Covid-19 has led to a surge in challenges facing women everywhere, as they are disproportionately harmed by restrictions on movement and economic crises. These crises highlight the discrimination and disinvestment that women experience, as well as the economic, social, and physical violence that they face. As families stay home and experience lost or reduced income, more pressure is put on women as they are often placed with the responsibility to do the additional required care work with fewer resources. Among the challenges that women face, increased domestic violence against women is especially concerning.
Palestinian feminist organizations, including Kayan Feminist Organization, are noticing this same trend locally. Kayan is a Palestinian feminist organization, founded in 1998 in Haifa, which works to empower grassroots women and youth to claim their civil, economic, human, and social rights and takes a strong stance against all forms of sexual and gender-based violence. Palestinian feminist organizations which run support hotlines (including Kayan) are witnessing a 40% increase in women reporting violence. There have been 8 femicides within the 1948 borders just within the few months of crisis. The challenges that Palestinian women face are particularly complex and unique due to the overlapping oppressions of being women in a patriarchal society and also as part of a people under occupation.
Kayan—Feminist Organizations is addressing this crisis in violence against women on the local level (within the 1948 borders) and regionally (by coordinating between other Palestinian feminist organizations, including in the West Bank and in the Gaza Strip).
Local response: At the local level, Kayan is particularly well positioned to respond to the crisis because of its unique approach which is based on building grassroots leadership among Palestinian women. So, Kayan and grassroots leaders were able to work quickly to identify community members’ needs as a result of the economic crisis and movement restrictions caused by COVID-19. In their needs assessment for the COVID-19 crisis, grassroots women leaders observed that, firstly, domestic violence had become a rapidly growing threat and, secondly, that women are particularly vulnerable to the economic challenges, especially domestic workers and single mothers.
Kayan worked quickly with 10 local women’s groups and the national convening of grassroots women, the Jusur Forum, in order to assess community needs in response to the crisis. Grassroots women leaders are also taking a leading role in every aspect of the response to the crisis: from distributing goods and key information to raising awareness of domestic violence. This crisis has only emphasized the importance of on-going, grassroots engagement. These gassroots leaders have also used their community connections and established skills to make a fast and effective response to the violence. They have taken leading roles in local government, asserting themselves to serve on emergency committees and pressuring the local council to make gender-mainstreamed responses to the crisis. They have also delivered nearly 600 packages of essential goods (food, medicine, and hygenic supplies), about half of which went to single mothers and domestic workers.
Due to the crisis of domestic violence, Kayan has expanded its support hotline to offer around-the-clock service as well as a texting service. This allows women who may not have a safe space to speak, due to confinement in their homes, to still be able to reach support and assistance. We are working intensively to ensure that Palestinian women know about and can reach us to ask for assistance.
Regional response: Kayan saw that crisis of violence against women called for a broad and coordinated response. Kayan acted by initiating and coordinating the first cross-border coalition of Palestinian feminists. In this groundbreaking coalition of Palestinian feminist organizations, Fada-Palestinian Women Against Violence, Kayan brought together 22 organizations, including ones serving Palestinian women in the West Bank (including Jerusalem), the Gaza Strip, and Palestinian women citizens of Israel.
The coalition launched the intensive, three-week campaign entitled, “We are your Voice” in June. The campaign spoke to all members of Palestinian society with the message that each person must take responsibility for the safety and well-being of women. The campaign sent the message to Palestinian women that they are not alone in their struggles and can gain support and information to speak out against violence from the coalition members. The campaign reached about 2 million people on online platforms and more on TV, radio, and by text messages.
Looking forward: Even as lockdown restrictions have been relaxed, there is still a crisis of violence against women. Kayan is continuing to empower women in the grassroots to stand up for their rights, develop their leadership, and take an active role in creating social change. Kayan is continuing to intensively work towards ending all kinds of violence against women. Especially in crisis, it is unacceptable to ignore the rights and needs of women.
This platform is part of the Axis 1 "Strengthening the capacities of equality actors" of the Priority Solidarity Fund "Women for the future in the Mediterranean" funded by the French Ministry of Europe and Foreign Affairs and led by the European Institute of the Mediterranean, in the framework of the project “Developing Women's Empowerment” labelled by the Union for the Mediterranean.