Story of a woman in 2014

She’s my friend.

She looks at me and she tells me that she’s looking into separating from her husband. In her words, she has bore the burden of his aggressive behaviour and his violence for too long.

To get a divorce, she’ll need to go back home. For now, she can only physically separate from him.

‘When it came to beating me and hitting me and my kids, it became too much. Everyone has a limit’.

She met him at work. Now he doesn’t want her to keep working.

She tells me all of this as we’re chatting outside, seemingly having a pleasant conversation.

She’s so beautiful and graceful, always smiling, you’d never think, not in a million years, that so much pain is hidden behind all that grace.

Yet when she tells me she needs to be strong for herself and for her kids, she breaks out crying.

She’s looked for an apartment, she’s planning her escape.

I ask about her husband’s reaction.

He doesn’t know yet.

She’s scared of what he will do to her when she tells him.

‘I don’t sleep at night, I keep thinking about it’.

Fear is etched on her face, in the quiver of her voice. Fear is contagious, it gets to me, as I scramble to try and find ways of protecting her.

‘Did you ask a lawyer? Can you tell the police?’

Can’t anyone protect her?

She has a lawyer, she ‘s thinking about alerting the police.

She’s planning her escape.

She has to go back to work, and I leave, wondering how we’re all supposed to plan our escape from a patriarchal society that sends the message to men that women are their propriety, that they can dispose of us the way they see fit.

I leave, and I ring another friend, a female lawyer, someone who can help, someone, anyone, who could provide a sliver of protection.

I leave, and my blood boils at the mere thought that no man has ever been kept awake by pure, unadulterated fear of what the woman in his life might do to him if he decides to leave.

I leave, and I can’t wrap my head around the fact that my friend, the well-educated, poised, strong woman that I know, doesn’t get sleep at night because she’s afraid for her life, for her safety, and the life and safety of her children.

I leave, and I find myself thinking that in a way, she’s better off where she is than at home, where some religious leaders and society at large would tell her to just stick it out, that it’s her duty to stick it out, that men will be men and all that. I shamefully think that at least where she is, there are laws, and rules, and more men in suits and robes forced by law to put a distance between her abuser and her.

I leave, and I’m helpless, and useless, fully aware that being a feminist, in our day and age, is not a mere luxury, a brand we can use to look cool.

It’s a necessity for survival.

If you’re a woman facing abuse living in Geneva and looking for help, you can find it here or you can call this number 0840 110 110

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Disgust and Despair, or Yet Another Rant on Lebanon

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I used to write I wanted to go back to Lebanon, live there permanently and all that. I used to be so blinded by love for that country that I romanticized it to death, brushing over the bad aspects as if they were nothing.

Then I came back, and the romantic dream died. I still loved Lebanon though. A more honest love, perhaps, but it still had a special place in my heart.

But now I am done. Don’t get me wrong, many things I still love, many things still make my heart beat. I’ll probably never be over Beirut. How can one be over Beirut? But I digress.

I am, however, over the Lebanese political elite. I am tired of screaming arraftouna. I am tired of sending letters and tweets and marching and yelling and advocating for change while it is very clear that the political class couldn’t give two fucks about what it is we’re asking for. I’m tired of being disgusted to the core by the aggressive corruption, I’m tired of begging for rights that are rightfully mine, I am tired of consultations, meetings, discussions, projects funded by organisations and countries with their own agendas and their own priorities, who really, actually, don’t really give two fucks either about what it is you’re asking for. I am tired of pretending something can be done in the current system we’re in.

I am tired of pretending we’re not at war when Tripoli is counting its dead, and has been for a while. I am tired of looking at discrimination in the face every day I spend in Lebanon and not knowing where to start to eradicate it. I am tired of being considered by law and by society as a second class citizen who should stay at home to raise children born within wedlock, a religious wedlock if you please. I am tired of the mind-numbing hypocrisy of the religious, the politician and business classes alike, all united to stomp on equality, justice and freedom.

The truth is my heart is aching with the mothers still looking for their children decades after they have been abducted or disappeared during the war, the truth is I can’t stand that my friends need two jobs just to barely make ends meet while they have degrees and experience whereas a family name can open the doors of heaven to others.

I’m tired of Lebanon. Because this is Lebanon, whether we like it or not. Today Lebanon is a country where abused women have no law protecting them, where women can’t pass on their citizenship to their family, where rape is legal if the rapist marries you, where maternity leave is so short and childcare so expensive you’re virtually left with no choice but to drop your kids at your mothers and take a job that finishes at 2. If you’re lucky. Today Lebanon is a Parliament giving itself the authority to extend its own mandate, today Lebanon is a country where political lines are drawn according to sectarian allegiances, where so called parties are nothing more than families repeating the same lies for decades. Today Lebanon is a country where you can’t even get a civil marriage, where modern slavery is seen as a normal part of every day life, as if there were nothing wrong in putting a human being under the authority and responsibility of another. Today Lebanon is a country where the vast majority of the workforce is unaccounted for, informal, where social security is a Graal only the lucky can get. Today Lebanon is a country where all woes are blamed on the Other, the refugee, the member of a different sect, the poor, without ever looking within to see the rot.

This is the Lebanon our political and administrative sectarian system gave us. Do you like it? Is there anything to be proud of?

Now is the time for radical action, for general strikes and paralyzing actions of the system. Now is the time to strike back, to name and shame, to stop voting, to stage constant protest.

The time for compromise and participation has gone, and we’re only left with confrontation. It is our only hope.

On Angry Feminists, Women’s Bodies, and People’s Sense of Entitlement

When I put myself in front of my computer this morning, I had every intention to work and write the 28th chapter of the Tales of the Phoenix City.

However, it seemed life had other plans for me.

Fate, or maybe it was just random bad luck, put yet another person in front of me who asked me “if that baby was coming”.

I gave an icy cold reply, and that seemed to shut her up.

I never got how people can be so insensitive and feel so entitled to meddle in affairs that have nothing whatsoever to do with them. I always felt that these questions can hurt a person trying to have a baby but not succeeding, or sadden a person who has just miscarried, or anger a person who doesn’t want to have a child, or just plain bore a person into a stupor as they simply really don’t feel like discussing what’s in or what’s not in their uterus with every half wit that crosses her path.

However, this issue is bigger than the issue of having a child. People’s sense of entitlement to ask women personal questions most of the times seems to largely go unquestioned. As women, it seems that people expect us to nod and answer gracefully all the questions that get thrown at us, regardless of what we feel and think. Are you getting married? Yes? No? If Yes, when? If no, why the hell not? Once you’re married, it’s the child issue that raises its head, accompanied with well and not so well-meaning old wives’ tales about how time is running out and if your body gets used to your partner’s sperm you won’t be able to conceive (true story. Someone actually said that to a friend of mine). When you’re pregnant, your womb becomes public property with the same random people rubbing your belly like there’s no tomorrow, as if for good luck. Seriously, can you imagine people’s faces if I went around caressing men’s bellies and making stupid cooing noises? Once you’ve had your first child, when are you going to have the second? And once you’ve had your children, it seems that the world gets filled with self-appointed experts criticizing right left and center the way you’re raising your offspring.

My husband gets asked all the time questions about the progression of his PhD, about how his activities are going. Very few people, save for some members of his close family, ever ask him about when we are planning on having a child. On the other hand, random people seem to have no problem whatsoever asking me about the future occupants of my womb, each and everyone of them giving advice I did not remember asking for, or stressing me out because apparently a pregnancy would not suit my job.

Should you snap at the umpteenth person putting his or her head up your ass, people frown at you as if you were the living embodiment of their version of feminists, I.e, aggressive women always barking at patriarchy and their ‘so-called oppression’. Let me tell you one thing: us feminists are angry, that’s for sure, because the minute we put on our feminist glasses it becomes impossible not to see the gender bias and discrimination we have to live under, it becomes impossible not to notice that women are expected to answer obediently to all the shit that gets thrown at them and nod submissively otherwise they’d be frowned upon if not mocked and degraded, and something inside us just snaps and starts wanting to bite people’s heads off. Feminists are angry because they question what society takes for granted: gender stereotypes, gender injustice, discrimination and society’s sense of entitlement.

This sense of entitlement to ask questions about a woman’s private life stems, at least for me, from the general perception that women’s bodies and lives do not belong to them and them only. Women’s bodies are society’s , their family’s, their community’s, but never their own. This being said, it derives that questions can be asked and comments can be made. It is only when we make the conscious choice to respect every human being body’s integrity that we can truly say we respect healthy boundaries and can have equal relationships.

Don’t give me advice if I don’t ask. Don’t ask me personal questions, especially if I barely know you. Don’t tell me what my child should eat or do.

After all, you’re not seeing me asking your husband how his prostate is doing. Therefore, I’d be grateful if you could leave my uterus alone.

On Why We Are Demonstrating

This article was written for Sawt Al Niswa, the AMAZING online feminist space

I read an infuriating article today, a blog post that was so patronizing it made me feel sick to the stomach. The writer referred to our action as “delusional” and while he deemed our struggle as “righteous”, he did not see it going anywhere for the moment. But Behold! For his was kind enough to provide us with an alternative solution, with other priorities and other actions.

The author’s intention was probably not to minimize our struggle, or be patronizing or anything: he probably did not notice that his sickly sweet rhetoric merely felt like a paternalistic pat on the head, like someone telling you you’re cute but naïve. Like someone not really believing you had serious reasons to be angry and to demonstrate.

Which got me to think: what are we fighting for? Why are we demonstrating?

First and foremost, there’s of course the issue of rights. We are demonstrating because the state has duties towards us, obligations it has signed on in an International Convention (CEDAW), voluntarily binding itself to respect, protect and fulfill them, rights that we can see are not being respected, protected and fulfilled. Hence, by making ourselves heard we are simply putting into action our democratic rights. We are neither demonstrating because we are spoilt brats, nor because we don’t have anything else to do or because we are delusional naïve nymphs living in Lala land. Rather, our carefully thought-out collective action is our weapon to put our government in front of its obligations. Its obligations is our rights, and it is our responsibility to demand them, to claim them, for the shameful rape laws are not going to be cancelled by themselves; and neither is the Violence Against Women Bill ever going to materialize and be adopted out of thin air. We demonstrate because the numbers 478, 488 and 489 (criminal code provisions imposing higher sanctions on women found guilty of adultery than on men) 503, 504 and 522 (laws pertaining to rape) cannot be read without a shudder. We demonstrate because of the large Violence Against Women Bill-shaped gaping hole within the Lebanese legislative apparel. We demonstrate because religious authorities are playing deaf and blind to that very simple fact: there are women in Lebanon, and we are not walking wombs. Rather, we are human beings who saw evil, heard evil and witnessed you speak your evil.

So we’re taking to the streets, armed with an international Convention, armed with laws and principles and a whole set of values that we think are worth sharing. Several people and bloggers seem to think that we’re ahead of the game, that before obtaining a change in the laws we need to establish a civil state in Lebanon then we’ll be able to see what we can do about women’s rights. It’s the same old song: women are selfish for demanding what is theirs, they should wait until the whole system changes until we can tackle women’s rights. To which I answer 1) Women Won’t Wait 2) why not think of changes in laws with regards to women as an opening door to a wider change in the system? Advocating for women’s rights is advocating for a more egalitarian society, it doesn’t mean favouring one injustice over another. The way I see it, turning Lebanon into a civil state will take longer than adopting the Violence Against Women law: what are we supposed to do until we reach that point? Sit around and pray?

The demonstration however even goes beyond obtaining our rights. It has become a question of reclaiming our very streets, each corner of our city until we find that we can walk around without fear or of uneasiness because of stares, glares, insults, offensive comments or unwanted physical contacts that is just plain sexual abuse. We’re demonstrating now because our cup is full: we’re tired of unlit zawarib where even the less sporty of us turns into a sprint champion until we reach our cars, we’re tired of feeling as if we’d like our breasts to be invisible, we’re tired to be harassed just because we are women. By pounding the streets of Beirut we’re making a strong statement to those who would like to see us off them, tucked away in our homes that sometimes are more dangerous that battlegrounds, as if under house arrests: look at us, we’re women and human, we want our dignity and safety.

We’re demonstrating because this way we get to say our stories, with our words, our chants, our actions, with no self-appointed authority (religious or otherwise) telling us we’re asking too much, too soon, too aggressively.

Our bodies are ours, and no one but us gets to dictate what we should do with it or whom and when we decide to give it to. Our voice are ours too, and no one but us dictates when and how we should use it.

So on Saturday the 14th, I will pick up my banner and I will shout for my rights until my voice gets hoarse. But I promise that if you see us on the streets, and still have questions, then I will use it to talk to you.

And maybe then, you’ll walk with me too

For the post mentionned at the beginning please see http://beirutspring.com/blog/2012/01/03/kafa-is-delusional-the-lebanese-state-neither-has-the-will-nor-the-way-to-get-into-lebanese-bedrooms by BeirutSpring


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