About a Feminist Collective…

Nasawiyas apply feminist analysis to their social justice work, meaning that they always have an eye on gender dynamics and oppression within social and political struggle, address the systematic structural problems rather than the symptoms, and place women’s experiences and voices as central to any solutions and activist work. Feminism is a learning process for all of us and we are continuously figuring things out by listening to each other, challenging our opinions, and reflecting critically on our work and our theories of social change.

If you are on Facebook, then you probably have seen pictures of women holding a piece of paper explaining why we need Feminism. It could have been the one that read “I need feminism because society teaches “Don’t get raped” rather than “Don’t Rape”. Or the one saying “I need Feminism because I’m being told I was lucky my rapist wanted to have sex with me”.

In Lebanon, women who would want to explain why they need feminism would require much more than a piece of paper.

Think more like a poster.

Or a whole book.

Lebanese women need feminism because they can’t pass on their citizenship to their husbands and family, but Lebanese men can.

Lebanese women need feminism because there are no less than 50 laws in the Lebanese criminal code (“the 500s”) that regulate and control how you’re supposed to have sex, and with whom, and what, as a woman or as a man, your sexual rights can be. As Nasawiya member Rasha Moumneh explains, there is a hierarchy of rights and of victims when it comes to sexual rights: according to Lebanese laws, raping a virgin is worse than raping a non virgin. Same goes in terms of age . Amidst those horrendous laws, article 522 of the criminal code states that if a rapist marries his victim, then all prosecution and charges shall be dropped against him. It is rather sad to see the penal code of a country giving away get out of jail cards to rapists. Article 503 and 504 define rape as forced sexual intercourse taking place between a man and a woman who is not his wife, thus ruling out marital rape as a crime (which it is, as stated by 79 States who have already criminalised it). Article 534, another of the shameful “500s” enshrined in the criminal code, criminalizes homosexuality.

Lebanese women need feminism because there is currently no law protecting them from violence and harassment. In spite of many efforts by civil society to change this state of affairs, the law is still sitting on a parliamentary sub-commission’s lap, a commission that seems paralyzed between the respect, protection and fulfillment of women’s rights (the basic obligations of a government when it comes to human rights) and the impact of religious leaders opposing the law in its current form on their potential votes.

Lebanese women need feminism because civil matters such as marriage, divorce and inheritance rights are regulated and governed by religious leaders who are applying religious and not civil laws, said laws being blatantly discriminatory of women. As feminist activist Nadine Moawad puts it, one is entitled to ask the question “Shou Khassak?” (It is not of your business) to men in robes deciding what a woman should do with her husband, and whom should get children in case of divorce and so on.

Lebanese women need feminism because they get paid less than their men counterparts for the same job performed.

Lebanese women need feminism because Lebanese labor laws do not consider women as heads of families, therefore stripping them of the same rights pertaining to social security.

This is not an aimless rant. These facts are, well, facts. This is the situation of Lebanese women in a country that is seen from the outside as an island of “freedom” in a sea of “backwards” Arab countries.

And it doesn’t stop there.

Lebanese women need feminism because their oppression is not only a legal one. In a highly patriarchal society such as the Lebanese one, gender stereotypes are very powerful and hard to shake: a man has to be strong and manly and earn a lot of money and take responsibility as head of family, while women should first and foremost get married and stay at home, take care of the children, be beautiful and not be too opinionated. Lebanese citizens who do not comply with these assigned gender roles face criticism and ostracism from a society that is highly normative and not supple enough to accept and absorb anyone daring to be different. This situation can create severe identity crisis within citizens, making them feel like they don’t belong anywhere because of their lifestyle choices.

Political sectarianism and the constant insecurity it brings to the country, coupled by oppressive neo-liberal policies that have had a dire impact on workers and on the poorest strata of Lebanese society (all the more on women who tend to occupy less qualified, more precarious positions and are therefore traditionally the first hit by economic crisis and unemployment) also contribute to the oppression of women.

In short, Lebanese women not only have to face poverty, corruption, insecurity and social injustice just like any other citizen, they also have to face an armada of discriminatory laws, practices and attitudes, keeping them in a state of second class citizens.

Luckily, there is no reason for society to remain silent when faced with Human Rights violations and injustice.

Nasawiya is a feminist collective created a couple of years ago in Lebanon. Note: Nasawiya isn’t another professionalized NGO competing for donors and performing services, relieving the state from its duties.

Rather, Nasawiya is more concerned about putting the state in front of its responsibilities and holding it accountable for human rights violations while building a movement of concerned citizens and activists asking for gender equality and social justice.

And that’s another thing: the feminist collective doesn’t see its struggle for gender equality as an isolated set of claims for women’s rights only. Rather, it places itself in a revolutionary agenda aiming at changing society by questioning gender relations and stereotypes, but also by questioning all kinds of power dynamics, whether they are socio-economic, based on race, sexual orientation or on gender. The fight for social justice and against all forms of oppression goes hand in hand with the fight for gender equality, thus encouraging alliances with other civil society groups and workers’ movements. Nasawiya stands in solidarity with all oppressed peoples and groups, thus supporting for example BDS efforts and denouncing the gross Human Rights violations and apartheid policy of the Israeli state.

Nasawiya operates along three main pillars that are CREATE, CONNECT and SUPPORT. Creating initiatives to reach the targets of gender and social equality and justice is central to the collective, all the while building bridges between activists and marginalized groups. Initiatives such as the adventures of Salwa against sexual harassment, knowledge hub Sawt Al Niswa, the Delete 522 campaign or the website KherrBerr to fight sexism are all being run and driven by activists thinking outside the box and using technology and resources they can source to bring on positive change.

The issue of resources is also crucial to the work of Nasawiya: the neo-liberal dynamic of having a gazillion of NGOs substituting themselves to the state and competing for funding is not reconcilable with the solidarity movement the collective aims at building. Besides, dependency on donors means submission to their conditions, which sometimes are at odds with what we believe in. The collective has thus just opened the Nasawiya Cafe, a space where food, internet and books are available, where you decide how much you’d like to contribute for your drinks and foods and where all proceedings go to initiatives, in order to ensure financial independence.

I know I have described Nasawiya as a feminist space and perhaps insisted on all the advocacy and awareness-raising we do. That’s because it is our purpose, but it doesn’t by all means define us. To me, Nasawiya is first and foremost about providing a space for love, compassion and true solidarity. I know, just know, that if I just need a place to be with my thoughts, I can go there. That If i need to talk to someone, that if I have a problem, if I’ve been harassed, if I’m struggling with something, I can go there, because the people in that little space do their best to be compassionate, to listen, to check themselves for judgement and internalized sexism. They do their best to impersonate what they belive in, and I can’t begin to tell you how beautiful it is. 

Nadine Moawad once wrote that whatever we do is never about Nasawiya: it’s about the people that form the collective. And I couldn’t agree more. We take a pledge, a pledge to fight patriarchy, both within and outside ourselves, and broaden our perspectives, because without acceptance of what is deemed to be “the other”, there can be no progress.

Here are some testimonies of members of the collective:

I have been part of Nasawiya for a year now, and active for about 5 months and striving to give more. Nas is where i made friendships for life, and where I met a collective of creative, dedicated and inspiring people ( which is what Nas is) who inspire me themselves and who i hope i can inspire as well. 
The very near future is envisioned as follows: a network of strong and active Nasawiya members (or at least Nasawiya friends) across lebanon and with in all sectors and domains, a network that is capable of making a huge difference at matters urgent, chronic on the long and short run. When we say something, the country hears and when we do something the country knows. Hence, people are inspired to change. 
Farrah Shamas

I got to know nasawiya and became a member through geek camp. I went with my sister Reem to the first camp, one year ago! (Time flies)

I was aware of the situation of women in Lebanon and the region, but nasawiya opened my eyes to so many things other than that!
I’m really glad that I got to be part of geek camp and later on nasawiya, because i got to know all the amazing feminist people out there. Their initiatives, efforts and energy are incredible and I can’t wait to become more engaged in their events. 

I graduated high school this year and i’m going for college in the states; still, i know that i can always participate in the discussions and in the events when I come here on breaks. Nour Sabah Chamseddine 

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