On June 21, 2021, the Asfari Institute held its second webinar from the Feminist Circle Series entitled entitled “Post-Pandemic Feminism: How Has the Pandemic Contributed to Transforming the Feminist Movement“. The Feminist Circles Series, organized by the Asfari Institute, Oxfam, and Marsa seeks to engage feminist activists, international organizations, and scholars in dialogue and discussions around contemporary feminist activism issues whilst at the same time reflecting on potentially feasible solutions.
As indicated by the Asfari Institute director Lina Abou-Habib, the event aimed to reflect on post-pandemic feminism in terms of the ways in which feminist organizations have mobilized in Lebanon, Iraq, Algeria, and Palestine.
- What has the feminist movement done during the pandemic?
- How did it react and deal with exacerbated problems such as domestic violence and the closing of religious courts?
- How did the movements replace failing states and what lessons were drawn for the future of feminism post-pandemic?
Changes caused by the pandemic
Frida Wahrania focused on how activism turned from on the ground to virtual. Before the COVID-19 pandemic, there was a movement against the government and the president in Algeria. Feminists saw this as an opportunity to regain the public space for women and they called it “the feminist square”. This space was part of the larger movement that was attacked and accused of dividing the revolution and the movement against the government. The COVID-19 pandemic interrupted these street movements and led not only to a health quarantine but also to a political quarantine.
Alternatively, feminist activists in Algeria used online meeting platforms to talk about family regulations, what they stand for, and the structures that should support women and their rights. They found that organizations were present, but not active, especially when it came to domestic violence hotlines. Moreover, awareness through social media was also limited due to bad signals. When they moved to social media, they found that the online algorithm was not to their advantage.
Nadia Mahmood shared how she founded an organization 10 days prior to the Iraq revolution to tackle three forms of security: political, economic, and social security. Soon after the revolution, the COVID-19 pandemic put these forms of security at stake and drastically increased violence against women. Social media and women’s organizations lobbied for the need for the parliament to issue rules against domestic violence that protect women. During the pandemic, they moved from the streets to social media, and the ideas they stood up for went to social media. On social media, violence issues were addressed as well as issues discussed in the revolution, such as economic stability and unemployment.
Although youth movements were rising in number, so was online bullying. According to Nadia, they were not able to celebrate International Women’s Day because they didn’t want to put the lives of women in danger during the pandemic. However, there were some movements that emerged to combat online bullying and protect women from it. Indeed, many women activist organizations and groups were established in Iraq amid the COVID-19 pandemic to address feminist issues.
Dr. Hadeel Qazzaz emphasized the need to hear young people’s voices on feminist issues. She talked about the rise in this interest right before the pandemic in 2019 when a diverse group of feminists from the MENA region was invited to a meeting in Tunisia. She found it very interesting to hear the amazing experiences of young feminists that were of different ages, backgrounds, activists, movements, and NGOs. According to Dr. Qazzaz, this led to the idea to open safe spaces for people from different backgrounds to share their lived experiences.
Role of social media and its use as a feminist tool
Alia Awada discussed survival tools, especially considering that women during the COVID-19 pandemic were invisible. This struggle still pertains while women are currently expected to find solutions in the system. Women have been subject to an unreasonable amount of pressure that pushes them to find new ways of adaptation. Women have been forced to take on this burden when the Lebanese system is completely failing.
Knowledge sharing was one of the most important things that happened amid the COVID-19 pandemic among Arab women. According to Alia, social media helped Arab women work together to address common issues that emerged amid the COVID-19 pandemic. By allowing anonymity, social media also helped push the boundaries and talk about taboo issues. While moving to this new online world, they witnessed how the patriarchy would follow them and pose new challenges.
Alia also discussed the need to develop new tools and take on new challenges. However, as tools were being developed, funding was not only falling back but also focused on different priorities. Considering that the country is facing an economic collapse, needs to focus on the immediate need of women and girls. In our country, Lebanon, women have never been a priority and the government plans were never tailoring women’s needs such as menstrual products.
Nadia Mahmood emphasized continuing the fight and searching for what is common and involved men in response to this question. She said that she will not accept any more issues related to security and the responsibility of the country to provide means of living for women. Reem Traboulsi, on the other hand, argued that these issues should be put on the agenda. She claimed that economic independence is not being separated from social security or domestic violence.
Alia Awada highlighted it is unacceptable for the country to let go of the rights of women and that activists are women. During the pandemic, activists were not fully able to help women and thus women faced terrible situations which stressed the importance of the country to act and protect women. Miriam pointed out that no issue can be prioritized from the bulk of women’s issues, but post-pandemic, erasure, or lack of representation of women and their issues and ignorance will not be accepted. No new catastrophe will be accepted to shed light on women as citizens.
When asked about the tools that could be used to engage youth in the feminist struggle and movements, Reem Traboulsi shed light on the importance of partaking in feminist discussion events. She went back to the idea of anger being a drive towards acting and changing the status quo.
This summary was written by Antoinette Abou Jaoude.
Meet the speakers and moderators
- Diana Abou Abbas is the Executive Director at Marsa Sexual Health Center in Lebanon. Her work in Marsa has been recognized globally through the distinguished UNAIDS Red Ribbon Award. She serves on the Resource Allocation Technical Committee of the International Planned Parenthood Federation, is the Co-Chair of the NGO CSW New York for the Arab region, and is a board member of the Doria Feminist Fund.
- Miriam Boulous is an AUB graduate with a BA in Media and Communication and a triple minor in Women & Gender studies, Journalism, and Film and Visual Culture. She is the former president of the Gender and Sexuality Club at AUB, she advocates for the rights and representation of LGBTQ+ individuals and groups.
- Dr. Hadeel Qazzaz has more than 20 years of experience in international development and gender justice. She has worked extensively in the Middle East, as well as in Africa, Central Asia, and Canada in areas of gender democracy, democratization processes, integrity, and poverty alleviating. Her experience was built within a number of international organizations, academic institutions, and local governments. Dr. Qazzaz’s academic interests are in gender and development.
- Nadia Mahmood is an Iraqi socialist feminist based in Iraq. She holds a Ph.D. in Social and Policy Sciences from the University of Bath-UK and is co-founder of the Aman Organization for Women.
- Aliaa Awada is a feminist activist and co-founder and co-director of Fe-Male and Managing Editor of sharikawalaken feminist website. Alia has experience training up-and-coming activists, civil society members, and media personnel on gender-sensitive media coverage, advocacy, and campaigning.
- Frida Wahrania works as a regional assistant for research and OSIEG advocacy for the MENA region at AFE (Arab Foundation for Freedoms and Equality). She is a feminist activist for human, women, and LGBTQ+ rights, and is a member of the Alouen association which campaigns for the decriminalization of homosexuality in Algeria.
- Reem Traboulsi has recently earned her Bachelor’s degree in Political Studies from the American University of Beirut. Her pursuit of politics began in her middle school years when she developed an intrigue towards the subjects of the Lebanese Civil War and the Palestinian cause. This spring, Reem joined the MEPI-TLS program and chose to dive into the gendered lens of conflict as a field of study.
Watch the full recording here: