Women in white, Jews and Arabs, and like-minded men, marched together along Ben Tsion Boulevard from King George street to the corner of Rothschild Boulevard and HaBima Theater. There was a lot of energy, with calls shouted out to the rhythm given by Asma Aghbarieh-Zahalka of Daam on the megaphone. She shouted: “chauvinism” and the marchers answer “irhal” (“go away” in Arabic). “Exploitation of working women – irhal, sexual assault – irhal, military strikes – irhal”… The Boulevard is too short, it turns out, for real protest. (“Irhal”, in Arabic, you may recall, is the word Egyptian protesters shouted out, calling Mubarak to leave.)
The rally represented a coalition of social and feminist organizations and initiated by the WAC-Maan Workers Advice Center and Daam Workers’ Party for International Women’s Day. The speakers were women who do a lot and speak little. Likewise, Orly Feldheim, Daam member and founder of the Levinski Soup Kitchen, is a woman who prefers doing, rather than speaking. Hanin Majadli, director of the Ata Center for social rights in East Jerusalem, and a social worker by profession, indeed said on stage that if Israeli and Palestinian women sat together they would reach a peace treaty within a week.
The event was joined by many groups, including J14 for Social Justice (the organization formed during the protests of 2011), the Social Workers’ Struggle Forum, the Public Housing Forum, the Ata Center, the Hotline for Migrant Workers, Cultural Guerrilla, the National Coalition for Direct Employment, the Arous el-Bahr association of Jaffa, and Women in Black. Between speakers, soul and feminist music was performed by singer Ayelet Rose Gottlieb.
“The event’s title, ‘Shavot’ [meaning ‘equal’] was chosen before the wave of racism erupted,” says Asma Aghbarieh-Zahalka, “and now the name has become more relevant than ever. Jewish and Arabic women united together can face all of this racism and win.”
Orna Amos, founder of the National Coalition for Direct Employment, said in her speech that we had better abandon the big words and unite: “I thought I might speak about exclusion, oppression, violence, working poverty, chauvinism, activism, socialism, altruism… I wanted to organize a big demonstration, start groups, burn bras, shout on megaphones, speak before the Knesset, start a lobby… Talk different, use different words, be different… In a country that doesn’t respect its working women nor cherish their work,” she said in closing, “in a country that does not integrate Arab women in employment, nor mothers, nor older women, we need to unite in solidarity – and then win.”
A lot of cameras were there, the media, and satirical TV legend “Eretz Nehederet,(Wonderful country)” which filmed a humoristic piece during the march and rally. The event got this level of media attention perhaps for the simple reason that few other events took place in Israel to mark Women’s Day. Except for “Shavot” in Tel-Aviv, WAC-Maan also marked the day in Nazereth, handing out flyers in the city streets, and holding a gathering together with women working in factories in the area. In additional, the weekend saw a special Women’s Day sale of the “Bread and Roses” painting exhibition in the Kastiel showroom.
This was the tenth Women’s Day in which Wafa Tiara, a former agricultural worker, and now a WAC trade union leader participated in. According to her, nothing has changed in these ten years. “Still the same exploitation of contracted workers, still the same abusive conditions for workers, still the same unemployment, still the same poverty,” says Tiara. “The main difference is that now, following the Arab Spring, some hope is coming up. There are many women in the revolution in Egypt. Nobody saw them, they worked behind the scenes, but they made the change, and we are learning from them.”
“We need to demand from ourselves every day what we demand on Women’s Day,” said Feldheim at the end of the rally, “look at reality with eyes wide open and go against discrimination and racism. That is our role as women, leading and marking the way.”