On 2 June 2021, the Asfari Institute for Civil Society and Citizenship held the third webinar entitled “How Has the Discourse on Gender-Based Violence Been Changing Among Arab Young Activists?” under its Gender and Feminism Roundtable Series.
This roundtable discussed the overall situation of gender-based violence in the MENA region, bringing perspectives and experiences of feminists from Jorden, Lebanon, Libya, and Egypt. The webinar examines how the discourse on gender-based violence in the Arab world has been changing with the youth. It highlights the changes in activism as well as the increase in expression and decrease in tolerance of violence against women. It also explores the best way forward in tackling gender-based violence within the context of the Arab World.
Gender-based violence (GBV) takes different forms, including physical, emotional, verbal, sexual, and economic. While ‘violence’ is associated with the physical form, awareness must be raised on emotional and verbal forms of abuse – which have become normalized in society – yet are experienced by most females in the MENA region.
The speakers referred to various social categories, including refugees, females, the LGBTQ+ community, and domestic workers amidst races, classes, and ethnicities, which creates interdependent and overlapping types of discrimination and GBV in the MENA region. Recognition of the rights of these groups has come with high costs, and unfortunately, it is only after tragic incidents, including loss of life, that these groups get can get public and media attention.
During the past decade, drastic changes in the political and social context have brought GBV to the forefront of feminist discussion and activism. Most recently, women’s experience with domestic violence has increased following the outbreak of COVID-19 and lockdown measures which put women in direct and constant confrontation with their abusers. The murder of women has increased since the outbreak of COVID-19; yet the reporting of GBV cases remains low, reflecting a lack of trust in the available protection system. It also reflects the dynamics of patriarchal societies which justify the actions of abusers, blame victims, and silence them.
The feminist movement has achieved significant and promising advances including claiming the right to share the public sphere, which was previously dominated and owned by males, which has decreased victim-blaming, especially amongst women. However, the feminist agenda has been falsely politicized through claims that it has ties to foreign agenda that aims to damage the moral construct of the society.
The feminist movement is an ongoing political activist movement that adapts to available spaces and situations. It is in a constant battle against patriarchal systems that aim to control women and their bodies and deny the rights of the LGBTQ+ community.
Feminist movements today, and their achievements, cannot be viewed in isolation from movements of the past. Acknowledging previous achievements and how the movement has evolved over time is essential to the success of the current movements, in order to build on their learnings and their struggles. Knowledge sharing with the new generation of activists is a responsibility of current feminists, especially regarding resource mobilization, which is one of the most challenging areas due to its scarcity compared to other sectors of development.
Social media has played a substantial role in advancing the feminist movement and activism against GBV. It has provided spaces for feminist activists, especially youth, that enabled them to reach wide communities and raise awareness on women and queer rights. “Hashtags” have been used as a tool for public opinion mobilization against GBV practices and crimes, which has shown in some cases to push governments to adopt policies and laws that benefit the feminist movement – for example, pushing parliament to discuss a law against sexual harassment in Lebanon. However, matters related to feminist activism should not be viewed only as a trend that picks up momentum on social media for a short period.
Simultaneously, the internet has introduced cyber violence including cyber sexual abuse, which is extremely dangerous due to the lack of protection measures and legislation that incriminates abusers in this space. Solidarity and collective movements have emerged on social media to fight these types of abuse, for example by exposing serial abusers including powerful individuals.
When addressing violence, ambiguous definitions of private and public matters are maintained in patriarchal societies. This is one of the patriarchy’s tactics to avoid accountability or pursue actions against violence. Gaining support to stand against violence through laws that incriminate is one of the main challenges for feminist activism, since many males, including powerful politicians, parliament members, and even supposed activists themselves benefit from the absence of these laws. This serves their positions of power and protects their own acts of abuse. While clearer definitions of “public” and “private” are required, violence should not be tolerated or disguised under the label of being a domestic private matter.
One of the most important skills that will ensure the movement’s solidarity and sustainability is acquiring the art of disagreeing constructively, where exchanging perspectives is made possible and differences are accepted. The feminist movement lacks spaces that allow individuals to discuss “hot topics” freely and safely. The feminist movement should always fight for those whose voices are not heard and the less privileged because of their differences.
Meet the speakers and moderators
- Carla Akil is a Research Intern at the Asfari Institute. She is an undergraduate student majoring in Psychology at the American University of Beirut. She is interested in women’s rights and the feminist movement in the Arab region.
- Mozn Hassan is an Egyptian feminist activist and founder of ‘Nazra for Feminist Studies’ and the Doria Feminist Fund which is the first feminist fund in the region. She has received many awards, amongst them the Global Fund for Women’s inaugural Charlotte Bunch Human Rights Award in 2013.
- Banan AbuZainEddine is a feminist and human rights activist and advocacy and gender trainer. She is a holder of a Diploma degree in Management of Non-Profit institutions and is currently pursuing a second Bachelor’s in Law. Banan has more than eight years of experience working in the civil society and humanitarian field. She is the co-founder of the “Feminist Sessions” initiative aiming to spread the feminist and women’s rights knowledge and contribute to strengthening the young feminist movement in Jordan.
- Saja Akmail is a volunteer at Takatoat.
- Maya El Ammar is a feminist writer, activist, and communications professional who has led nationwide feminist media campaigns on issues related to family violence, child marriage, personal status laws, and the kafala system, among other topics.
- Montaha Nottah is Research Intern at Asfari Institute. She is a Political Studies graduate with triple minors in the Non-profit Sector and Civil Society, Human Rights and Transitional Justice, and International Law at the American University of Beirut (AUB). Montana has volunteered and worked with several international and local organizations across the world. Her fields of interest include youth empowerment, peacebuilding, humanitarian aid, and gender studies with an eye focused on the MENA region, especially Libya.
Watch the full recording here: