Tag Archives gendered social movements

Palestinian Human Rights Defenders need protection: what can we do?

On 19 October 2021, the government of Israel issued a military order that designated six, renowned and award-winning Palestinian human rights groups as “terrorist organisations”. The reason for this military order, and the evidence for making such designations, have not been disclosed. This is the latest of Israel’s longstanding efforts to undermine the work of these organisations. It also seems clear that this action is intended to intimidate donors and supporters of these organisations.

The Palestinian human rights organisations under threat

The six organisations affected by Israel’s military order are: Addameer, Al-Haq, Bisan Center for Research and Development, Defence for Children International-Palestine, Union of Agricultural Work Committees, and Union of Palestinian Women Committees. The work of these six organisations is both crucial to a future peace in Israel and Palestine, and has been invaluable for the work of United Nations human rights treaty bodies, as well as Special Rapporteurs and Commissions of Inquiry, and for the International Criminal Court that is currently investigating international crimes in Palestine. Declaring the work of these organisations as “terrorist” not only undermines efforts at peace, but also places individuals who work for them in a potentially very dangerous situation, and potentially creates dilemmas for states, individuals, and organisations who have supported them (financially or otherwise) regarding the continuity of that support. This combination of (possible) effects forms an existential threat to the work of the six organisations, which no doubt is intended by the government of Israel.

Addameer was founded in 1992 and advocates for Palestinian political prisoners who suffer long-term arbitrary detention, without charge or trial. Al-Haq, founded in 1979, is the West Bank affiliate of the International Commission of Jurists-Geneva, and has issued dozens of meticulously documented reports on the countless human rights violations that Palestinians experience daily. These violations include denials of the right to housing and freedom of movement, lack of protection against settler violence, and a long list of international crimes, most of which are connected to Israel’s regime of apartheid, itself a crime against humanity. The Bisan Center for Research and Development, in operation since the late 1980’s, focuses on the most marginalised communities in Palestine, including women, youth, and workers in the most rural and deprived areas, and advocates for their development needs. Defence for Children International-Palestine has, since 1991, documented serious human rights violations directed against children, including inhuman and degrading punishment and treatment, arbitrary detention, torture, and unlawful killings. The organisation also provides legal assistance and representation to these children in Israeli military tribunals.

The Union of Agricultural Work Committees (UAWC) is one of the oldest Palestinian NGOs that advocates for Palestinian farmers’ rights to sovereignty of their land and products. They have played a leading role in documenting settler violence against Palestinian farmers, work that is especially important now as Palestinians across the West Bank are facing massive settler violence when they try to harvest their olive crops. This is confirmed by reports from the International Committee of the Red Cross, which have documented that from August 2020 up until August 2021, settlers destroyed over 9000 Palestinian olive trees, in addition to increased levels of violence and harassment directed against Palestinian farmers. The Union of Palestinian Women Committees (UPWC), established in 1980, is the umbrella organisation for all Palestinian women’s groups in the Occupied Territories. Its staff have supported Palestinian women’s rights, equal opportunities for men and women, and equity between social classes. UPWC has been a major force in the women’s rights movement in Palestine, and plays an active role in the global movement for women’s rights, including in relation to attention for gender-based violence.

Global reaction to the designation

B’tselem was among the first Israeli organisations to condemn the Israeli government’s designation as a ‘draconian’ measure. In addition, the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights condemned the designations as “an attack on human rights defenders, on freedoms of association, opinion and expression and on the right to public participation”, and called for the designations to be “immediately revoked”. International human rights NGOs Human Rights Watch and Amnesty International also issued strong statements condemning the designations. They have been joined by international legal experts, including the celebrated South African law professor John Dugard, who also reflected on the similar treatment of human rights organisations by South Africa’s apartheid regime in the 1980s.

On 3 November 2021, more than 30 Dutch organizations addressed the Dutch Minister of Foreign Affairs and the Dutch Parliament; they called on the Netherlands to:

  • publicly speak out against and condemn Israel’s decision as an unjustified violation against civil society;
  • appeal to Israel to retract this military order with immediate effect;
  • continue its support to Palestinian partner organisations and ensure that Dutch banking and financial institutions disregard Israel’s order;
  • openly support the work of these affected organisations.

Above all, the Netherlands has been called upon to ensure support to civil society, and especially to human rights defenders who speak out in defence of the rights of Palestinians.

All of these demands by Israeli, international, and Dutch human rights organisations are fully in-line with the United Nations Declaration and the European Union Guidelines on Human Rights Defenders. Referring to these sources, the Dutch government has openly declared that it “supports human rights defenders, so that they can do their work effectively and safely”.

Valuable time, however, has been lost since 19 October. Even worse, in January 2022, the Dutch government announced that it was stopping its support to one of the six designated organisations (UAWC), even despite their admission that they lacked evidence of a link to terrorist activity.

Action is needed NOW

Respect for international law, and the UN and EU guidelines on human rights defenders, should compel the government of the Netherlands to reverse its decision to defund UACW, and to urge the European Union to join United Nations experts, the UN High Commissioner on Human Rights, and others, in irrefutably condemning Israel’s designations.

So, what can we do now?

Both financial and diplomatic support are crucially needed during this time when Palestinian civil society is under great pressure from Israel’s military and apartheid regime. This is why we produced a letter for individual sign-on, to protest the Dutch government’s decision, and why we will be organising a webinar on 27 January 2022 to discuss this further. For more information, please register here, or alternatively contact our network.

An earlier version of this article, which we provide key updates to above, was published in the Dutch newspaper Trouw.

Opinions expressed in Bliss posts reflect solely the views of the author of the post in question.

About the authors:

Jeff Handmaker is Associate Professor in Legal Sociology at the International Institute of Social Studies, Erasmus University Rotterdam.

Christian Henderson is Assistant Professor of International Relations of the Middle East at Leiden University. Both are supporters of Dutch Scholars for Palestine.

Marthe Heringa is a student at Leiden University and an organiser of Students for Palestine.

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EADI/ISS Series | Why gender matters to social movements by Stacey Scriver and G. Honor Fagan

There are right and left, radical and conservative social movements at work in today’s volatile and unequal world. Whether directed towards a transformative social justice agenda or not, social movements themselves do not exist outside of the structures of power. Even among social movements directed towards deep social justice, gender inequality remains a key concern, since gender-related inequalities persist, both within the movements themselves, as well as in their recognition, support and the response to them.

There are right and left, radical and conservative social movements at work in today’s volatile and unequal world. Whether directed towards a transformative social justice agenda or not, social movements themselves do not exist outside of the structures of power. A growth in populist politics, a resurgence of religious movements with conservative agendas on gender and sexuality, and new male supremacist ideologies remind us that gender justice is an extremely challenging and ongoing struggle.  Even among social movements directed towards deep social justice, gender inequality remains a key concern, since gender-relatedinequalities persist, both within the movements themselves, as well as in their recognition, support and the response to them.

The Sustainable Development Goals represent the blueprint to achieving a better and more sustainable future. SDG 5 is particularly relevant to considerations of gender and social movements. It is clearly recognised that to achieve sustainable growth, gender equality is necessary. This includes the removal of barriers to women’s empowerment, such as the common and pervasive experience of violence against women or gender-based violence. It also implies re-shaping power structures through the inclusion of women in leadership roles, both within government and in economic activities.

Social movements can be powerful actors in efforts to protect and expand human rights, including gender inequality. Further, social movements are vital training-grounds for leadership and political engagement: many who ultimately take up positions of power within societies initially learned skills in negotiation and communication and built their reputations through work with social movements. They thus also offer a pathway for women to achieve political and economic status.

Gender in Social Movements for Economic, Environmental and Social Justice

Despite the potential of some social movements to contribute towards a gender-just world, inequalities persist within the structure and organisation of many. Leaders are most often men, and often men who ascribe to a culturally acceptable form of masculinity. Women often take on the ‘house-keeping’ roles within social movements, such as organising recruitment and developing campaigns, or ‘soft’ activism, such as maintaining relationships behind the scenes. Consequently, those whose voice are heard most and who consequently benefit most from such public profiles are more likely to be men, limiting the benefits of participating in social movements for women. In short, the working culture of these movements and their pedagogical methods do not create gender parity in membership and decision-making unless they are ‘engendered’.

Many social movements neglect to address the question of gender. For instance, in movements for peace and reconciliation, concerns perceived as relating only to women are often relegated to a secondary status. Peace movements may perceive conflict-affected gender-based violence, including the propensity for increases in intimate partner violence in the context of conflict, as being a second-class category of concern. That is, to be addressed once the ‘bigger’ issues of, for instance, organised violence by paramilitaries, are resolved. This is despite gender-based violence affecting more individuals than organised violent attacks.

The failure to apply a gendered approach to social issues and to create equality within social movements may thus replicate inequalities within the movement itself. This undermines the potential for social movements to be a space wherein women can develop key skills in leadership, shape demands for justice, and develop trust with publics. There is a crucial role for feminists and gender justice activists to create change within social movements, even those advocating social or environmental justice and sustainable development.

Gendered Social Movements                                         

While women have historically taken on important, if often under-recognised, roles in social movements, with examples including the labour movements of the 19th and 20th Century, ‘women’s movements’ have also been active in combating gender discrimination, from suffrage movements to Violence agains Women (VAW) movements. There have been notable successes. The Global Campaign of the early 1990s, and the organisation of the Vienna Tribunal, achieved a significant shift in the human rights agenda, with the explicit recognition of violence against women as a human rights violation.

However, women’s or gender movements also face particular barriers due to gender bias, stereotypes and inequalities.  Being perceived as having particularist goals or lacking sufficient political allies in positions of power has limited the successes of often vibrant women’s movements in terms of translating knowledge raising and public activism into direct political and/or economic gains.

Gender justice is too important to be siloed as a ‘women’s issue!

Put simply, social movements are critical components of thriving democracies, and even more critical where democratic accountability is on the wane. However, persistent gender inequalities within social movements, mean that social movements themselves may not be representative of the needs of its members. Social movements need to engage in critical reflection and restructuring to ensure that they are themselves gender just.

Moreover, adequate recognition that equitable social change and sustainable development requires gender equality must be central to the organising principles not only within social movements but also across those seeking social justice.  Additionally, gender justice is too important to be siloed as a ‘women’s issue’. Allyship between explicitly gendered movements and those focused on other kinds of social justice change is needed. Transformative social change is necessary for long-term and sustainable development and social movements have an important role to play; gender justice, within and between social movements, is a prerequisite.

If you are you interested in discussing gender and social movements further, consider submitting to our harvest panel “Gender Movements and Social Justice” at the EADI/ISS General Conference 2020

Our panel seeks to deepen understanding of the role of gender movements, and gender in movements (including gender solidarity), working towards peaceful, equitable and just communities and societies. We welcome papers that engage with the issues of gender justice and social movements through a variety of perspectives and approaches. Contributions from early career researchers, established academics, and practitioners, including empirically and theoretically-based draft papers, are all welcomed.

This article is part of a series launched by the EADI (European Association of Development Research and Training Institutes) and the ISS in preparation for the 2020 EADI/ISS General Conference “Solidarity, Peace and Social Justice”. It was also published on the EADI blog.

Image Credit: Molly Adams on Flickr. The image was cropped.

About the authors:

s200_stacey.scriverStacey Scriver is co-convenor of the Gender Justice Working Group of EADI. She is also a lecturer in Global Women’s Studies in the School of Political Science and Sociology and Director of the MA Gender, Globalisation and Rights at the National University of Galway, Ireland.honor-g-fagan-hme

Honor Fagan is co-convenor of the Gender Justice Working Group of EADI. She is a Professor of Sociology at Maynooth University, Ireland. Her research interests focus on human security and international development, water, waste and social sustainability, and gender and governance. She is currently leading the Social Science component of two Horizon 2020 research programmes on water sustainability.