Don’t Palestinian Women (and Their Children) Need Saving?

It Seems That Many Western Feminists Have Forgotten How to Speak

By Monia Mazigh

Jan/Feb 2024

Following the 9/11 attacks, President George W. Bush waged a war on Afghanistan. To build and strengthen his military coalition, Bush convinced his allies that his “war on terror” was “also a fight for the rights and dignity of women,” as his wife Laura Bush explicitly mentioned in a radio address to the nation (The Washington Post, eMediaMillWorks, Nov. 17, 2001). It didn’t take long until his administration released report after report describing the Afghan women’s fate under the Taliban. Issues ranging from women’s access to health care to girls denied education to the restriction of women’s freedom of movement were all denounced and explained at length as valid reasons to go for war and destroy a land and its inhabitants.

Many feminists’ voices joined the chorus cheering for this “legitimate” war. A war that liberated Muslimas from their men, described in the media as savage and barbaric. The voices of Afghan women were dismissed. After all, what do they know about their rights and feminism? Can we really give a voice to women living among barbaric and savage men? Can the words of these women suffering from “Stockholm Syndrome” be taken seriously?

I remember vividly awkward conversations with progressive feminist friends who wanted to believe that this unjust war was going to liberate women. My religious affiliation, the same one shared by many Afghan women, made me de facto a delegitimize voice on the issue, a person brainwashed by my faith. I believed the fate of Afghan women would be better if left alone with no war. No matter how many times I repeated that those women are smarter than we think and don’t need others to save them, I felt ignored.

But I wasn’t the only one. Professor Lila Abu-Lughod famously asked in her article, turned into a book, “Do Muslim Women Need Saving?” (Harvard University Press: 2013).

The role of some feminists in amplifying the call for war, thereby lending it legitimacy and support, was very problematic. When it came to Muslima women, everyone became a feminist and wanted to prove their moral superiority by demanding that Afghan women be saved even when many were killed during military operations; even when their fathers, husbands and relatives were killed by drones: even when bombs, malnourishment and disease killed their children. 

For many of these feminists, the cost of the war was worth the liberation of Afghan women. Afghan women mattered to them only as a way to justify the war by serving, reluctantly, as pawns to advance white feminist theories and enhance the careers of politicians caught up in their visions of geopolitical domination and hegemony.

The Plight of Palestinian Women

As the violent war between Israel and Hamas — which should be reframed as a long struggle of the Palestinian people to stay on their land confiscated by Israeli colonizers and settlers — escalates, the fate of Palestinian women, who, with their children, bear most of the cost and damages, is completely not part of the radar of many feminists.

Despite some strong feminist voices who aren’t intimidated, like the American philosopher and gender studies scholar Judith Butler, who stated that a “genocide is taking place” with indiscriminate bombing, killing and starvation, many other intellectuals and feminists are silent (George Yancy,, Oct. 31). What is worse is sometimes they are justifying the on-going massacre, as if the fate of 52,000 pregnant Palestinians in Gaza doesn’t matter (“Pregnant Women Suffer Gaza War” CNN, Oct. 17), as if the statistic of 1 child killed every 10 minutes is meaningless (“Israel Strikes Gaza, Children Victims,” Washington Post, Nov. 2).

Ironically, on its website the Government of Canada states the following: “Canada is a member of the UN Secretary-General’s High-Level Advisory Group for Every Woman Every Child. We support the roll out of the Global Strategy for Women’s, Children’s and Adolescents’ Health. This will ensure that all women, children and adolescents can survive, thrive, and reach their full potential” (

How can these commitments and policies be coherent with Canada’s failure to demand, at the very least, a ceasefire? How about the $Can 3.5 billion the country spent between 2015-20 to improve the health and rights of women and children worldwide (Canada’s 10-Year Commitment to Global Health and Rights,” 

Are Gaza’s women concerned by these funds or because of their mere existence in a territory of 2.2 million people that, within 28 days has lived through the equivalence of a nuclear bomb (“Israel Hit Gaza Strip with the Equivalent of Two Nuclear Bombs,” make them a legitimate target excluded from the feminist policy about which Canada boasts?

Or are we feminist only when the Other is oppressed by their fellow Muslims? But when Israel, a nuclear power, wages a war against Hamas, our feminist policy becomes invisible, inaudible and non-existent and the fate of Palestinian women is left to their God.

Did we forget that in 2014, Ottawa made reducing maternal, newborn and child mortality as the centerpiece of its international development policy? At that time, an international summit called “Saving Every Woman, Every Child Within Arm’s Reach,” attracted specialists and public figures, including then-UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon; Margaret Chan, then director-general of WHO; and Melinda Gates, co-chair of the then-Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation (https:, April 2014).

But the country quickly forgot its previous commitments to Palestinian women, leaving them to have c-sections without anesthesia and under cellphone lights ( Stories of them taking pills to delay their period for lack of privacy, lack of access to clean water and sanitary products are as common as they are worrisome for their health side effects (“No Privacy No Water Gaza Women Use Period Delaying Pills Amid War”, Oct. 31, 2023,

As for their children’s education, the enthusiasm and tremendous support shown by some of our intellectuals and politicians when it came to calling for war against the Taliban to allow girls to attend school is non-existent today, when we learn that 4,000+ children have been killed so far in Gaza by Israeli bombardment and that most of the schools run by UNRWA have become shelters for families who either have lost or are afraid to stay in their homes. Needless to say, Gaza’s children are receiving no education because bombs continue to kill them or be dropped on their heads.

Why such selective enthusiasm and feminism and girls’ rights? Why such hypocrisy in defending our principles? A few weeks ago, Adania Shibli, a Palestinian author who shares her time between Berlin and Jerusalem and was about to be receive the Frankfurt book fair’s LiBeraturpreis 2023 award for her “Minor Detail,” was “shut-off” (“Palestinian Voices Shut Down at Frankfurt Book Fair Say Authors,” Oct. 15, 2023, As if Israel and its allies, including Canada, are punishing all Palestinian women for speaking out and raising men who would one day be potentially recruited by Hamas. As if Palestinian women aren’t women. As if Palestinian children do not deserve to live.

Monia Mazigh, PhD, an academic, author, and human rights activist, is an adjunct professor at Carleton University (Ontario). She has published “Hope and Despair: My Struggle to Free My Husband, Maher Arar” (2008) and three novels, “Mirrors and Mirages” (2015), “Hope Has Two Daughters” (2017) and “Farida” (2020), which won the 2021 Ottawa Book Award prize for French-language fiction. She has recently published an essay/memoir “Gendered Islamophobia: My Journey with a Scar(f)” nominated for the Governor General Literary Non-fiction Award.

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