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End the silence – speak up for our sisters

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March is Women’s History Month, dedicated to raising issues facing women today. It’s a month that includes International Women’s Day on 8 March, when issues like suffrage, gender parity, equity, and gender-based violence are highlighted and addressed. Some will scoff – after all, do women need a whole month to highlight issues?

In the wake of the atrocities of 7 October, we’re learning daily about the magnitude and level of depravity of the sexual violence committed on that day, a crime against humanity against Israeli women and girls. We also know from testimony from hostages that have been released that some of the male hostages have also been violated.

Last week, the Association of Israeli Rape Crisis Centers (ACCRI) released its report presented to the United Nations Entity for Gender Equality and the Empowerment of Women (UN Women). The report, replete with the relevant appendices that reference testimonies and images, is beyond what the soul can bear.

This week, the United Nations special envoy on sexual violence, Pramila Patten’s, team released its report following an investigation in Israel where it viewed more than 50 hours of footage and combed through more than 5 000 photographs. It’s devastating. These reports prove beyond any doubt that Israeli women and girls suffered the most horrific rapes, cruel and humiliating sexual torture, murder, and at least two accounts of necrophilia.

On 7 October, the world looked on in horror as Hamas broadcast with glee as the body of Shany Louk, legs broken and clothes ripped, was kicked and spat on as she was paraded through the streets of Gaza like a trophy. We all saw Naama Levy, still captive in Gaza, dragged by her hair, bleeding in the crotch, and shoved in a waiting van. Every feminist, women’s organisation, celebrity activist, and human being with a conscience should have immediately raised the alarm. Instead, Israeli women were met with a wall of silence and even denial or demands for “context”. There’s that word again – context. Let me be very clear, rape isn’t resistance, and there’s never an appropriate “context” for rape.

The silence hasn’t been limited to those mentioned above. Sadly, there are many among our communities who are loathe to speak of the crimes of sexual violence.

I know that for many, it’s hard to digest or internalise how Israeli women and girls have and continue to be violated, but we have a duty to speak for them. At a time when so many deny these events or pass them off as “resistance”, we have a moral imperative to speak for our sisters and daughters who have no voice. We’re their voice. Imagine it was your daughter, sister, wife or mother. Wouldn’t you want justice?

The depravity of the sexual assaults is difficult and painful to digest, but we’re the generation that must bear witness. We’re recording history, we’re seeking justice, and it’s important to speak about it. Silence sends a message to future rape victims that their suffering is in vain. Silence legitimises sexual violence as a weapon of war. Silence fails the victims and the justice that they deserve.

Friday is International Women’s Day, and many organisations and leaders will highlight issues facing women today. We need to remind the world of what happened and continues to happen to our women and girls. In his press conference earlier this week, Rear Admiral Daniel Hagari, the spokesperson for the Israel Defense Forces, raised the alarm about our 19 girls who are hostages, saying that they are in real danger. We now have irrefutable proof of crimes against humanity, of sexual violence, on 7 October. Speak up, because if we aren’t for ourselves, who will be for us?

It’s not enough to just #BelieveIsraeliWomen, we need to speak up for them as well.

  • Rolene Marks is on the World WIZO executive committee, and holds the portfolio of head of public diplomacy.

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