Fists and Fire: Feminist support for women’s non-violent activism 

Blog

28 October 2021 | Francesca Anstey

“Our hearts, thoughts, feminist fists and fire are with you all”

On October28th, during Women, Peace and Security week at the UN Security Council, influential local women activists from Sudan, Palestine, Myanmar and Iraq discussed how international actors can provide feminist support to non-violent women activists and movements. 

Gender inequality and the lack of women’s political and social participation are causal factors and drivers of violent conflict. Yet women and girls remain systematically excluded from important decision-making processes. This event however highlighted how in Sudan, Palestine, Myanmar and Iraq, as in many other countries, women activists defy traditional norms to non-violently demand political change. The greater the role of women in non-violent campaigns, the more successful they are and likely to maintain non-violent discipline. Moderators Moonera Yassien (Founder of AMNA) and Breza Race (Programme Director at CANVAS) focused the discussions on bridging the gap between women leading protests on the streets to influencing key political and peace processes.  

The women of Sudan are unequivocally rejecting the current military coup and demand full restoration of civilian rule, Hala al-Karib from Sudan vividly stated. Why? Women took strategic leadership in the 2019 revolution, capturing public spaces and conducting a critical role in bringing down the Bashir regime, but were systematically excluded from equal and meaningful participation in their country’s transition. Undeterred, women again are key peaceful protestors, although sexual violence is rampant and there’s a hefty societal price when women publicly exert influence. 

Suheir Farraj from Palestine spoke powerfully of the instrumental role that women activists played in the mass nonviolent uprising of Palestinians and Israelis in Sheikh Jarrah in East Jerusalem in April this year. The Palestinian non-violent women’s movement has been an integral part of Palestinian resistance, although Palestinian women activists face physical and mental maltreatment. Suheir encouraged international donors to find ways to respond to requests of flexibility in rapidly developing situations, to counter how the occupation is silencing women’s voices. 

Ada Chai from Myanmar argued that, despite a protection gap for women activists and high risk of reprisals, 60% of protestors were women organizing and leading civil disobedience campaigns designing innovative protest tactics, whilst questioning gender norms. Feminist solidarity with women activist is crucial. 

Yasmine Fala from Iraq spoke about the 2019 non-violent movement, with women at the forefront of protests despite an increase in abductions and the violent targeting of women activists. To this day, Iraqi women persistently remain engaged alongside their male counterparts in breaking down conservative gender dynamics, instrumentally using arts and media. Yasmine called for international support when there are coordinated efforts by women leaders and to build protection mechanisms for women activists. 

Ambassador Martiza Chan from Costa Rica, emphasized the responsibility to ensure that women activists feel protected and supported to continue their activism without fear of reprisal attacks targeting them or their families. Building on Sweden’s Feminist Foreign Policy, Minister Counsellor Lena Skoglund from Sweden emphasized that in order for all genders to have equal powers to shape society and their own lives, adequate resourcing is crucial with senior foreign policy leaders held to account. 

Renowned non-violence researcher Maria Stephan summarized: Women in the face of the most profound repression on different levels are able to lead and sustain non-violent protests. Sustained flexible resourcing is key, recognizing that women’s leadership increases non-violent discipline and how successful campaigns are. Strengthen non-violent resistance and meaningful participation during transitions to sustainably build women’s equality in societies. The side event was an inspiring show of solidarity for women front-line protestors fighting for their rights across the world. 

Both feminism and nonviolence are agendas that seek equity for all, not the dominance of one over another. Support for feminist and non-violent movements is support for everyone!

 

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