Naomi Lerer

International Women’s Day 2024 — joining the party we haven’t been invited to

Israeli women and girls — in fact, all Jewish women and girls — no longer feel welcome in safe spaces


Believe Israeli women (Photo: Twitter/X)

March 03, 2024 12:24

As a women and girls’ charity run exclusively by women whose mission statement is to support and empower young women through their mental health struggles, the decision as to whether to post something for International Women’s Day should be a no-brainer.

At Noa Girls, we have so many ideas and examples about the struggle girls and women face for inclusion and access to services, and we have a lot to share about how to support these women to engage with life-changing, and sometimes life-saving, services that they need.

But this year, the answer, like so many others, is not easy. Because Noa is not just a charity for women and girls. We are not just a mental health charity. We are a Jewish charity. And this year, in this climate, International Women’s Day does not feel the very safe and inclusive space that it should for all women.

Given the appalling and still shocking silence of so many women’s organisation and movements, or perhaps worse, the doubting or equivocating statements that have been made by many, including UN Women, in the face of the sexual assault, rape and violence against women in Israel on October 7, it is hard to post anything apart from “Rape is not resistance” or "#Metoounlessyouareajew”. The lack of support for what should be non-political, non-controversial points, believing victims of sexual violence and bringing all hostages home, is hard to move past.

This is not isolated to the UN, never particularly a bastion of support for Jews or Israel, but in many places in the UK and abroad. Leah Goldstein, a Canadian-Israeli cyclist was invited in August by INSPIRE to be the keynote speaker at their event in Ontario, Canada marking International Women’s Day. Leah is the first woman to win the Race Across America in 2021, after recovering from a crash that doctors told her meant that she would never walk again unaided. Leah is a popular speaker who shares how mental strength helped her overcome injury, gender discrimination and bullying in both sport and other areas of life. But after October 7, INSPIRE cancelled Leah’s contract because she has served in the IDF and, as INSPIRE always tries to “create safe spaces”, they were changing their keynote speaker.

Israeli women, and perhaps all Jewish women, are no longer welcome in these safe spaces. It feels that the Jewish women’s invitation to IWD may have been rescinded. And if we are still tolerated, do we even want to come?

At Noa, this is something we have been combatting since our formation. Our mission is to provide the practical, emotional and therapeutic support each girl needs to overcome her mental health struggles. As part of that mission, we fight to provide equal access to mental health services for girls from the Jewish community and to help girls overcome the obstacles that prevent them from engaging with or receiving services they need. Those barriers include perceptions about stigma, fears around confidentiality and cultural misunderstanding. We work with partners in CAMHS, social services, the local council and other organisations to help them understand how to change those perceptions and increase cultural sensitivity. Concurrently, we are working to transform the conversation, attitudes and response to mental health in the Jewish community.

We know that there are misconceptions, ignorance and prejudice in many areas, including mental health, by both service users and services. We know how important individual relationships are to making these changes, not a revolution, but an evolution of relationship, respect and listening. We also know the power of each individual girl and woman, the strength and resilience of those who refuse to give up, who work and work and struggle to make difficult changes and build healthier, more positive lives.

So, this year, we will be posting for International Women’s Day. Not just to demand worldwide acceptance for Jewish women. Not just to demand people accept and believe Jewish women when they voice trauma or assault or challenge. We are posting to express our pride in the Jewish young women we see every day. The brave girls and women who reach out for help when they need it and reroute their lives, overcoming so many challenges that threaten to overwhelm them. We are posting because, as Jewish women, we have a voice that will not be silenced or sidelined, and we will use it for good.

March 03, 2024 12:24

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