‘Silence’ of feminists after October 7 rapes condemned on eve of International Women’s Day

It has taken the UN five months to acknowledge that women were raped and tortured by Hamas


A rally in February outside the BBC, calling out the corporation and other media for their silence over the rape and other sexual violence which was carried out by Hamas on October 7. The UN has just published a report providing evidence that Hamas committed sexual violence against women and girls on October 7 and continues to sexually abuse the women and girls still held captive in Gaza (Photo: Gaby Wine)

On the eve of International Women’s Day, Jewish organisations have repeated their condemnation of the feminist groups that have not spoken up about the sexual violence suffered by women and girls on October 7 and by those still held in captivity by Hamas.

On Tuesday, the United Nations’ special envoy on sexual violence in conflict, Pramila Patten, reported that experts had found “clear and convincing information” of rape and sexualised torture being committed against hostages seized during the Hamas terror attacks.

But their report did not come soon enough, said Israeli ambassador to the UN Gilad Erdan: “It took the UN five months to finally recognise the shocking sexual crimes committed” by Hamas, he said.

His statement was echoed by Naomi Lerer of Noa Girls, a UK charity that supports girls and young women through mental health struggles. “It's just too little too late,” said Lerer. “We’ve lost our voice and lost our place. We’re not seen in this international women’s movement anymore. The whole point of International Women's Day and the international women's movement is to see women, to hear them and raise women's voices. And yet, we're not being seen. We're not being heard.”

Lerer called the “deafening silence” of so many women's movements and organisations post October 7 “shocking” and “exceptionally painful to see”. Having been part of various empowerment groups in the women's sector, she said: “That lack of reaction across the board feels really isolating and leaves you feeling unsupported.”

“Calling out rape and sexual violence should be non-political. It should be non-controversial. It's unprecedented to see the lack of response for something so horrific. It doesn't matter what your views are on Gaza and on the two-state solution. None of that should matter. And we shouldn't have to prove what happened. The evidence was overwhelming, and yet still the deafening silence.”

Florit Shoihet, who campaigns with the UK-based Remember 7/10 grassroots group that aims to expose the October 7 atrocities and the hostage crisis, said of the UN’s new report: “It’s better now than never. I do feel that they could be more decisive about some findings. It's worth noting that it was an international effort of Israeli diplomats, civil society organisations and individuals around the world that kept asking UN Women to react to what happened on October 7.”

She added that Pratten’s request for women survivors to “break your silence because your silence will be the licence of those perpetrators” — in order to help deliver justice — is “controversial" and "anything but a feminist statement”. “They should treat us with more sensitivity,” she said.

Shoihet, who is originally from Ashkelon, which came under attack on October 7, said that the way women who had suffered trauma had been treated and disbelieved was the antithesis of her experience of the feminist movement and that she would never look at International Women's Day in the same way.

“Every International Women's Day, I think about the pay gap. This year is going to have a different meaning for me. We all feel that the feminist organisations have horribly failed us.

“I have learnt to listen and open my heart to the victim and to try to understand what they went through. That's not the way the world approached the Jews, and I find it very disturbing. They have betrayed Jewish and Israeli women and girls who were raped.

"I will never feel part of this moment as I used to. I cannot trust their moral compass. This betrayal won't be forgotten.”

Maytal Kuperard, a spokesperson for Jewish Women’s Aid, added that the chance of being disbelieved can lead to women not coming forward and seeking justice when they have been abused, putting them at further risk.

“As a Jewish feminist organisation that seeks to protect and support women from violence and abuse, this has a real impact which we are seeing in our service. It's damaging, it's dangerous, and it’s upsetting. We know first-hand what denial and dismissal can do for a woman who is coming to terms with horrific trauma of sexual abuse, and how long it can take a woman to come forward and seek help for that. "Compounded by so much dismissal of the truth over the past five months, we can't underestimate what that does to victims who are still alive in Israel, and the impact it's having on Jewish women in this country who've experienced sexual violence.”

The charity has found that the events of October 7 have triggered memories of abuse in victims of historic sexual assault. Kuperard said: "All of this compounded their fears that they won't be believed if they decide to report to the police or other services, and they've since come into our support service to access counselling and to explore their options around reporting sexual violence.”

Kuperard stressed that women should seek help from JWA if they have suffered abuse. “Even though the world has been silent, or accused us of weaponising the issue, we want Jewish women in this country affected by abuse and violence to know that we're here for them, to support them and to protect them. We do believe them.”

The JWA said of the UN report: “Our thoughts are with the victims and the hostages. We’d like to see the UN go further in its condemnation of the use of sexual violence as a weapon of war by Hamas and do what it can to secure the release of the remaining hostages. The relevant international bodies must bring all perpetrators of sexual violence to justice.”


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