By Rebeka Ewusie@Reba164evFor MitzpehA young woman holds up a fist, showcasing her activism. Photo courtesy of Nappy.co.
Women’s peace activism involves using nonviolent methods to achieve an end to unfair or damaging conflicts. Inspired by feminist movements and now prevalent around the world, it is not specific to women’s issues in particular, but advocates for a variety of different issues. However, efforts to archive women’s activism are far lesser-known.
In a guest lecture on March 30, Dr. Sarai B. Aharoni from the Ben-Gurion University of the Negev in Israel spoke on Zoom about her experiences with archiving. She also spent time detailing the importance of preserving the history of women’s movements and peace activism in Israel in particular.
Peace groups are not a significant part of the daily lives of Israeli women. According to a dataset shown during the presentation, these groups only make up 4.5% of the organizations Israeli women participate in, across local non governmental organizations, and civic, international and academic groups. This particular niche activity is of great importance to the women who do participate in it.
Aharoni’s focus is on analyzing how women in peace groups and positions of power have been able to combat issues in their communities and on a global stage, such as the Israel-Palestine conflict.
“Women have always brought a unique perspective to international relations,” Hoda Mahmoudi, the host and a colleague of Aharoni, said.
Aharoni also highlighted the life cycles of social movements over time, explaining how they go through an emergence-institutionalization-consolidation process whereby social movements begin as a combination of values and agenda-setting goals. They then continue to be cemented as legitimate entities for change and end as groups that are willing to work with others towards a common goal.
“Each of these cycles leaves a footprint to help us better understand how women respond to conflict,” Aharoni mentioned.
Aharoni pushed the idea that archivism is a form of activism, in which preserving the pamphlets, trinkets and other objects associated with a group can establish its importance as a meaningful and much needed entity in society.
For example, there are the Feminist Peace Archives, which hold both published and unpublished documents, visuals, objects, posters and audiotapes that all stem from women’s activism efforts. Archives like FPA were produced by approximately 18 different women’s peace organizations in Israel since 1975. Most of the groups that did this work no longer exist, but their work lives on in new ways.
The importance of expanding the conversation of women’s activism and archives was not lost on those who were familiar with the subject.
“I just think that if people are left out of the conversation, then their interests are left out of the solution,” Ben Rosenbaum, a senior history and secondary social studies education major, said.
Archives of interest that were discussed during this meeting also include those from multiple rape crisis centers that keep a registry of calls and documents. Many of the documents are not digitized and are undersorted.
“We have discovered that women have saved a lot of memories,” Aharoni said.
She spoke on how some organizations reached out to local women and asked them to open up their homes and share objects of value with archivists.
Sara, an archivist and women’s peace group member from Jerusalem, was one of the women that Aharoni interviewed about the fact that some articles of history that are not safely contained in the archives.
“When I thought that this whole history was lost, I felt a terrible grief,” she said.
Israeli archives are more international than they seem. Aharoni once stumbled upon an Indonesian report from 1981. She also found modern Japanese journals in a Tel Aviv rape crisis center.
This talk over Zoom brought a new perspective to what it means to preserve and uphold the history of an organization, as well as to continue to advocate and create change. Women can not only turn to the archives as a testament to the strength and perseverance they’ve shown in the past, but also as inspiration to fuel the fight for change in the present.