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Saturday, 20 April 2024
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In the absence of official representation, Lebanese feminists use digital tools to speak out
Mirna alrached

In today's world, we cannot deny that the use of the digital tools has helped people fight oppression and injustice and condemn political leaders and those around them who monopolize decisions, control the economy, and wage wars or add fuel to them. Since the Arab region is an important and vital part of the world, people have revolted against dictatorship, class distinction, and sectarian division. Subsequently, the Arab feminist movement has played a role in raising awareness of marginalized women’s issues.

In Lebanon, the women's movement was organized with the creation of the Syrian-Lebanese Women's Union in 1924. However, Lebanon stands at 145 out of 153 countries (Global Gender Gap Report 2020), making it one of the highest overall gender gaps in the world, and amongst the lowest rates of women’s political participation (149 out of 153 countries) and labour market participation (139 out of 153 countries).

According to UN Women, the depth and pervasiveness of gender inequality in Lebanon finds its roots in a complex history of sectarianism and conflict.  

The Gender Gap Report 2020 showed that sixty percent of Lebanese women report having experienced some form of sexual harassment in the street, 31 percent of women in Lebanon report ever experiencing one or more forms of intimate partner violence, and 24 percent of men report ever perpetrating one or more forms of intimate partner violence. Accordingly, the importance of the Lebanese feminist movement in helping women grow and talk about the violence inflicted upon them becomes clear.

Generally speaking, as feminism is an umbrella term for a number of cultural phenomena related to women oppression under the patriarchy. Additionally, in some countries it works against forced marriage, female infanticide, wearing veils in public atmosphere, widow burning, female genital cutting (FGC), etc, there are many waves of feminism throughout its history. Each wave indicates a specific cultural period and involvement of women with the media.

Up until now, the world is witnessing the fourth wave of the feminist movements. It starts around 2012 and offers a new feminism that depends on online social media, such as Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, YouTube, etc. Judy Wajcman, Emeritus Professor of Sociology at the London School of Economics, noticed a decade ago: “Feminist theories of gender and technology have come a long way over the last two decades. Within the fourth wave, women share their experiences about sexual abuse, violence, divorce, custody and sex education around the world in an instant using personal or public social media accounts. They also tell their personal stories related to women rights.

And it is no exception, Lebanese feminist movement has embraced the use of digital spaces to conduct significant forms of feminist activism. This social media explosion and the free access to electronic magazine and websites have led to widespread discussion on issues ranging from domestic abuse to street harassment, catcalling, abortion, early marriages and calls to resist repressive gender regimes. Furthermore, it led to the “hashtag activism” which gave the feminist movement a powerful new medium for amplifying key issues and gaining support to enact social change.

As it is still governed politically and socially by deep-seated sectarian divisions, there is still no officially acclaimed feminist digital activism framework in Lebanon. However, activists and feminist actors have long depended on the internet to empower marginalized women, give them voice, develop content that addresses their problems, advocate for policy change and transform social norms.

Although studies have showed major disadvantages of social media and how it can impact our mental health and lives negatively, feminist media platforms have started to have an impact on the feminist movement in recent years. They proved to be a powerful vehicle for bringing women's rights issues to the attention of a wider public and contribute to our understanding of women's status, gender ideologies, and the complex circumstances that define and constrain women's lives. By studying feminism and media, we can gain insights into the role of social media in shaping opinions and perceptions, and its potential for creating change in gender equality movements. Below are two tangible proofs of the impact of the digital sphere on the Lebanese feminist movement.

Khateera

Featuring all women who have shattered glass ceilings and stereotypes, Khateera is a women-led media platform based in Beirut city. It is designed to be a safe space that focuses on women and their diverse experiences and issues and where one can discuss topics like feminism, the patriarchy and other societal issues. Topics for Khateera's videos and articles come from everyday life. The name itself is the feminine form of "dangerous" in Arabic. Amanda Abou Abdallah, Khateera's founder, previously said: "Women like to be called 'khateera.'" It means you're strong, it means you own your own decisions.”

On the group's website, the outlet publishes writing from authors throughout the Middle East and North Africa who deal with topics like sexual harassment, discrimination and gender stereotyping in their texts. It also publishes "Smatouha Minni" — when translated into English, it means "you heard it from me" —  a 10-episode YouTube-based satire show that unravels and breaks down stereotypes around women in MENA, paving the way for a more progressive women-owned narrative.

Mauj

As it is an outlet to support Arab women on their journey to discover their bodies, their sexuality, and their pleasure in a way that dismantles the shame and stigma, Mauj is a sexual and menstrual wellness brand by and for Arab women. It was created by a group of Arab women who were tired of the misinformation, shame and stigma surrounding the female body. Based on four pillars, its content focuses on body, cycle, self and sex. Its mission is to offer the sex education women never got and wish they had.

Mauj exists to give women the tools and science-backed resources they need to get familiar and comfortable -on their own terms- with their bodies, wherever they are on their journey. The founders of Mauj have chosen to tackle the most taboo topics to distill fear, dispel myths, and simplify the information women need to understand their bodies.

Using the power of storytelling, Mauj decided to share real women’s experiences — from the hardships to the deep pleasure — to paint a more holistic view of what it’s like to be a woman in the Arab world. In “Hakawatiyya”, a series that encourages women to tell their stories, volunteering females offer support to the silent and marginalized voices, confirming to them that they are not alone in this world.  At Mauj, they believe that every woman has a story to tell, but that not all of them have the freedom or ability to do so.

Mirna alrached: A Syrian news editor, journalist and translator based in Damascus