I am not a pessimist. I am not a hater. I am not the Grinch who stole Christmas. I am not trying to deny nations the warm fuzzy feeling they get when they delude themselves that by celebrating a day once a year they are absolved of their sins and are now saints- no. I am just a realistic person. And I will not trust the sincerity of celebrating and commemorating certain causes and ideals if it doesn’t come with action.
So as someone who finds war-torn countries like Iraq celebrating International Human Right's Day with the help of the UN a little bit ironic and more than a little bit sad, I still decided to read up on how International Women's Day came to be. The following is from their website.
International Women's Day (March 8) is a global day celebrating the social, economic, cultural and political achievements of women.
Okay, that is something I can definitely get behind.
International Women's Day (IWD) has been observed since in the early 1900's - a time of great expansion and turbulence in the industrialized world that saw booming population growth and the rise of radical ideologies.
Following this is a timeline of the origins of IWD and women's struggles to gain their rights up until now. Correction: White women's struggles. Am I surprised that International Women's Day fails to highlight the history of women of different colors and nations?
White feminism is the most covered form of feminism. It is the mainstream feminism that you will see on your newsfeeds today. There will be tons of articles highlighting White American and European women and their noble fights, but none about Palestinian women striking from within occupation prisons. We are missing a whole world of stories of women from countries all around the world. As demanding as we are of the world to have equal representation for women, we have failed to have a representation within the movement which truly highlights the diverse array of women out there.
Okay, moving on.
As I was continued reading through the website's literature I saw something from the corner of my eye. I felt dread begin to sink in my stomach.
I looked closer and that feeling of dread was confirmed: staring at me was the bold black letters that make up Caterpillar's logo along with the other partners of International Woman's Day.
The bold black letters that American Rachel Corrie must have seen in Gaza 14 years ago on the day that D9 bulldozer crushed her body and took her life.
The bold black letters that stand like an unrelenting wall to the hopes and dreams of Indigenous Americans defending their land at Standing Rock.
The bold black letters a Palestinian girl sees before her home is demolished without an explanation or apology.
You cannot say you respect a woman's right to social and economic equality when you do not respect her right to live.
Caterpillar Inc. is a world-renowned American corporation that manufactures construction- or destruction- machinery. It has long been the focus of boycott and divestment campaigns for selling equipment used in human right abuses and war crimes. It is renowned for its numerous contracts with the U.S. Army, and has no problem in displaying its support to the armed forces on its website. But it gets worst. Not only does it provide military equipment to an army unjustly deployed in many countries in the world, it also offers training to military operators. But there is one thing their website doesn't mention: the fact that one of their biggest clients is The Israeli Army.
Caterpillar bulldozers have been used by Israeli forces to demolish Palestinian homes and put up settlements almost since the inception of Israel.
In a response to Human Rights Watch call to Caterpillar to cease sales with Israel due to human right violations, Caterpillar’s CEO James Owens responded by saying the company did “not have the practical ability or legal right to determine how our products are used after they are sold.”
And so Caterpillar continues to sell bulldozers to Israel knowing they will be used to destroy Palestinian homes and livelihoods.
Since 1967 Caterpillar bulldozers have been used to destroy more than 12,000 Palestinian homes and businesses, leaving more than 50,000 Palestinians homeless in blatant violations of the Fourth Geneva Convention. Entire 'unrecognized' villages like Al-'Araqeb within Israel have been razed to the ground as if they were never there.
What does this have to do with women's rights?
It is wrong for Caterpillar to claim to support gender equality within its company and in the world when they are complicit in denying Palestinian women their basic human rights. It is wrong for the International Women’s Rights organization to accept partners that go entirely against its principles.
One fifth of pregnant women in Gaza and the West Bank could not receive prenatal care because of the difficulty travelling through checkpoints- checkpoints built using CAT equipment.
A 15-30 minute trip to the hospital takes a minimum of 4 hours due to checkpoints. In the year 2000, 68 pregnant Palestinian women gave birth at Israeli checkpoints, leading to 34 miscarriages and the deaths of four women. These numbers are only rising. Inadequate medical care during pregnancy was the third cause of mortality among Palestinian women of reproductive age, according to OPT Ministry of Health
Not only are Palestinian women subjected to violence from Israeli soldiers and abusive settlers, but they also face rising domestic abuse rates. The rights of Palestinian women are often overlooked in the bigger picture of fighting an occupation.
Previous UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Navi Pillay has argued that “the combination of decades of Israeli occupation” and “the use of force against Palestinians by Israel… expose women to a continuum of violence in all spheres of life."
According to the Prisoners' Affairs Commission, 56 Palestinian women, many of whom are mothers of young children, are currently serving time in the Israeli penal system for resisting the occupation. Among them are 16 individuals under 18 years of age.
Israel has detained some 15,000 Palestinian women since its occupation of the West Bank, East Jerusalem and the Gaza Strip in 1967.
If that doesn't make Israel's claims to being a democracy that supports gender equality and human rights lose their legitimacy, let's examine what Israel does to its own citizens.
Israel citizens of Ethiopian origins have been known to be given contraceptives without their knowledge.
Incidents of Palestinian women with Israeli citizenships having their head scarfs ripped off in public places are not uncommon.
A recent survey by the Knesset Research and Information Center that dealt with perceptions of personal security among residents of Israel - from economics, to health, to employment, to feelings of safety in public spaces - found Palestinian women were by far the most vulnerable group.
From post-war Iraq and Afghanistan, to occupied Palestine, to the impending massacre of a holy land at Standing Rock, Caterpillar is knowingly supporting oppression.
Agricultural land, roads, homes, bodies and olive trees have been its bulldozer's victims.
It is wrong to call them bulldozers when in reality they are weapons.
The fact that International Woman's Day decided to include Caterpillar as a partner despite the controversy often surrounding it is both disappointing and worrying for me. It delegitimizes the sincerity of a day that has been celebrated for over a century. It empowers Caterpillar to continue its support of occupation. It sends out the message that Palestinian women do not matter.
This type of hypocrisy is not new to the activism field. You find people who support equal pay for women but do not support The Black Lives matter movement. You find Feminists who strongly believe in woman's choice to walk around topless but do not believe me if I say that the hijab I wear is my own choice.
If you want to fight for other people's rights, then you cannot pick and choose. Who are you to decide that one group of people deserve their rights more than the other?
This is what makes me, as a Muslim Arab woman living in the Middle East, hesitant to adopt the title of 'feminist'. Not only is it tied to this notion that feminism is just another form of colonialism, a tool used to make Arab women abandon their religion and culture for the Western Ideal of what it means to be 'liberated', but usually the mouthpiece is given to white privileged women. I am not included or even asked to take a part.
That is what truly upsets me about Caterpillar being included as a partner. It is a slap to the face to me as a Palestinian Women. It is a clear message that I do not matter. My rights do not matter.
International Woman's Day should be every day for Palestinian women. Every single day I read stories about Palestinian women's courage and strength in the face of an occupation. Palestinian women have long been partners to their men in standing up to their occupiers. Women fought in armed battles against Zionist forces 1948. Women in Jaffa formed organizations that delivered medical services, supplies and ammunition to Palestinian Rebels. They support their households when their husbands and sons are imprisoned, kidnapped or killed. Circumstance has pushed them to find creative ways to support their families and to always resist.
They are what inspired my passion in my art. Most of my paintings highlight both the plight and strength of women in war.
Palestinian women are the embodiment of everything a strong woman should be. It is sad that we cannot focus on underlying issues affecting these women, issues like social and economic equity, gender violence, representation in government etc. because of the complete focus of attaining the goal of liberation.
I'm not saying that everything that is happening today is wrong or is for nothing. It is amazing to see the movement happening today. The marches that have been organized and the strike that thousands if not millions are taking part in. I don't want to take away from the significance of that.
The one-day protest on Wednesday, labelled as A Day Without Women, is aimed at calling attention to economic bias faced by women and is organized by a variety of women of different religions and backgrounds: activist Angela Davis, Keeanga-Yamahtta Taylor, African American Studies professor at Princeton University; Tithi Bhattacharya, South Asian history professor at Purdue University; Ramsea Yousef Odeh, associate director of the Arab American Network. THIS is my definition of what true feminism is about. These women are equally vocal to women's rights as they are Palestinian rights and African American rights. Feminism should be inclusive. But despite the diversity being a positive step, it is still not perfect and still is primarily focused on women with privilege. Some women do not have the privilege of leaving their jobs for a day.
So regardless if I believe in this or not, this is my call to women who believe in International Women's Day: march, chant, strike, but call on the removal of Caterpillar as a partner. Call for Palestinian women's right to live a life of dignity. If you are going to raise your voices, raise it for all women. Don't let hypocrisy undermine this noble goal.
To get involved with the Palestinian cause check out the Support Palestine in DC 2017 Rally on March 24th.