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I am a scared Lebanese feminist woman

I am a scared Lebanese feminist woman

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Opinion Women’s Rights Personal Freedoms

Wednesday 9 November 202205:27 pm
إقرأ باللغة العربية:

أنا امرأة نسوية لبنانية خائفة

This report was produced within the “Women’s Rights Defenders” project, with the support of Civil Rights Defenders.

As soon as I started writing the first line, I felt an overwhelming urge to cry. At this very moment, as I write my words, I am sitting in an unsafe place, in an unsafe city, in an unsafe country, but I have no other choice. I remember that I was displaced, prevented from visiting my family for weeks, and prosecuted by an influential political party. I also remember how I was regularly receiving messages threatening to simply rape me, just like that.

I read this last line, particularly the phrase "threatening to rape me", and I feel suffocated, and my heart begins racing — the same heart whose beats can now only be regulated by a pill that can be pulled from the market at any moment, putting my safety and life in danger. Doctors say my tachycardia (irregular heart beats) is caused by stress and tension. I say it is caused by insecurity, both psychological and physical, as I, a feminist Lebanese woman from Baalbek, am afraid. I am afraid for myself, my sisters, my female friends, and my female colleagues. I am afraid a pointless war or a threat will prevent me from visiting my mother's grave.

My mother was also afraid. She used to beg me to delete the things I write on Facebook. She would remind me that we're "not a match to them". She'd fall apart every time the roads were blocked and whenever party supporters would clash. She'd call and beg me to stay in Zahle, where I had been studying at the university two hours away from my village, and spend the night with one of my friends. In the last few weeks of her life, my mother would raise her hands to the sky and pray for me and my husband to be able to travel and leave Lebanon soon. In addition to being angry, a human rights defender, and a dissident, I committed yet another crime that made her insist on this wish; I married a non-Lebanese man.

My mother was also afraid. She used to beg me to delete the things I write on Facebook. She would remind me that we're "not a match to them". 

My story is not necessarily inspiring, or exceptional, but it is certainly repetitive. My story, like all women's stories with fear and insecurity, teaches us an important lesson: safety has dimensions and layers, and our safety is intersectional. That is, within its layers, the threats, discrimination, and challenges we face as women and defenders intersect with deep economic and political crises, like the ones Lebanon is experiencing.


How can we be physically safe?

Must each of us have a black belt in judo? Or be a Muay Thai master? Must women live in fortresses? Should we be completely immune to covid variants, cancers, and all kinds of diseases? Do we have to be superheroes to be safe and protected? The answer is absolutely no. I'm not Superwoman, and I don't want to be her.

I am an ordinary woman with simple dreams, like living in a safe world, and not being subjected to harassment, rape, or physical violence — dreams of not being told by a man at a demonstration, “Ladies, to the back!”, and dreams that a soldier would not be told, “Consider her your sister”, as a means to stop him from beating a female protester — dreams of a man not thinking of my physical safety as his personal mission, turning my body into the scene of a conflict between two men, without a role for me in it.

My wishes as a Lebanese woman are not confined to the geographical spot that I live in. As a Lebanese woman, I search for my wishes in Syria as well, where physical safety would mean thousands of Syrian women not being subjected to all known forms of gender-based violence and torture in the Assad regime’s prisons or during direct military operations, and that Jaysh al-Islam will not kidnap the two human rights defenders, Razan Zaitouneh and Samira al-Khalil, whose fates remain unknown to this day.

My wishes as a Lebanese woman are also in Egypt, where physical safety means individual and collective harassment will not take place, that female demonstrators won't go through virginity testing after being arrested, that Nayera Ashraf and other women will not be killed for refusing marriage proposals from their murderers, that the trans woman Malak al-Kashef will not be put in a men’s prison, and that Sarah Hegazi will not be electrocuted during her imprisonment — that she wouldn't be imprisoned in the first place under the offense that she was brave enough to declare that no system, society, or family had authority over her body.

Psychological safety is living in a world that respects my rights and recognizes that I am not incomplete in mind or rights just because I wasn't born a man. It is not being told I'm "worth a thousand men”. My value isn't determined by a man, and a man is not a measure of my success

My wishes are in Tunisia, where physical safety means that women farmers can go to work every day without being run over, killing at least one woman daily due to the poor road conditions. As for the most fortunate ones — the ones that do not get run over — they only receive one-third of what a man earns without being recognized by the state as part of the working-class and worthy of social security and decent wages.

For me, physical safety is that we would not read news about an Iranian woman being stoned for adultery, that Mahsa Amini and dozens of other women would not die because of an “improper hijab”, that Israa Gharib would not be killed in the name of “honor” in Palestine, and that there would be no such thing as an “honor” crime in the first place.

I once read a phrase that says: “Men are afraid of being mocked by women, and women are afraid of being killed by men”. Indeed, the safety I speak of, is a country where women aren't killed simply for being women.

Nadine, the survivor of her ex-husband's violence, did not survive the violence of the state, nor the violence of religious courts that deprived her of her child, Karam. Nadine was subjected to all forms of violence; she was beaten, insulted, and threatened

As for my 'physical' wishes during the economic crisis in Lebanon, they involve not being told by the on-call doctor that "this is just stress" and being given a “Lexotanil" pill when I go to the emergency room with chest pains and shortness of breath. They involve my pain being taken seriously, and undergoing all possible physical exams. They involve not witnessing a different kind of treatment from that of a man suffering from the same pain just because he is a man. They include the possibility of accessing free health care, and being admitted to the hospital even though I do not have health insurance, and without having to pay huge sums of money.

Our physical safety in Lebanon is finding free sanitary pads in schools, universities, restaurants, and workplaces. It is the state not seeing sanitary pads as too much of a luxury to be supported within their economic plans. Physical safety is, me not feeling ashamed when I enter shops or pharmacies to buy them, and not having to wait for all the customers to leave just to ask for them from a woman who'd put them in a black bag for me.

Our physical safety as defenders and women around the world means respecting our right to safe abortion, without stigma, fear, and endangering our lives. It means ensuring that women are not abused during childbirth, that they are not beaten or silenced to prevent them from screaming, and that they are given appropriate care. It means not being harassed in the streets and on public transportation, not being afraid of getting kidnapped when we travel alone, and being able to stay in safe hotels without a man to accompany us.

Our physical safety as defenders and women around the world means respecting our right to safe abortion without stigma, fear, and endangering our lives. It means not being harassed on streets and public transport, and not being afraid of getting kidnapped

My story with psychological safety...

For us, as women and human rights defenders, psychological safety lies simply in our ability to be ourselves, in our private and professional lives, without the fear of being in danger just for speaking our minds. It lies in my ability to speak without fear of judgment. It is in my ability to accept and forgive my mistakes and weaknesses. It is in me opposing religious regimes and dictatorships and supporting the rights of LGBTQI+ people without experiencing panic attacks as a result of the dozens of insults, degrading messages, defamation, and threats to my family. Psychological safety is living in a world that respects my rights and recognizes that I am a complete human being, and not incomplete in mind, intelligence, or rights just because I wasn't born a man. It is no one telling me that “I am a woman worth a thousand men”. I am a woman and that's it. My value is not determined by a man, and a man is not a measure of my success or progress.

My psychological safety is my ability to grant citizenship to my husband and future children instead of the “courtesy residency” that the Lebanese state so graciously granted my husband a year after our marriage, and only after I signed a pledge that he would not work in Lebanon. My psychological safety is to be a citizen enjoying my full civil and political rights.

I once read a phrase that says: “Men are afraid of being mocked by women, and women are afraid of being killed by men”. Indeed, the safety I speak of, is a country where women aren't killed simply for being women

This safety is shaken every time I visit my family's home in the "village". The issue of not having had a child, despite being married for over a year, has become the talk of the women of the family, neighbors, and relatives. I always try to imagine what their reaction would be if they knew that I am not yet sure of my desire to become a mother, and that my concept of a “good mother” is completely different from theirs! And that, even if I decided to have children, I would not give up my identity as a human rights defender and feminist, nor give up my studies, my work, my desire to travel the world, or even my pleasant and fun relationship with my partner whom I love, and that I, in no way, intend to just become the children's caretaker and a mere housemate to a husband that I hate and he hates me.

Psychological safety is men around me not being threatened by my success and strong personality — to not always be required to be less; less intelligent, less visible, less rebellious, less ambitious — and just be more feminine

My psychological safety is my ability to say all this without opening the floodgates to questions and disapproval that only supernatural forces would be able to close. It is to be able to wear what I want to business meetings without being afraid of looking too feminine, and not being taken seriously. It is to be able to wear a bikini on the beach without a man devouring me with his eyes and raping me in his imagination. It is not hearing phrases like: "Why did you gain weight? Just lose some weight". Psychological safety is my body being no one's business but my own.

My psychological safety is also for others to stop expecting my role as a woman. For instance, they're surprised by the fact that my husband cooks, or they only direct questions about our life plans to him. It is the host at a restaurant not greeting us with, "Welcome, sir, where would you like to sit?" Safety means that we aren't treated as if we're invisible.

Psychological safety is men around me not being threatened by my success and strong personality — to not always be required to be less; less intelligent, less visible, less rebellious, less ambitious, and be more feminine, more attractive, more concerned with my appearance... That is, more committed to my expected role as an oriental woman.

Psychological safety is for a man to not explain to me how to be a good feminist, to not tell me that I should reject the idea of ​​a quota because he considers it an “insult to women”, and to not be told by my fellow “human rights defender” that my struggle and my rights are not a priority at the moment. It is not having to fight battles with the men I thought were allies and partners in our struggle. It is having those men, who are allies, listen to us rather than practicing their mansplaining, their favorite hobby or their own mechanism for facing the inferiority they feel in front of a successful woman.

Psychological safety for me, was for Sarah Hegazi to receive the appropriate treatment and support, rather than receiving the Canadian government's "white" approach to the psychological support usually provided to exiles from this East. It was for Nadine Jouni to find a bed for her mother, a cancer patient, in Beirut, and not having to transfer her to Sidon, which led to the death of Nadine in a traffic accident at dawn as she was returning from visiting her mother.

Psychological safety is for a man to not explain to me how to be a good feminist, and to not tell me that I should reject the idea of ​​a quota because he considers it an “insult to women”

Nadine, the survivor of her ex-husband's violence, did not survive the violence of the state, nor the violence of religious courts that deprived her of her child, Karam. Nadine was subjected to all forms of violence; She was beaten, insulted, threatened, and faced vilification and smear campaigns. Many ostracized her, she was deprived of her child’s custody when he was only two years old, and she emigrated to a new country in search of better opportunities... But then she returned to her homeland to die there.

Safety, dear Nadine, is for none of us to have to go through all this.



* The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the author’s and do not necessarily reflect the official policy or position of Raseef22




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