Robinson and Brahimi: Wrong on Hamas and women

Mary Robinson and Lakhdar Brahimi have a piece in HuffPo today in which they argue, probably correctly, that it is Gaza’s women and children who are paying the highest price for Israel’s now years-long siege of Gaza.
They write:

    Women in this conservative society find their domestic responsibilities made all the more difficult and time-consuming by the blockade — and they bear the brunt of society’s frustration and anger in such trying times.

But they immediately go on to add this:

    Equally disturbing are the creeping restrictions on women’s freedom imposed by Hamas activists.

Equally disturbing??? That is, they are claiming that Hamas is just as culpable as the Israel of the crime of oppression of women??
Their evidence?
They cite allegedly Hamas-led “initiatives” to harrass schoolgirls not wearing headscarves (and leave the impression that this applies to even the youngest schoolgirls.) They write,

    Women are punished if they smoke in public, while their male compatriots are allowed to do so. And at the beach, Gaza’s main source of fun and entertainment, women and men are strictly segregated.

And then, this amazing untruth:

    The erosion of women’s freedoms is compounded by their lack of participation in politics.

And then they refer to an alleged “absence of women from politics.”
This last claim is simply untrue. Hamas has at least four women MPs on its roster, at least two of whom live in Gaza. One of them is the smart and dedicated Jamila Shanty, whom I interviewed in 2006.
Why do Robinson and Brahimi ignore these and the many other signs there are that Hamas supports the participation of women in public life?
It is true that there are many Islamist activists in Gaza who pursue campaigns to persuade people to live pious lives. Some of them are Hamas members; many others belong to much more fundamentalist Islamist movements. But I would love it if Ms. Robinson and Mr. Brahimi could cite one Hamas party document in which the party claims ownership of the kinds of campaigns of harrassment they describe.
I also really hate the faux “feminist” tenor of their closing line, which strongly implies that Gaza’s women somehow “yearn to be free” even more than their menfolk. What kind of nonsense is that?
… I am disappointed to see these two generally respected members of the generally wise “Elders” group engaging in this imperialistic kind of faux “feminism”… that is, the articulation by people strongly connected with the west (and that now certainly includes my old friend Lakhdar Brahimi) of a “particular” concern for the plight of the women living in non-western societies, based on the divisive argument that their own menfolk (based on their alleged backwardness, etc) repress them just as badly as their western colonial occupiers do.
Certainly the French used to adduce just exactly this same argument to help support the conceit that they were pursuing a mission civilisatrice in Brahimi’s own native Algeria, back in the day. It is really disappointing to see him dragging it out of the attic now, 50 years later.

5 thoughts on “Robinson and Brahimi: Wrong on Hamas and women”

  1. Good piece. The false use of ‘human rights’ to indirectly promote war and oppression is not new, but it seems to be an incredibly effective tactic for oppressors and conquerers.

  2. This last claim is simply untrue.
    Helena, although I can not 100% certain what is Hamas doing in regards with Women but as ME person and what we seen in Iraq by both side of those parties who claim themselves Islamist these guys they are more corrupted and more distraction to the soul of Islam and its values specially with Women issues.
    Nevertheless, I have colleague from Nabulus he is academic staff from Najah university as we discussed I can say theses allegation of women in Gaza have some ground and evidences.
    As for Lakhdar Brahimi I hold some respect for him when he was in Iraq when he stood against all US wrongdoing in dismantling (reconstruction) the state of Iraq during his time there.

  3. Helena, concerning what you describe as a”faux feminist tenor”, there is a whole chapter in a recent book ny Liz Fekete here in Europe. The neocon’s “feminist” argument admittedly initially puzzled me deeply in the early years of the War on Terror.
    A Suitable Enemy: Racism, Migration and Islamophobia in Europe

    We have special thanks to give to Fekete for her chapter entitled “Enlightened Fundamentalism? Immigration, Feminism and the Right”. A version of this was originally a chapter in the IRR journal Race and Class, in 2006, and broke new ground. Here the author takes to task those feminists who have wilfully provided the neocons with intellectual cover for the prosecution of the “war on terror”.

  4. By their intonation, I could be mistaken that Hamas is living in The Age of Enlightenment, and not in The Age of Occupation/Blockadeiege/Cast Lead.

  5. the women must have changed considerably since i was there 1 1/2 years ago. i find this inconceivable.
    none of the children were wearing scarves. i don’t know when they start, possibly in there teens. but non of the kids wore them. we visited many schools and i didn’t see one kid w/a headscarf. we met with women in the government, about a hundred of them. very outspoken. i’m wondering if Robinson or Brahimi met w/hamas. we specifically requested to meet w/the women in the government and the next night an entire hall was filled. lots of people speak english and some were educated in the US. if these women are struggling to be heard, blame the blockade because we were given free access to them.
    people forget hamas won the election in both gaza and the west bank and that was largely organized by women. the whole get out the vote was thru womens groups. they don’t just bake.
    at night families go to the beach in the summer. the kids dance on the tables. this article is weird.

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