Things I’d Like My Child to Know

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Dear beloved daughter of mine,

Below you will find a couple of things I would like to pass on to you. Call it advice, call it pesky mother trying to smother you, call it what you want, for now you are almost nine months and I am your world, but when you’ll be old enough to read and understand what I’m trying to convey to you below you’ll probably want to rebel and do the exact opposite.

That is, if your dad and I did our job well.

So here goes

Friends

Have as many different friends as you possibly can. I mean it, have friends of every shape and size and colour and social class and sexual orientation and, to a certain extent, opinion. I say to a certain extent, because I arbitrarily draw the line at racist, classist, and homophobic friends. Yes, I’m your mother and I take arbitrary decisions and don’t you forget it (I think I’m getting a little high on Mother Power here) Expand and widen your horizon as much as you can, don’t get stuck in a certain milieu or a certain circle. Know that our home will be your friends’ home, that they will always be welcome, and that there will always be a plate for them on our table.

Girlfriends

Among your friends, have girlfriends. Take it from me, having girlfriends is not a cherry on the cake kind of thing, it’s a survival necessity. Have girlfriends to roll on the floor from laughter with, and when you’re older, to drink wine and talk about the world until the wee hours of the morning. They add sweetness to life, girlfriends, they are a balm to your wounds, a beam of sunshine in your life.

Listen

Be like a sponge. Listen to people, to their stories, to what they have to say. Everyone has something interesting to say, everyone is a walking story. Take your time to listen.

Love

And I’m not only talking here about romantic love. Love all kinds of people in all kinds of different loves, love with all your being, to the point of crying, let love fill and uplift you. There’s nothing greater and better than sheer love, nothing more glorious than to feel your heart swell and expand to make room for more and more people and places to love.

Be curious

Ask questions, challenge people and things and ideas, get to the bottom of things. Explore the world with your curiosity, don’t be afraid to dive into subjects you know nothing about but are interested in. Travelling is a great way to satisfy your curiosity, and if you are able, pack a bag and go (it’s taking me every ounce of self control and selfless love to write those words, as my natural inclination would be to add: travel, yes, but nowhere too dangerous, and be careful, and blablabla. Given the fact that your first travel was to Lebanon, I think the caution ship might have already sailed)

Dance

One of the greatest joys in life is to feel the music pound in your veins and move your body to the rhythm. Dance makes you feel more alive, you become aware of every part of your being, as the warmth of music and joy start to fill you. Also, there’s nothing more liberating that turning on the music really loud in the privacy of your room and dance until you’re out of breath.

Read

Read. Even if it’s the back of your cereal box, read. Anything and everything. There is magic in the written word.

Get angry

There’s nothing wrong in getting angry. Angry at the corrupt ways of the world, angry at oppression and injustice and violations. I strongly advise you to get angry at these things, and to channel your anger into changing them.

And finally, never be ashamed of who you are. Or of your body, your hair, your personality the life you decide to live. Rest confident in the knowledge that there are and always will be two people whose job description is basically to love and love and love unconditionally the extraordinary person you already are.

Safely tucked in that love, the world is yours.

Social Media for Social Change

It’s now official, I tweet so much, I feel like I’m about to start talking in hashtags.

First of all, let me share with you a very concrete example on how to use social media to bring forward our collective voice and power. On Friday evening at midnight, two Lebanese activists, Khodor Salemeh and Ali Fakhry, were arrested for tagging a wall of Beirut, under the claim that they were “disrupting public order”, while they were only exercising their right to freedom of speech. As soon as the news came out, activists and civil society mobilized both offline and online: a sit in was organized in front of where the two men were being held while people were tweeting, using the same hashtags, creating graphics, creating Facebook pages, spreading news, information and messages of solidarity and support from all over the world, and by this, I really mean all over the world, as the Prime Minister of Lebanon received calls for the liberation of the men from Chile. Our tweets to Lebanese Prime Minister Nagib Mikati were so pressing and persistent, asking for news of Khodor and Ali and calling for their immediate release that Mikati kept tweeting “Patience, Patience, I’m working on it”. Yesterday in the Early evening, the two activists were released.

This example of using social media to attract the attention of public officials for a specific cause and to mobilize and inform people came right after the Women’s Learning Partnership session at the AWID Forum on using social media for women’s empowerment showcased the various ways in which one can use Twitter to link up with partners, be part of a global conversation with like minded people and organisations, advocate for women’s rights and gender equality and build a constituency.
Many participants shared their stories of social media use and all were relevant and inspiring, but one in particular resonated with me in a strong way: a young woman member of Parliament from Kyrgyzstan, in disagreement with the policy of closed doors that the session she was attending followed, starting tweeting about it, thus putting herself up for trouble, refusing to give her phone to the authorities who wanted to take it away from her. Her action caused a sudden surge in Twitter Utilization in her country, which had a low rate of tweeple, thus broadening the scope and possibilities of free speech.

While social media can’t achieve anything without on the ground mobilization there is no denying that it has helped creating virtual ties and solidarity networks that can be useful to attract and retain attention on an issue, then possibly translate into further on the ground action.
This third day has also been a very fulfilling day on a personal level, as I was on a panel at the Education Space on sharing of experiences on capacity building in economic rights, in which I learnt more about the SEWA Radio (http://www.radiosewa.org/) in India and about the power of popular education and of women’s sharing of experiences and stories as a way of learning.
Finally, I decided today to choose a session blindly, to go attend something that was not related to the Middle East, or women’s economic empowerment and rights or better yet, to the economic rights of women in the Middle East. My mind was drawn to the session on the power of pleasure, and indeed, it was a real pleasure: the room was packed with women discussing sex work, the intersections between sexual rights and reproductive health, and the taboos of society while sharing appreciation and joy at being able to hold these conversations in such a unique space. While we explored the definition of what constitutes a “good woman” according to patriarchal rules and values, I realized it was probably too late for me to qualify for the position of good woman.
Rather, I’de like to settle for the position of feminist. At least with Feminism My body and I exist in and within ourselve And are not controlled by anyone.

On Stitching Beirut Back Together or Another 13th of April Story

This week end was the commemoration of the start of the Lebanese civil war that lasted from 1975 to 1990. I’d refer you to a history book to get all the details of how it started, what happened, how alliances were made and broken, except that us Lebanese may have cooked the biggest Hummus ever, we’re still not able to agree on the same version as to why and how the war happened. So officially, there is no lebanese history taught in schools from 1975 on. 

I could go on and on about the massacres that were perpetrated, about the history of blood, and loss, and hate and pain that characterized that era, for there were quite an impressive amount of them, all more horrifying than the other, except that I wouldn’t quite know where to begin. 

One of my first memory of Lebanon is how the city center was utterly, completely and irremediably destroyed. I remember the first time I saw it, as well as the first time I passed by Galerie Semaan, I remember thinking: what utter horror. I was six, I think it must have scared me like a horror house or something. I couldn’t quite fathom it. 

Have you been to the city center lately? Could you ever tell that shiny, happy, Khaleeji-friendly place was, not so long ago, the horror of its inhabitants own making? No one could ever guess it by looking at this Potemkin village. Some call it resilience, I call it amnesia. Capitalist Beirut did not try to give its city center back to its inhabitant, a place they could reoccupy and reinvent, with new activity and new contacts with one another, it tried to gloss over the horror with mock pre-war architecture, pretending it was the new and improved Beirut when in fact it is nothing more than a place for others, a place for tourists where Lebanese do not communicate or build ties. Post war, it was a no man’s land, post post war, it’s still a no man’s land, and no amount of sparkly shops can ever change that. My friend and writer Sara Abu Ghazal says it really well in her last article “Politics of Closeness and Alienation[1]” ,

Beirut is a city that represents short memory, with an outstanding privatized downtown that screams in your face: nothing happened here. 


Except that things, terrible things, did happen here, and that we’re still stuck with the system that allowed them to happen. We’re still stuck in a sectarian paradigm that has brought us nothing but chaos: yet we’re still quite happily carrying on with it. 

Among the many things that shock me when talking about the civil war is how all those warlords, all those corrupt, disgusting murderers got together in Saudi Arabia, gave each other a pat on the back, declared amnesty to one another, then came back, told the people, yalla, 3a byoutkon, go home, the war is over, leaving only a skeleton of a country licking its wounds, a devastated population while they had made more money out of death and destruction than decency would allow me to mention. 

150 000 people dead. 17 000 disappeared. A handful of power hungry corrupt warlords still ruling the country, not really giving a shit about the people that actually paid the high price for their lies. 

This is what we have to show for the war.

So today, the coalition for Social Justice, Equality and Secularism had invited different groups to march throughout symbolic parts of Beirut, where the infamous demarcation line used to be drawn during the war, a line that is still very much drawn in the Lebanese’ collective subconscient. 

And on we marched, from Chiah, through Ain el Remmaneh, to Adlieh screaming that we should never forget what happened in our country, chanting that those people, the 150 000 people who died, were not rocks or pebbles on the streets, they were people, human beings, that deserve to be remembered, and respected, that the 17 000 disappeared were not insignificant, that we could allow ourselves to forget them and move on, that they too, need to be remembered, their fate, elucidated. 

And on we marched, singing that we will never, ever let a civil war happen again. People’s faces were grave, they were watching us as we blamed the parliament and the current ruling political elite, some, mostly older women, threw rice on us, as a blessing, as a way of wishing us well, others openly told us, bravo, bravo, some looked at us with weariness, some kept silent, others said Allay y2awwikon. They looked at us, as we were forcing them, by our presence, to reflect on our shared history. 

We were not many, in fact we were disappointed we were not more, but as I was marching, I was deeply listening to the chants around me, especially one: They created the demarcation line, us the people, we are erasing it. 

And as I was marching, I had the image of the line as an open wound, and that each of our step were the stitches that were going to close the wound together. 

Yes, we were not many, but if several of us carry on the stitching, then maybe one day the wound will only become a scar, something we would look at and say about: see that scar? I got it doing something really stupid.

I’ll never do it again. 

[1] http://www.sawtalniswa.com/2012/04/politics-of-closeness-and-alienation/

Join the Jinsiyati Campaign tomorrow for a Sit In in Beirut in front of the Saraya, at Riad el Solh Square to call on the government to: 

– Indicate a clear timeline for the Ministerial Committee supposed to be examining the law 

– Draft clear terms of reference for said Committee 

– Take into consideration civil society organisations’ demands to give women full citizenship rights with NO CONDITIONS attached 

Join us, and if you can’t, SHARE, BLOG about it, Tweet using #Jinsiyati. Speak Up for women’s rights. 

Your Choice: Your Career or Your Identity Or other stories of Empowerment, Lebanese Style

Link: Your Choice: Your Career or Your Identity Or other stories of Empowerment, Lebanese Style

The new regulation adopted by the Lebanese Internal Security Forces to prevent women from wearing the hijab to work on the field has stirred a lot of debate and controversy in the highly sect-sensitive state of Lebanon. Invoking the military Code of Conduct that purportedly doesnt allow any member of the security forces to wear a confessional sign, military officials have requested the 40 or so women concerned to take off their veil in order to be able to serve on the field, something about 20 of them complied with. It is worth nothing that the women who have been asked to take their veils off had just successfully passed all their exams, a process during which absolutely no one told them they will have to choose betwwen the veil or the career later on. “According to the military code of conduct, whether it is for the police, army or general security, all religious symbols are not allowed,” said the security official interviewed by the AFP, who requested anonymity.

Read More on Café Thawra http://cafethawra.blogspot.com/2012/03/your-choice-your-career-or-your.html

The Fear Factor Or How I Shall Never Be Super Woman

I often wonder about what I’m finding to be the biggest taboo in being an activist: the Fear factor. When you’re advocating and struggling for a more egalitarian society, when you’re putting yourself out there in solidarity with people oppressed everywhere, it is inevitable you make some enemies along the way, the first in line of course being the governments you’re criticizing and their supporters.

What baffles me is that very few activists around me seem to show any fear. Is that just me, or is admitting fear a sign of a weakness or of some sort of bourgeois paranoia? Because when I dare to utter that yes, sometimes, I get scared, mostly not for me but for others close to me I’m most often met with very judgmental stares, as in: you’re just a coward.

To which I feel inclined to answer: kindly stop judging, for if I’m a coward, you can very well be considered reckless.

I honestly don’t consider myself a coward (who would anyway), I say loud and clear what I think, but doing so doesn’t prevent me from getting that pang of stress, nurtured with what ifs? What if we get arrested? What if things turn ugly?

I guess this is just something every activist and active citizen in our region needs to take into account and come to terms with because, well, it is part of our life. The issue I find the most difficult to deal with, however, is the anxiety I feel for other people. In a weird twist of my brain (just one more) I get more anxious about what could happen to friends and family than what could happen to me.  And that really, does my head in.

The issue there is that I don’t really feel I can be open about fears to other activists, as, given the previous reactions I have received; I always feel I’d be looked down on. Some of them want you to be more radical and see any (and I mean it, any) precautions you take as a felony, and just like that, you’re written off as a traitor to the cause while others seem kind of sorry for you that you’re not that good an activist. I wonder, who ever said all activists should be the same, who ever said that the level of risks you’re willing to take is the measure against which your commitment will be measured?

I find it mind boggling, the pressure that is on us to be SuperWoman and Super Man at all times. Not everyone can be SuperActivist, the person who shows and feels no fear, It takes special qualities and special skills to do that, and I think it’s safe to say that I don’t have them and that yes, sometimes I yearn for a life where I wouldn’t be stressed all the time, where what’s happening around me doesn’t affect me so much, where I’m not anxious and worried and stressed even in the dreams I have (Last one: my husband was showing me a guy, telling me he was a great Tunisian revolutionary, all of this in my sleep). Sometimes, I yearn for a life where there are no knots in my belly, keeping me awake and preventing me to eat. And yes, I know the people we stand in solidarity with are in a much worse place, I have 1st world problems, yes. Don’t worry I have heard the contemptuous comments before, I know them by heart now.

Nevertheless, I still feel afraid sometimes, I’m a human and I have weaknesses. This is one of them. My fears will drive me sometimes to be careful, if only not to put other people on the line.

Nevertheless, I shall never stop saying loud and clear what I think, for despite my fears, I’m fully conscious that playing on fears is an excellent oppressor’s strategy to prevent people from voicing their discontent and anger.

Nevertheless, I shall try and break that taboo: if you’re scared sometimes, It’s normal, and healthy and don’t listen to others who pretend it never happens to them. Let them be superheroes, and carry on with your life.

Are you tired of feeling unsafe on the streets of Beirut? Of being submitted to harassment, abuse and violence? It’s time to make our voices heard! Join us on the 14th of January for a march to claim our right to live free from violence, rape and abuse! Let each of us bring 3 friends. The more we are, the bigger our impact. Share share share and tell your friends, your mother, your brothers, sisters, cousins and their mothers!

Lebanon, a Land of Men (and of a few Courageous Women) Part II

I am a Lebanese woman married to a Swiss man. My children will never be Lebanese, nor will my husband, because I am considered as a second class citizen in my own country, which doesn’t seem to deem it necessary to grant me the same citizenship rights as everyone else (also known as men).

My friend, we’ll call her Lina, is married to a Palestinian, and walks around with her two blue cards in her purse, one for her child, one for her husband, those two little permits that virtually grant them nothing. May the law be amended soon, I told her, it’ll facilitate our lives.

Kess ekht 2al balad, she replied, arranging a strand of her loosely curly hair.

Lina has a tendency to swear with a sweet smile, while I tend to slam doors while doing it. To each its own.

Lebanon, along with many Arab countries, has enacted reservations to the Convention for the Elimination of all forms of Discrimination Against Women (CEDAW), notably pertaining to citizenship rights (art. 9 par. (2) of the Convention) and rights within marriage (art.16 par (1) (c) (d) (f) (g) of the Convention). Reservations are conditions put forward by States parties to a Convention or a Treaty enabling signatories to consider they will not be or only partly bound by some dispositions within the instrument they’re signing and ratifying.

Article 9 (2) of the CEDAW Convention states that:

 

Article 9
2. States Parties shall grant women equal rights with men with respect to the nationality of their children.

When signing CEDAW, Lebanon has enacted its reservation with regards to this article, stating it will not consider itself legally bound by it.

In International Law, there is a strict procedure to follow when putting forward reservations. Among other things, reservations need to be in conformity with the object and the purpose of the treaty. Clearly, a reservation aiming at discriminating women with regards to citizenship rights within a Convention against all forms of Discrimination against women is against the object and purpose of the treaty, and should have been objected to by other States signatories. However, Arab States submitted their ratification of the treaty to the acceptance of their reservations, so the International Community chose to accept them, for the sake of having more States being bound to at least some parts of the Convention. Which was all well and dandy, but left Arab women to fend for themselves when advocating for the end of this blatant form of discrimination. Arab governments can now claim their reservations were made in all legality as no one objected to them, making the advocacy work activists more difficult.

More difficult, but doable nonetheless: States parties may have not objected, but activists and civil society are and have been and will continue.

So let me get this straight: as a woman, I will carry a child during 9 months, I will bear the burden of giving birth to it (no walk in the park), I will feed it with my own breasts and help raise it and be its mother, his primary caregiver or what have you, yet I am deemed by a government made mostly of grey aging overweight men that my child will not have the same passport as me?

I don’t think so.

The Lebanese government can claim the contrary until blue in the face, citizenship rights define what kind of relationship citizens have with a State, and in the present context in Lebanon, the State clearly indicates that all intents and purposes, women are second class citizens. Patriarchy and the sectarian system of Lebanon work hand in hand in oppressing women on a daily basis: indeed, most political parties position themselves with regards to citizenship rights not on the need to stop discrimination against women, but on confessional calculations, the main question being: if Lebanese women married to foreigners can give their citizenship, how will it affect the confessional balance of Lebanon?

To which I reply: I don’t give a damn, get out of this poisonous sectarian thought system and give me my right, for women should not bear the burden of harmful political practices. 

The Jinsiyati campaign (the Nationality Campaign), started several years ago, has been gathering women’s rights activists in an effort to amend the law. Even though public authorities have started facilitating the emission of permits to non-Lebanese spouses married to Lebanese women, the law is still at a standstill. To add insult to injury, the Lebanese government has speedily endorsed a law enabling Lebanese emigrants to reclaim their Lebanese nationality, but ONLY if they have a Lebanese father or grandfather. Once more, women are put aside, and the discrimination is furthered. This new law completely overlooks Lebanese women’s participation in the economic and social life of Lebanon and the situation in which women married to foreigners are experiencing.

This is why today at 15:00, women’s rights activists and supporters will gather in a sit in protesting against the lack of political will to change the discriminating law. Women will also donate their blood in solidarity and to show that Lebanese women, just as men, have Lebanese blood.

Join us in front of the Ministry of Interior in Beirut, and help us put the government back in front of their responsibilities.

Say NO to discrimination against women, you have a voice, make it be heard!

References

http://www.albawaba.com/editorchoice/lebanese-women-fight-back-against-new-citizenship-law-405729
http://www.nasawiya.org/web/2011/12/the-recent-recision-by-the-cabinet-to-restore-lebanese-nationality/
http://www.dailystar.com.lb/News/Local-News/2011/Dec-14/156829-dual-nationality-draft-law-sparks-praise-and-ire.ashx#axzz1huODwS1G
http://www.undp.org.lb/ProjectFactSheet/projectDetail.cfm?projectId=89
http://www.learningpartnership.org/lib/lebanese-cabinet-issues-draft-law-reinstate-lebanese-nationality-descendants-lebanese-fathers-an

http://english.al-akhbar.com/content/calls-protest-anti-woman-nationality-law-interior-ministry

Lebanon: Land of the Men (and of a Few Courageous Women)

Sit In For Lebanese Women Rights to Grant Nationality to their Family

If you’re in Beirut, join us tomorrow for a sit in in front of the Ministry of Interior at 15:00 on the Sanaye3 Roundabout. More details here:

https://www.facebook.com/#!/events/292435000793549/  

Lebanese women are acting and advocating for change: they deserve full citizenship rights, and the right to grant their families their nationality is one.

Besides, a draft law is currently being examined by the Parliament to give Lebanese citizenship to Lebanese abroad whose father or grandfather was Lebanese, mothers and grandmothers not being taken into account. This is only furthering the discrimination against women in a country where laws pertaining to women are discriminatory and in violation of the CEDAW convention.

So Join our Struggle towards substantive gender equality!

Blog post will follow the sit in and Tweets under @CafeThawra