On the 23rd of June 2022, Asfari Institute for Civil Society and Citizenship organized an event on “Queer Feminism in MENA: Pragmatism, Prejudice, and Possibilities.” The purpose was to provide a platform for queer feminists and allies to examine the challenges and opportunities and also identify common grounds and outline recommendations for promoting research and activism efforts. The event took place at Issam Fares Institute (IFI), at the American University of Beirut (AUB).
Ms. Rifaei started the dialogue with the history of feminism and more specifically queer feminism in the MENA region. Speakers were asked about their first experience of injustice that sparked the activism in them and the challenges facing queer feminism and ways to address them.
Ms. Bouaziz started by sharing the childhood memory that lit the fire of activism in her. When she was 7 years old, she was not allowed to sleep in the same room with her cousin in her aunt’s house. The anger that resulted from this experience subsequently led to her future career as an activist. Based on the Tunisian context of her life, this young activist discussed the challenges of queer feminism. She pointed out the new era of activism and how it evolved over time. She also mentioned some of the challenges facing queer feminists prevalent in the region, such as lack of support from family, friends, and/or life partners.
She stated that the issue of queer feminism isn’t prioritized among the numerous existing problems such as unemployment and poverty in the country. The extent of these problems is vast enough that people disregard issues like queer feminism and prioritize their basic human needs, such as food, water, and electricity. Lastly, she shed light on the lack of resources and absences of the equivalent terms such as trans and queer in Arabic as part of the challenges facing queer feminists.
Ms. Saeed had a different way of being inspired to work as an activist. She was born and raised in a well-educated and political family which had the earliest and most important effect on her thoughts. Later, at the age of 17, Nazeeha began working as a journalist where she witnessed many unjust cases of violence against women. Her realization of the deeply rooted women’s issue motivated her to work and serve as an activist.
Nazeeha explained that societal barriers hinder the growth of queer feminism. She highlighted that queer feminism takes a long time to find its place in the MENA region. However, she was optimistic that our digital age could help secure queer feminist talks. She exemplified that, unlike in the past, we can now openly share our thought about queer feminism, and we can also write about it anonymously.
The third speaker, Remi, expressed that their personal experience of unfair treatment of women in their society led to their activism. Remi emphasized that societal awareness about queer feminism can increase the opportunities to get the attention of society towards queer feminism. They agreed with the two other speakers that there is not enough space and attention given to the queer feminist challenges and issues. However, they believe that through campaigns people become aware of their rights. It helps not only in knowing their rights but also of others. Thus, there will be mutual respect for the rights of every individual in society.
With the thoughtful mediation of the host, Reham Kannout Refaei, the three of the speakers expressed their concluding remarks in the discussion. Despite the numerous challenges, the panelists were optimistic about some positive changes for queer feminism in the Region. They are committed to working consistently and constantly in the promotion of queer feminism.
The summary was written by Nasrin Azizy and Fatima Rezaie.
Meet the speakers and moderator
- Reham Kannout Refaei is an intersectional and eco-feminist from Syria based in Lebanon. A research assistant at the Arab Reform Initiative.
- Khawla Bouaziz is a Tunisian young feminist queer rights advocate who has been working on community building and creating safer places for LGBTIQ+ youth.
- Nazeeha Saeed Bahraini is a journalist, media consultant, safety & gender trainer, and winner of Johann Philipp-Palm-Award for Freedom of Speech and Press 2014.
- Remi Hamzeh is a Gender, Sexuality, and Relationship Diversity Specialist, a counselor, and a SOGIESC trainer. Currently defending their MA in Clinical Psychology.