation -- and protection -- of women. We were impressed to see thatwomen's groups in Gaza are working hard to mobilize support for the democraticprinciples of Resolution 1325. At the heart of this resolution is theconviction that women, like men, have a right to participate as decision-makersin all aspects of governance: Women have a right to a voice in institutionsthat are democratic and accountable, including those that govern peacemaking.
Women's groups in Gazatold us that they are doing their best to raise awareness about Resolution 1325among local leaders. They have provided training to women on the ground in howto exercise their political rights. They have documented human rightsviolations and violence against women, and they participated in the UNinvestigation, led by Judge Richard Goldstone, to establish whether war crimeswere committed during the devastating Israeli attack on Gaza in December2008/January 2009. However, they don't feel that there has been any positiveimprovement in the lives of Gazan women.
Women activists areclamoring for help from beyond Gaza: "What we do ourselves is notenough", they told us. "We need help to make sure that our voices areheard in the outside world." These women are very keen to join networksworldwide who are working on Resolution 1325 and women's rights more generally;They want to stand in solidarity with women around the world and feel that theyare not alone. They want to reach out to the wider international community, butthey are penned in -- the blockade prevents them from doing so.
This is one, largelyunrecognized, price of the blockade of Gaza: It is hampering women's efforts tocooperate and build a movement that can effectively advance gender equality.The effect extends beyond politics; the disempowerment of women hinderspost-conflict reconstruction, reduces the likelihood that it will besustainable, and prevents any meaningful progress on development.
As Elders, we call forthe immediate and complete lifting of the blockade on Gaza. The ongoing siegeis a denial of dignity; it is the denial of rights of a people, particularlyits women, who yearn to be free.
Lakhdar Brahimi and Mary Robinson are bothmembers of The Elders. Mary Robinsonwas the first woman President of Ireland from 1990 to 1997 and United NationsHigh Commissioner for Human Rights from 1997 to 2002. Lakhdar Brahimi is adistinguished diplomat and mediator. He was Foreign Minister of Algeria from1991 to 1993 and has led UN missions in South Africa, Iraq and Afghanistan.