Palestinian and proud: Celebrating International Women’s Day in Gaza

In honor of International Women’s Day, Abeer Ayyoub pays respect to her mother, who taught her that being a woman in Gaza is as much about liberation as it is about survival. 

By Abeer Ayyoub

Gaza women protest in International Women's Day. (photo: Hosam Salem)
Gaza women protest in International Women’s Day. (photo: Hosam Salem)

Although March 8th has always marked International Woman’s Day, this year was the first time I ever felt like it belonged to me as a Palestinian woman. Perhaps it is because I recently turned 25, or perhaps it is because of the awareness I have gained regarding my role as a Palestinian woman living in Gaza.

Early on, I felt that I had to become a great woman with an impact on my society, especially after I realized that my mother had always tried to bring out the best in me and my nine siblings. Despite being simple housewife, my mother was the one who helped me during my first three years in elementary school. Without her support, I would have never been able to become one of the best students in my class.

I graduated from high school with top honors, after which I was accepted to study English literature at a local university in Gaza. In 2007, Israel imposed a siege on the Gaza Strip, causing great economic distress to the people there. My family was no exception. My parents could not afford to pay mine or my sister’s college tuition, so instead of leaving me in the middle of my degree, my mother sold all of her gold jewelry to allow us to continue studying.

But that’s just the tip of the iceberg. My mother is a woman who had to raise her children under occupation. She had to protect us during both intifadas on our way to school, at a time when confronting Israeli soldiers was a part of our daily life. She had to deal with our fears during Operation Cast Lead and Pillar of Defense, as well as during countless days of escalation between the two sides.

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I graduated from the English literature department, learned how to edit news, got my own bylines in some of the most renowned international newspapers, and am now working on my second university degree, this time in Hebrew.

Today, I want to say it loud and clear: I am a Palestinian woman who has witnessed two intifadas, two wars, non-stop escalation and a suffocating Israeli siege. I am a Palestinian woman who has had to study without electricity at night. I am a Palestinian woman who went to university by foot due to lack of fuel. I am a Palestinian woman who is fighting to carry on her studies at the humble educational institutions in Gaza, due to our limited ability to leave through the Israeli-controlled Erez crossing or the Egyptian-controlled Rafah crossing. I am a Palestinian woman who will have to repeat her mother’s experience of raising children under fire, while still insisting on teaching them how to live. I am a proud Palestinian woman who can teach the rest of the world’s women how to live, despite all the destruction.

Read more:
Women behind the lens: Palestinians filming the occupation
Meet the Israeli women who have stood up to the occupation for 26 years

Abeer Ayyoub, 26, studied English literature at the Islamic University of Gaza. She is a journalist who covered the last war on Gaza and has recently covered various internal issues. She has written pieces online in English for Al Jazeera, Haaretz and other publications.