Engagement between women key to rights’ campaigns by Paola Salwan Daher – Common Ground News Service

Link: Engagement between women key to rights’ campaigns by Paola Salwan Daher – Common Ground News Service


Paola Salwan Daher, a member and trainer at Nasawiya feminist collective in Lebanon, highlights unique initiatives in Lebanon and Turkey that are helping end discrimination against women.

Stumbled upon my article reposted hihihihi

Portrait: GiGi

Gigi’s short for Ginette, the horrendous name her parents gave her, after her grandmother. Ginette, I ask you, her parents must have really hated her. 

No, Gigi, was much better. It suited her long fake acrylic nails (Gigi had a very strict policy about her nails, as she repeatedly told her beautician, her cousin Roro (after Roro’s grandmother, Rindala): the longer, the better, with little studs design and flowers and butterflies to match), her wild hair dyed three and a half different colours, her fake eyebrows and tatooed lips. 

Gigi’s an administrative officer in a medium size office and absolutely loves it. Hidden behind her computer, she can huff and puff and moan and complain that she’s too busy for words, overworked, that these people don’t know  the extreme chance they have that she’s deigning to work for them. 

Gigi’s an expert in looking busy, you see, there are some rules you’d have to follow. First of all, always come early: it’ll impress everyone and you can use this to leave the office even earlier. The fact that you have to get up for your kids anyway and that you take the time in the morning to drink coffee with the natour is completely irrelevant. 

Secondly, keep sighing loudly and tapping on your computer while screaming Ya Allah! everytime anyone dares to make your phone ring and bark a grumpy eh? shou fi? as if the poor person on the line had interrupted you while you were negotiating peace in Kashmeer. It’ll put a deep impression on people who will susbequently avoid calling you. Or making eye contact, for that matters. 

Thirdly, and that is the most important thing: keep telling people about how busy you are. It’ll make them think twice about giving you any more tasks, because you’re so busy you see, that you absolutely can’t be asked to do anymore things. 

Then, when you’re absolutely sure no one will dare to come and ask you to actually work, you can chat on MSN and Skype with your friends and family. 

Gigi loves her job, not only because she mastered the three aformentionned rules so well, but also because it is strategically positionned. When she started, they wanted to put her in that sad little corner, with the little intern who seemed so intent on doing well she’d do absolutely anything Gigi asked her to. Gigi almost threw a fit, and explained at great length to the manager that that chair didn’t suit her back problems, that the computer facing the wall would do nothing good to her claustrophobia, that sharing an office would cause germs to spread and did he know she had a particularly weak immune system? Did these people wanted her to die? The manager hence gave her the lovely desk just at the entrance of the office just to make her shut up (and also, because he was a little scared Gigi would actually fall ill just to prove a point)

From her privileged standpoint, Gigi can see the comings and goings of the office: there was this little young woman who seemed far too self assured for her own good, Estez Mostapha who comes to run her errands 20 times a day. There is also her pal Fifi, with whom she has great political conversations: “Now habibi, I’m not saying anything, we’ve always lived in harmony with them (them, referring to the other religious sect she’s currently criticising), mish ta3assob heyda, bas they’re everywhere and they’re not ashamed! Enno, I don’t get gasoline from my car from them, I go to the son of our neighbours, mish ta3assob I promise but they need to learn their place!”. Gigi also enjoys commenting on society’s declining moral standards: “That guy I interviewed! I’m sure he was gay! I mean, can you imagine a tobji working for us?” 

Alas! Gigi spoke too loud one time, and came one day to find her desk cleaned, a proper dismissal note stuck slap bang in the middle of her now bare table: From your tobji boss, with love. 

Ps: I hated your nails anyway. 

Lebanese Chronicles: Two

Sexual harassment in Lebanon is a reality. The fact is simply enunciated, yet I’ve heard the exasperated “oooohhh you’re exaggerating again!” more than I care to mention. 

And yet it’s right there, looking at my breasts on a Gemmayzeh afternoon, going “smallah”, it’s right there, shouting “Shou hal 7elo!” on Hamra Street, it’s right there, staring sleazily at me while I’m walking, two greedy eyes that I still feel on my back as I walk by. It’s right there in the stories my friends tell me of breasts and bums brushed, squeezed, felt, it’s right there, invading our privacies and our bodies and our minds, and it’s intolerable. 

The sick thing is that I’ve often heard women stating that at least, they feel beautiful in Lebanon because of the stares and of the comments they get as they walk by, by opposition to their lives in Europe where apparently no men ever looks at them. First of all, let us all inject ourselves with a healthy dose of self confidence: our sense of beauty isn’t and shouldn’t be defined by how a random man looks at us. It’s something that should come from within, an agreement we make between ourselves, between our minds and bodies. Secondly, there is a difference between an admirative glance, that lasts about a quarter of a second and an aggressive, invasive stare or offensive comment about any part of our bodies. While I wouldn’t consider the former harassment, I can’t help but consider the latter for what it is: an violation of my privacy, of my body. 

And I simply won’t allow it. 

The sicker thing is that I can’t help a feeling  of shame when something like that happens: I feel uneasy, uncomfortable, like I shouldn’t be dressed like this, like I’d want to bring my breasts inwards or make my clothes looser or shield my face or SOMETHING. Now don’t get me wrong: I do not feel guilty, for I know, and by this I mean the rational part in me knows, that I haven’t done anything wrong, that rude comments and stares are the product of years of education and patriarchal values that state that a man is allowed to heckle a woman and that the woman should feel grateful for it. The emotional part of me, or the subconscient or whatever is nevertheless penetrated by the same patriarchal values that a woman should walk her head bowed and not look at anyone and not dressed in a certain way, hence the ever slightly present feeling of shame. 

And I simply should suppress this feeling, for it’s the rational part of me that’s right: I am a human being, and as such, my privacy and body should be respected. It’s not a privilege that society grants me: it is my right. 

And as such, I should reclaim it. So this is why I shall dress the way I want, walk my head high, answer the guy who thinks his comment is clever (although maybe in a language he understands, i.e. not French), and keep on denunciating the harassment cases and talk about it until my voice hoarse, so that mentalities start shifting and see clearly that: Sexual harassment Is. Not.Okay. 

And my favourite people at Nasawiya have been tackling the issue for a while now with the adventures of Salwa: for more information, please visit www.qawemeharassment.com 

For a brilliant literary illustration: Introductory scene of The Bastard of Istanbul, by Elif Safak