SAWIS Report back on community discussions about genocide in Palestine

Since October 7, 2023, more than 11,100 lives (and counting) have been lost in Palestine. We send our deepest condolences to all those living who lost their loved ones, and express our concern for the safety and security for everyone living in Palestine and surrounding areas.

SAWIS has been in conversation with community members living in the East-Danforth areas of Toronto where discussions about the genocide are taking place among Bangladeshi and South Asian immigrant women and girls. We foster and encourage a safe and inclusive environment for immigrant women and girls to participate in civic and political discussions. This is made possible due to our close connection and trust built with the community through day-to-day service, civic engagement, and public education activities. 

Conversations began with the fact that Israel was investigated and declared as an apartheid state (See Amnesty, 2022 and United Nations, 2022). It is also recognized that the current Israeli government is carrying out a genocidal campaign against Palestinians in Gaza. This is made evident by the mass expulsion and displacement, destruction of civilian health and other infrastructure and institutions, and blatant disregard of human life resulting in the record-number of deaths and severe injuries. These actions, per the Rome Statute of the International Criminal Court Section 8, constitute war crimes. 

Our conversations not only examined the events unfolding, but also the responses of the Canadian government, political parties, media and other institutions representing civil society. 

As a society that expresses its commitment to advance gender equity, anti-racist initiatives, human rights, and reconciliation, our community is disheartened and concerned with Canada’s response. The inability to firmly stand against genocide and call for a ceasefire continues to creating a deadly situation for Palestinians and those living in the surrounding areas, especially for children, women, elderly, and people with disabilities who are much more vulnerable. Community women reflected on their lived experiences and highlighted the direct correlation between compliance with war, conflict and oppression abroad with discrimination experienced in Canada. They expressed concerns about the safety and wellbeing of ethnic and religious communities in Canada who are at risk of Islamophobic, anti-Arab, anti-Black, and anti-Semitic hate crimes and systemic discrimination. We caution that this is a very real outcome, especially as we see a general rise in anti-immigrant sentiments, much of which has been fostered in our society over the last few years. 

Community women also expressed their frustration about the lack of sincere engagement with the general public, especially with those who are affected by these discourses and decisions. They are not only frustrated with the disinformation and lack of critical discussions about the context of the genocide, but also with the discussions by decision-makers that does not reflect the values and needs of the general public. Our society has seen an increase in pro-war discussions and decision-making taking place in the midst of an affordability crisis. Community women strongly challenged the use of public funds, which many communities like ours are being denied access to through cuts to social programs and safety nets, for causes that the general public do not agree and/or consent to. 

While community women are ‘let down’ by the institutions that are supposed to represent them, they are not demoralized. We commend and support efforts made by communities across Toronto and Canada in organizing and participating in local, national, and international actions against genocide. We are proud to witness the unwavering strength and solidarity among the general population on this issue, including collectives representing a wide range of ethnic/religious groups (Arab, Jewish, Muslims, Indigenous, Black, etc.), occupations (students, trades union, teachers, healthcare, non-unionized and precarious workers, etc.), and gender oppressed and diverse communities. The values and needs of the general population are being represented through their efforts.  

Governments, policy makers, and public institutions have the duty to reflect the demands and values of the people. Community women urge elected officials and decision makers to take up the calls for  an immediate ceasefire, immediate relief, and safety and aid for Palestinians, and safety for all who are currently in Gaza regardless of their ethnicity and religion. 

Community women also urge the government to:

  1. Adopt a proactive anti-war stance as an integral aspect to foreign relations and policy discussions and decision making
  2. Incorporate anti-war perspectives as an essential part of Canada’s gender-equity, anti-racist, and humanitarian initiatives, both domestically and internationally
  3. Incorporate into regular democratic practices a process for genuine and sincere conversations with the general public and affected communities to ensure informed consent of Canada’s involvement in international struggles and conflict
  4. Prioritize the use of public funds to address the affordability crisis and meet the general population’s needs for social programs and safety nets

For those interested in supporting calls for ceasefire, please sign the petition below.