11 December 2023

Celebrating strength and resilience: Illawarra women stand in solidarity with those experiencing violence across the globe

| Keeli Royle
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Women at Stuart Park Wollongong at a breakfast supporting women in palestine.

The South Coast Labour Council and Illawarra Women’s Health Centre hosting a breakfast to celebrate solidarity. Photos: Keeli Royle.

Violence against women and children is an issue that has a devasting impact in both the Illawarra and right across the world.

As part of the United Nations’ 16 days of activism, locals have come together to stand in solidarity with those who are experiencing suffering at the hands of heartbreaking conflicts but continue to show incredible strength and resilience.

South Coast Labour Council and Illawarra Women’s Health Centre partnered to host a breakfast in support of women in Palestine and Gaza who continue to provide for their communities in the face of crimes against humanity.

“I think what was important to us was to look to an action that could represent solidarity and acknowledge women’s strengths rather than solely framing women as victims of violence,” Illawarra Women’s Health Centre executive director Sally Stevenson said.

“We felt we wanted to do something positive and to acknowledge particularly Palestinian women and the circumstances that they’re in and acknowledge and recognise the strength and endurance that they are demonstrating in this time of catastrophic war, and that women in all circumstances like this endure and continue to provide food to nurture, to care, but also to carry the grief that comes with war.”

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For South Coast Labour Council President Tina Smith, the thought of one image still brings her to tears.

“In particular, what brought it to a head was when we saw images of Palestinian women digging holes in the ground to cook bread for their people, their children and themselves,” she said.

“We didn’t want to flip it over or trivialise it, but show that women do stand up; they are really resilient, and we admire that.

“We want them to know that we stand in solidarity with them.”

Since the Gaza war broke out months ago, locals like Jet Hunt from the Students For Palestine have taken to the streets to persuade our government to intervene and push for a ceasefire.

“I’ve never seen this kind of ground swell and solidarity with Palestine, the size of the rallies that we’ve been seeing both in Sydney and Wollongong really shows that there’s been a real turn on this issue,” Jet said.

But there was no chanting or protesting at this breakfast – just conversations and connection.

“It’s about the coming together of communities,” Sally said. “In times of stress and pain, the best thing we can do is to come together.”

“I think the types of information coming out of Palestine [are] incredibly distressing and [it] can be really isolating looking at this stuff on your phone and being horrified and not knowing what you can do,” Jet said. “So something like this allows people to connect and share that grief.”

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Although the purpose of the event was togetherness and support of women, a representative from the Illawarra’s Jewish and Israeli community who wished to remain anonymous said she was deeply hurt that Israeli women who were victims of the conflict were not included in the sense of unity.

“We saw events for solidarity that we felt excluded from,” she said. “Isn’t solidarity by definition inclusive?”

She said that there had been victims on both sides, and many Israeli and Jewish victims being killed and experiencing extreme atrocities, some of which were advocates for peace and supported women on both sides.

“One of the women that was murdered was Vivien Silver, and she was the founder of ‘Women Wage Peace’, which is a massive movement for solidarity between women on both sides, Israeli and Palestinian, tens of thousands of women,” she said.

“We really wanted to honour her memory and the memory of the other peace activists having a solidarity movement with women for women.”

But she said there had not been balanced representation and advocacy for Australian organisations.

“What we fear and worry about is the teaching of hate that occurs on both sides, so we’re hoping here in Australia we can teach solidarity and teach the celebration of the other and respect of the other.”

“We came here with the hope to expand the understanding of solidarity to not just be one-sided or just focus on one.”

A number of representatives attended the event to hand out information and educate people about the experiences of Israeli and Jewish women during the war and, although it caused some tensions within the group, all appeared to remain respectful.

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