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 a Feminist International – Blogging at the AWID Forum

I’ll be blogging for the young feminist wire at the AWID Forum, check my first post below. Here’s the link on the Wire! http://yfa.awid.org/2012/04/impressions-from-a-young-feminist-on-day-1-of-the-2012-awid-forum/

Looking at the AWID Forum programme, I felt like a little girl in a sweet shop: i want to go to this session! No, is one! Finally, I sadly had to pick several of them, wishing my superpowers included duplicating myself.
This Edition of the AWID Forum focuses on transforming economic power to achieve social justice and gender equality. Right from the opening session, the tone was set: as feminist, we focus on relationships of power, and on how power dynamics affect our lives, our rights and bodies. The financial and economic crisis has brought tremendous pressure on peoples in general and women in particular, as women are more at risk to find themselves in situation of poverty, unemployment and precarious working conditions in the informal sector of the economy. Austerity measures lead to significant cuts in social spending such as health and education, increasing women’s vulnerability as women’s health is put in jeopardy and possibilities of education are reduced; yet banks are bailed out and saved and multinational corporations carry on exhausting the earth’s resources and making huge profits. As Gitta Sen put it at the opening session, the end has become money, growth and profit while the means are the human beings.
Faced with this situation, we as feminists do have an opportunity: an opportunity to mobilize, organize and influence public policies with alternative interpretations of the economy. In other words, it is high time we shake the orthodox mathematical paradigm of current economics to build new concepts to be used in gendered economics. Such transformative economics include feminist interpretation of the economy where women’s work in the informal sector is taken into account and where the reproductive role of women and the gendered economy of care is valued and recognized, as social organization usually put domestic and care work on women’s shoulders.
Economic power dynamics are not the only relationships that will be discussed over the upcoming four days, as issues of body image, sexual and reproductive health and rights and political phenomenon and militarization will be tackled.
The Forum also introduces in-depth session, longer sessions focusing on a specific theme. Among them, the session on democratic transitions and women in the Arab world was extremely intense and interesting, both online and offline. Offline, because women from Tunisia, Morocco, Egypt and Iran shared first and foremost their stories of hope: as Thoraya Obaid clearly stated at the beginning of the sessions, there is no denying that revolutions brought dynamics of change. Ahlem Bel Haj from the Association Démocratique des Femmes Tunisiennes stated that not only were Arab countries in a transitional democratic process, but that they were first and foremost engaged in a revolutionary process: words have their importance, as emphasizing the revolutionary process keeps social justice and labor rights demands, key demands of the revolutions, in the picture.
Talking about words brings me to the online debate: when tweeting about comments made by panelists and participants that feminists needed to remain vigilant when facing political Islam groups as they could represent threats to women’s rights, some tweeple told me that such a language could be perceived as the language of counter-revolution and that now would be the time to be optimistic about the opportunities ahead. The conversations and work groups during the sessions today and this online debate lead me to this conclusion: as feminists, we are part of a progressive, subversive mouvement, which organically implies always remaining vigilant of conservative forces. The previous regimes in revolutionary countries in the regions were in no way women’s rights champions: it doesn’t however mean that we should turn a blind eye to the situation currently unfolding. We not only need to remain vigilant and alert in developments, as we have always been, but we also need to draw parallels with other countries and learn lessons from the past, as has been mentioned by Sudanese and Iranian feminists at the forum, to try and build a global feminist solidarity network that is enshrined in the universality of women’s rights.

Talking about solidarity and a Feminist International really nails down what this Forum is about: bringing out and mobilizing the forceful, inspiring, so-strong-it-could-move-mountains collective power of women.

Happy AWID Forum!

The Collective for Research and Training on Development.Action will be at the AWID Forum in Istanbul on Transforming Economic Power to Advance Women’s Rights and Justice. I’ll be speaking during the session at the Education Space, drop by and say hi if you;re around! 

Becoming A Feminist Activist

Link: Becoming A Feminist Activist

My take on becoming a feminist activist, written for the AWID Blogathon on the Young Feminist Wire

Here’s the 1st paragraph, to read more, follow the link:

I believe becoming a feminist activist creeps up on you. You don’t wake up one day thinking: « Mmm, right, after coffee I’ll just go and advocate for women’s rights, now shall I? ». At least this isn’t how it happened for me. Becoming an activist was the result of an internal process fuelled by observations: a condescending attitude from a man , a patronising comment , an inner sense of difference because I am a woman, and because I am an Arab woman who lived in a small French town rife with prejudices and misconceptions about Arab women. In general, all of this conspired to render me attentive to stories of oppression from a young age…Read more at http://yfa.awid.org/2011/11/becoming-a-feminist-activist/