The International Day for the Elimination of Violence Against Women was marked on November 25, and the next day, the bodies of 12-year-old Silvana Tsegai and 16-year-old Yara Ayoub were found. Both had been murdered. Within hours, Stav Arnon, Dror Sadot and Ruti Klein were trying to figure out how to get Israelis to rise up in protest.
“There was an unshakable momentum,” Arnon recalls. “We were at a critical juncture, where one had to choose between despair or protest.”
Israeli women unite to battle violence – and a government that doesn't care
The three met that evening and sat on the carpet, reading about the various types of women’s protests that had been waged in the past around the world, weighing the advantages and disadvantages of each while building their own strategy.
“A strike seemed like the ideal solution,” Arnon continues. “There hadn’t yet been a united show of solidarity by all women, around a common goal. We wanted to turn an issue that had perhaps been marginalized into a mainstream one. We knew that it was unreasonable that only three roommates in Tel Aviv were shocked to the depth of their souls by the murder of these two young girls. There are many ways of achieving a change in policies. We wanted a significant one-time event that would allow as much of the weary and normally inaccessible public to participate. We knew we were creating an operational work plan, with concrete demands, which would allow us to notch up success or failure. This is how we came up with two objectives: a change in public discourse and a national strike, which took place on December 4.”
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The essential message the three women sought to convey was that “if you’re a woman, you’re part of this. If you’re a man, join us.” That’s how the slogan “I’m a woman – I’m striking” was born.
“We opened a Word file and some Excel tables and formulated a strategic plan, as well as writing a list of messages to accompany the strike and some content to back up the event," says Klein. "We woke up a graphic-artist friend and told him he had 15 minutes to provide us with a design for the biggest female revolution in history. This was an operational model that worked by creating pressure and drama, which served us well throughout the campaign. Within half an hour the event was ready.”
At midnight the women received a call from social activist Anat Nir, who had come back from a meeting of the Red Flag Coalition of feminist groups, in which dozens of representatives of women’s organizations had taken part.
“They really didn’t embark on this campaign only yesterday. We found out that while we’d been sitting in our apartment, they were together considering their next move. This conversation was the opening salvo in our cooperation with these groups, with men and women from all walks of life. We said all along that this strike was a grass-roots one. We didn’t want to beg any company to do us a favor and join us. We wanted women to make their own choice. Did CEOs have a problem with that? They did. A world without women cannot function. That’s precisely the point.”
Are you happy with the result?
Klein: “In terms of the participation of men in our campaign, it’s their business, not ours. When we came up with our slogan, we didn’t want to compromise on the dominant place of women in leading this struggle. It shouldn’t deter men when women lead.”
Weeks after the cabinet announced that the topic should be at the top of the agenda, most of the funding allocated to emergency plans for preventing violence against women has not yet been transferred.
However, the number of people contacting social services due to family violence has risen significantly. “This shows that the public has decided that this is a top-priority issue. Women know they’re not alone. Women are bringing about a change, but this change is bogged down in the system.”
Dror Sadot, 24, originally from Kfar Vradim in the Galilee, is the spokeswoman and media adviser of the group. Stav Arnon, 29, works in the field, with voluntary and not-for-profit organizations; she comes from Kibbutz Beit Hashita. Ruti Klein, 28, grew up in Tel Aviv and works in social-political campaigns. “The dramatic life of campaigns is a dream and a nightmare in the same measure,” says Dror. “But that’s what we live for.”
“This impressive day of protest did not happen because three women opened an event on Facebook,” says Sadot. “It happened because the background had been prepared, thanks to years of work by feminist groups, and because the public would not accept a reality in which 24 women are murdered in one year. When Iman Awad was murdered, raising the number to 25, we knew our campaign was far from over. Too many women abstained, staying away from the protest, but this campaign is only going to get stronger.”