Opposing Rape & Gender Violence Internationally

We can  learn from how Narges Mohammadi in Iran and our Afghan sisters struggling under the brutal rule of the Taliban,  are  declaring their opposition both to Israel’s brutal  invasion of Gaza and Hamas’s misogyny and authoritarianism.

Frieda Afary

December 11, 2023

As an Iranian American feminist who has been involved in solidarity with the Woman, Life, Freedom movement in Iran,  I was brought to tears after reading the  Amnesty International issued report on the use of rape and sexual violence by the Iranian government during the “Woman, Life, Freedom” uprising.  In addition to raping many women, girls and men who were arrested for participating in this uprising, the Iranian government security forces have shot women protesters in the genitals and in the eyes.  Thousands of schoolgirls have been poisoned because of their direct or indirect support for the Woman, Life, Freedom movement.

The issue of solidarity with Iranian women did get much attention last year when the uprising was in the headlines.  It is also getting renewed attention in light of the granting of the Nobel Peace Prize to Narges Mohammadi,  imprisoned Iranian feminist and human rights activist.  However, despite the fact that Iranian women are continuing to fight back and thousands of activists are still in prison and/or suffering from trauma and awaiting trial,  the solidarity from feminists internationally is fading as the focus has turned to the Israel-Palestine war in the Middle East.

We need to continue to find ways to support our Iranian sisters in the struggle against religious fundamentalism, gender-state violence and authoritarianism as we express our opposition to the war crimes taking place in the Middle East.  Last month, Narges Mohammadi  issued a statement from prison concerning Palestine and Israel and condemned “assaults on homeless people, the slaughter of children, women and civilians, hostage taking, the bombing of hospitals and schools and residential areas.”  She called for “an immediate ceasefire, an end to war  . . . respect for human rights and the creation of conditions for peaceful coexistence of peoples.”

We can also learn from how Narges Mohammadi and our Afghan sisters struggling under the brutal rule of the Taliban,  are  declaring their opposition both to Israel’s brutal invasion of Gaza and Hamas’s misogyny and authoritarianism.  In their statements,  they  express a  spirit of solidarity with both Palestinians and Jews,  and recognize the human rights of both.

It is this spirit of solidarity and sisterhood that I have found missing among some feminists in the U.S. as they rightly oppose Israel’s brutal  invasion of Gaza.

Although there is enough evidence  to prove that Hamas was responsible for  the rape and mutilation of various women and girls  during its assault inside Israel on October 7, there has been silence on the part of many feminists on the Left who refuse to condemn Hamas.  This silence is in some cases rooted in the concern that speaking out against these rapes would put feminists on the side of  Israel’s invasion of Gaza.  In some cases the silence is rooted in the view that Hamas, a religious fundamentalist, misogynists and authoritarian organization is part of the legitimate resistance of the Palestinian people.

As a socialist feminist, I feel compelled to establish a few points:

  1. Acknowledging the brutality of the rapes and mutilations committed by Hamas does not in any way take away from our condemnation of the killing of over 17,000 Palestinian civilians by Israel’s current brutal invasion of Gaza. Rather, this acknowledgment emphasizes the responsibility of feminists to not be selective about their condemnation of gender violence.
  2. Condemning Hamas does not take away from the legitimacy of the Palestinian struggle for self-determination. Rather, condemning Hamas emphasizes the need to draw a distinction between the just cause of the Palestinians, and the ideology, tactics and strategy of Hamas.
  3. Ignoring the brutality and reactionary ideology of Hamas will only provide Hamas with support in its stifling of those Palestinian dissident, feminist and queer voices who seek genuine democracy, social justice, gender liberation, and peaceful co-existence with Jews.
  4. It is the responsibility of socialist feminists to confront the intersection of class, race and gender oppression in all societies and to help our Palestinian and Israeli sisters come together in opposing religious fundamentalism, misogyny, racism and authoritarian capitalism in both Israel and Palestine.

Given the realities in the Middle East, and given the global intertwining of gender and state violence, from Russia’s invasion of Ukraine to China’s imprisoning of the Uyghur Muslim population of Xinjiang, Sudan’s military government’s assault on its population, and the retrogression in the U.S. on abortion rights, gender and civil rights, feminists need to offer a comprehensive, intersectional vision of emancipation and not a selective and single-issue focus.

Frieda Afary

December 11, 2023

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