Sunday, October 07, 2012

Women in the constitutional amendment

We are, supposedly, living historic times in the Arab world. Democracy is peeking its head everywhere we look, but a full presence has not yet been secured, at least in my opinion. Let's for a minute turn our eyes to the "democratic" state at work: the Republic of Egypt. It is indeed an important achievement. Egypt is now debating its new constitution, and the discussion is public. How much of the public discussion will be taken into account for the draft constitution, I don't know. But it's a definitely a step forward.

As part of the discussion (yes I am aware that I am not Egyptian but I'm putting my 2 cents in anyway), let's have a look at one of the proposed articles on offer, Article 36. Here's a quick translation I made:

The State commits to to all legal and executive measures to enshrine the principle of women equalling men in political, cultural, economic and social life and other aspects, that does not go against Islamic Shari'a. The State will provide free maternity and child care and will guarantee for women protection and social, economic and health welfare, the right to inheritance and ensure agreement between her duties towards her family and her work in society.

Anyone with a basic knowledge of gender issues can clearly see that equality is not really at the heart of this article, but the appearance of it is. I will not venture to argue whether Islamic Sharia' does allow for equality between men and women because I am clearly not an expert on the subject. I will just make a few remarks from my own reading of the article.

The phrasing "the principle of women equalling men" is obviously problematic. It's not "equality between women and men", as if to say that somehow men are superior and they will advocate that women equal them as much as possible.

The mention of women and her role as a mother in the same article that is meant to advocate equality is more evidence that gender equality was not really taken seriously when drafting this text. Social, political and economic rights is not the same topic as caring for a family. The family should be the responsibility of both parents, but the writers here do not seem to agree.

Which brings me to my last point: how is it the state's responsibility to interfere in the woman's decision to juggle work and family? I am referring to the statement "ensure agreement between her duties towards her family and work in society".

No. They are not serious. This article is a joke. And judging from the feedback on it, it will probably pass.

Wednesday, October 03, 2012

What's a little beating between spouses?

It is statements like this that keep me optimistic about the future of the human race:

“We do not support violence against women, but God allowed a certain form of beating,”

This gem was uttered by Salafist preacher Yasser Borhamy, aka "godfather" of El-Nour Party in Egypt. To be fair, he did argue that even though the husband is permitted to beat his wife, no physical damage or scar should result from the beating.

God bless him.

Friday, September 07, 2012

How to design a female quota to fail

I am not a big fan of female quotas in general. I find it devalues a woman's achievement and in most cases is mainly cosmetic, allowing for unqualified females to attain certain positions and proving counterproductive in the long run. I am more in support of drastic solutions like as an overhaul of the education system, because how else will you change citizens' perceptions and behaviors? Legal instruments addressing gender discrimination in the work place and elsewhere that are properly enforced is another long term but effective tool. But of course these approaches are too difficult and controversial to implement by politicians seeking quick returns.

Jordan's election law is a prime example of how terrible a female quota can be. Here's an excerpt from a good analysis on 7iber by David Fox:

"Several other features of the electoral system contribute to making it a regressive, unrepresentative body, including – paradoxically – the women’s quota. Each governorate is allotted a quota of one woman for a parliamentary seat. In the rural governorates, these women are vetted through male-dominated tribal patriarchies, with female candidates expected to take the ‘tribal line’ on issues, including support for honor crimes and other forms of institutionalized gender discrimination. If we consider the women elected to parliament as the voice for women in their respective governorates, than the modern, socially and economically empowered women of Amman face severe discrimination in comparison to women from the rural governorates. The women of Amman are, for example 27 times less represented in Parliament than Jordan’s least populated governorate, Tafileh."

This is what happens when there is no genuine interest in advancing women's involvement in political life.

Saturday, September 01, 2012

"Hello! I belong to everybody"

This is one of the most expressive messages I've seen on the hypocrisy of the so-called freedom-loving Americans, caught on camera, advocating... no demanding freedom of choice, except when it comes to women. See it yourself. It's brilliant.

The Daily Show with Jon StewartMon - Thurs 11p / 10c
RNC 2012 - The Road to Jeb Bush 2016 - The Republican Platform
Daily Show Full EpisodesPolitical Humor & Satire BlogThe Daily Show on Facebook

I know I am not voting in the US elections and these issues shouldn't really concern me, but I do find the parallels with our society striking. As Nadine Moawad put it, this is not a cultural problem, "it's patriarchy everywhere." So when Samantha Bee says that her uterus belongs to "everybody", her sarcasm is more accurate than funny.

Friday, August 24, 2012

An inappropriate question

Is it just me or has the entire world gone ape mad about women's sexual, reproductive and well.. basically human rights? Maybe I've become more sensitized to it but to be honest it's really not that difficult to see. From the Lebanese government's insulting reasoning of their rejection of women quota, despite their being a million other more dignified arguments against it, to Jordan's Minister of Education theory about females outperforming males in national exams. There is also that Neanderthal statement cited by al-Nahda's Ghanoushi that “a woman’s unique features revolve around her sexual functions”, while for a man it is secondary. The argument was used to propose changes to Tunisia's progressive constitution so that the woman's role in the family "complement" that of the man, instead of having equal rights unconditionally.

Of course we shouldn't forget the equally ridiculous arguments made in the US, mainly by middle-aged/old male Republicans, and culminating in the pure ignorance of Todd Akin's: "First of all, from what I understand from doctors [pregnancy from rape] is really rare. If it’s a legitimate rape, the female body has ways to try to shut that whole thing down."

We are bombarded with insults like that every day, continuously. Some of them may be out of ignorance, but there is a desire for control at the root of it all. There is an insecurity and fear of change, intricately intwined with the complicated sexual and reproductive process, which is why in many cases women are accomplices. And so, from now on, every time I am offended as a woman, you will hear from me. And I start with a personal experience, at the emergency room.

So every time I am admitted into the ER, the first question I am asked by the attending doctor is: "Are you married?" Although I always found it weird, I never thought much of it until one time, and after replying "yes", the doctor said: "Any chance you could be pregnant?" The reason she asked was because she was prescribing me an X-ray and a medication, both of which would clearly be harmful for a fetus. So if the question was only meant to safeguard the fetus, why not just ask if I could be pregnant? (euphemism for "Are you sexually active?") What if someone could be pregnant but she's not married. She will say no to the first question and that's it. No follow up question. Worse, if she did realize that an X-ray can't be good for a fetus, what is she supposed to do? Confess that it is possible that she is pregnant and bear the judgement of the entire hospital?

A doctor's job is to protect life and maintain health, not to make moral judgements. We leave that task to society's hypocritical do-nothings.

Friday, June 22, 2012

Untold tales of courage: Shelters and dyed hair

Our mothers brought us up to be strong, independent and responsible. They did a great job and the proof is the amazing number of wonderful, accomplished and activist women I see around me. The problem is that to do it, they had to pay dearly. Not only did they have to prove that they could juggle a career and family (because at that point, men would not hear of domestic responsibilities), they had to be politically and socially engaged. If they were to maintain that freedom, they had to become super women. At least that's how I saw the mothers and women around me. And one of those exceptional women is Vali. She is the topic of this latest post in the Untold Tales of Courage series I've been working on.

Vali is a pediatrician,

a fearless fighter,

and a mother of 5, one of whom made this post a whole lot more interesting by creating this wonderful comic based on her life (Thanks Lena for giving me permission to use your work: "Mrabba wo Laban, or how my mother became Lebanese").

Oh and she lived through the Lebanese civil war, having to dye her hair brown to avoid the kidnappings that were rampant in Beirut in the 1980s.

Of which she experienced once... in 1979. When stopped at a militia check point (anyone who moved around in Lebanon at the time knows how ubiquitous those were), Vali - and her car - was abducted. But for Vali, as for many other women of her generation, the immediate reaction was not fear and despair. It was anger, anger at the young men who may as well have been her sons, and who were ruining her country with their macho cowardly behavior. She basically shamed them into letting her go. The car, they kept.

Vali says that every time someone close to her passes away, she reads a history book, because history gives her a broader view of her existence. And she overcomes her sadness by comparing it to that of people who's countries faced wars and devastation. She says that the atlas was her greatest breather, as she could travel on the map from city to city.

During the Gaza siege and bombing, Vali was furious and frustrated about the lack of access to health care. "If my eyesight was still OK (she suffers from a condition seriously compromising her sight), I would go to Gaza", she declared. I believe her.

And so, to the super women of that generation, I remain in awe of you. I may never live up to your accomplishments, but it's the challenge that will make it worthwhile.

Thursday, May 31, 2012

Reposting: AUB Faculty Statement on Hate Speech and Bigotry

This is a repost from Raja's blog. I am pasting here as it is because I support it word for word. Makes me proud to be a member of the AUB alumni:

The response to the homophobic article published in Outlook (as well as the ridiculous response to it by the Editorial Board) continues to grow, and many good things have come as a result of it.

This may just be the most important though: Over 50 AUB faculty and staff members have come together to release a clear statement against the article and against hate and bigotry. This shows that a great number of faculty members have decided to stand in support of AUB’s LGBT community, and more importantly, against hate of any kind. The signatories include people from every faculty on campus, as well as the Dean of Student Affairs.

Here’s the letter: (and please share it as much as you can to reach all of the people that were affected by Outlook’s horrible post)

If you would like to add your name to the list, or if you’re interested in being a part of the work that is coming together as a result of this, please send an email to

Subject: Hate speech and bigotry on AUB campus

This letter is in response to the homophobic article published in Outlook titled “Please me at any price” (Issue #21, Wednesday, May 2nd, 2012,

As members of the AUB community, we are committed to meeting the highest standards of integrity and ethics and should ensure our students do the same. The article in Outlook goes against basic human values in general and those of AUB in particular.

A respectful, fact-based discussion of issues is not only necessary for the development of any society but is core to AUB’s mission statement of seeking to “foster tolerance and respect for diversity and dialogue. Graduates will be individuals committed to creative and critical thinking, life-long learning, personal integrity, civic responsibility, and leadership.”

Bigotry and hate speech should not be given a platform to thrive. Such speech should be denounced swiftly, publicly, and unequivocally.

AUB is not immune from society’s discriminatory and prejudiced opinions, but it is our duty as faculty and staff to create a safe space for all our students to express themselves while encouraging and developing a critical, informed, and compassionate student body.

The right to exercise free speech and expression should not come at the expense of targeting any group, including but not limited to: gender, color, religious belief, or sexual orientation. This freedom should not inflict nor incite harm; and it should maintain the respect for and the rights of others.

We are AUB faculty and staff who want to express our rejection of any intolerant and hateful speech while maintaining our commitment to the right of everyone to freedom of expression, and underscoring the important responsibility that comes along with this freedom.

1. Haitham Khoury, Assistant Professor, OSB
- Lina Daouk-Oyry, Assistant Professor, OSB
- Ramzi Mabsout, Assistant Professor, Economics/FAS
- Rola Yasmine, Research Assistant, FHS
- Charlotte Karam, Assistant Professor, OSB
- Nidal Najjar, Assistant Professor, Psychology/FAS
- Carole Levesque, Assistant Professor, Architecture/FEA
- Bana Bashour, Assistant Professor, Philosophy/FAS
- Victor Araman, Assistant Professor, OSB
10. Hala Ghattas, Assistant Professor, Community Nutrition/FAFS
- Pia Zaynoun, Psychometrician, AUBMC
- Talal Nezameddin, Dean of Student Affairs
- Raymond Brassier, Chair, Philosophy/FAS
- Hans Muller, Associate Professor, Philosophy/FAS
- Nadiya Slobodenyuk, Assistant Professor, Psychology/FAS
- Lina Choueiri, Assistant Professor, English/FAS
- Thomas Kim, Chair, Fine Arts and Art History/FAS
- Syrine Hout, Associate Professor, English/FAS
- Johnpedro Schwartz, Assistant Professor, English/FAS
20. Michael James Dennison, Assistant Professor, English/FAS
- Kasper Kovitz, Assistant Professor, Fine Arts and Art History/FAS
- Robert Myers, Professor, English/FAS
- Alexander Hartwiger, Assistant Professor, English/FAS
- Karim Barakat, Instructor, Philosophy/FAS
- Rima Akkary Karami, Assistant Professor, Education/FAS
- Kristen Scheid, Assistant Professor, Anthropology/FAS
- Sawsan Abdulrahim, Assistant Professor, FHS
- Bashshar Haydar, Professor, Philosophy/FAS
- Christopher Johns, Assistant Professor, Philosophy/FAS
30. Mayssun Succarie, Visiting Assistant Professor, CAMES/FAS
- Tariq Mehmood Ali, Visiting Assistant Professor, English/FAS
- Sari Hanafi, Professor, Sociology, Anthropology, and Mass Communications/FAS
- Rima Afifi, Professor, Health Promotion and Community Health/FHS
- Faysal El Kak, Senior Lecturer, FHS
- Suzann Kassem, Program Coordinator, Issam Fares Institute for Public Policy and International Affairs
- Nate George, Instructor, English/FAS
- Livia Wick, Assistant Professor, Sociology, Anthropology, and Media Studies/FAS
- Samer Jabbour, Senior Lecturer, Public Health/FHS
- Ruba Ismail-Hamadeh, Instructor & Program Administrator, Center for Research on Population and Health, FHS
40. Nisreen Salti, Assistant Professor, Economics/FHS
- Rima Nakkash, Assistant Professor, Health Promotion and Community Health/FHS
- Omar Dewachi, Assistant Professor, Public Health/FHS
- Mayada Kanj, Coordinator, Health Promotion and Community Health/FHS
- Nasser Yassin, Assistant Professor, FHS
- Ghalya Saadawi, Instructor, Psychology/FAS
- Amy A. Zenger, Associate Professor, English/FAS
- Jasmina Najjar, Instructor, English/FAS
- Leila Khauli-Hanna, Instructor/OSB
- Mona Fawaz, Associate Professor, Architecture and Design/FEA
50. Mariana Yazbek, Instructor/FAFS
- Alain Shihadeh, Associate Professor, Mechanical Engineering/FEA
- George Arbid, Associate Professor, Architecture/FEA
- Sirene Harb, Associate Professor, English/FAS
- Margherita Abi-Hanna, Instructor, Architecture and Design/FEA
- Bilal Orfali, Assistant Professor, Arabic and NEL/FAS
- Ahmad Gharbieh, Instructor, Architecture and Design/FEA
- Maya Saikali, Instructor, Architecture and Design/FEA
- Rima Rantisi, Instructor, English/FAS
- Mihran Gurunian, Lecturer and Lab Engineer/FEA/ECE

Thursday, April 26, 2012

The debate on misogyny

It's been quite an intense few days, spurred by the release of Foreign Policy's sex issue and, more controversially, Mona El Tahawy's piece Why Do They Hate Us, to which many, many feminists, activists and bloggers responded with justified, and in some cases unjustified, anger or disappointment. This post is not intended to give my own personal opinion on that piece because I think there is not much I can add that has not already been said. And although I do believe that El Tahawy's portrayal of a victimized, helpless woman is becoming exceedingly irrelevant among Arab feminists, I was happy to see the quick and massive response to her piece (which I'm sure would have been otherwise ignored if it hadn't been awarded the cover page of the magazine). The thing is, there is a movement. And that on its own is a wonderful thing.

I am sharing some of these responses, with the hope that this discussion continues and veers even further away from the argument on misogyny. Because we all know that it's so much more complicated than that:

Mona: Why Do You Hate Us?

Do Arab men hate women? It's not that simple

I don't really think they hate us!

Let's Talk About Sex

Us and Them: On Helpless Women and Orientalist Imagery

Hatred and misogyny in the Middle East, a response to Mona el Tahawy

Love, Not Hatred, Dear Mona!

A response to Mona el Tahawy « Neo-colonialism and its Discontents

Mona Kareem: In response to Mona Eltahawy’s hate argument

Dear Mona Eltahawy: You do not represent “Us”

The Real Roots of Sexism in the Middle East (It's Not Islam, Race, or 'Hate')

On "Why do they hate us?" and its critics

Eltahawy's 'hate' fuels real war on 'us'

Politics at the Tip of the Clitoris: Why, in Fact, Do They Hate Us?

Enjoy the debate!

Wednesday, March 21, 2012

What really bothers me about the Mother's Day sales pitch

I am well aware of what it means to advertise a washing machine or a vacuum clearer on Mother's Day. It says that moms are there to cook for you, do your dishes and wash your clothes and that the best thing you can give them for Mother's Day is something that will make that part of their life easier. And I do admit that it bugs me when I see those ads up there on the billboards, reminding us all women that no matter how far in our careers we advance, a part of society will always see us as juice making pressure cookers. But what bothers me even more is this: If the ads don't speak to anyone, why are they still running them? If appliance stores don't get flooded with customers on Mother's Day, would they all really keep spending on the same failed concept year after year?

The thing is, the problem is more than the role of women in our society - and this where I get cheesy. We buy these appliances because we can't be bothered to think about what our mothers really want for Mother's Day. Because we weren't paying attention the entire year to notice her real interests. Because deep down inside, we all think our mother is there for us, and never the other way around.

So this is just a shout out to all the mothers out there. You don't just deserve a present on this random day of the year. You deserve it every day. We'll try to be better next year.

Monday, January 09, 2012

Taking our rights, there's no other way

A few months ago, I was talking to my family about some of the major gender issues that really need to be raised in Lebanon. I also said that I am angry enough to engage in activities that promote these issues and raise awareness. To my shock, one of my close relatives blurted out "I thought you were more mature than that. We are in the midst of an Arab awakening. There's no time for western values." I am not going to go into the fit of rage that followed but suffice to say that this was not the only time I had heard such reasoning from people who should know better.

What made me think of this incident is the recent campaign against rape (#FightRape) launched in Lebanon  and which seems to be gaining quite a bit of momentum (check out and join the facebook page here). The thing is, at first, I couldn't get my head around it because the campaign is basically pressuring parliament to adopt the draft Law Protection from Domestic Violence. In other words, it is demanding that the government start penalizing husbands for raping their wives. Apparently, society in Lebanon is not ready for government to intervene in such delicate matters, and by society I mean religious leaders and by delicate matters I mean awful crimes. I always thought the most prominent issue Lebanese women faced was that they could not pass on their nationality to their children, because I relate to that. I couldn't believe that in a country that boasts its liberal values to those around it, a woman can be raped by a man and be forced to make him breakfast in the morning. But it's true. And there is no way to describe it but shameful. It needs to end.

But the problem is so much deeper than that. It's an epidemic. The country (and region) is diseased and it's time for some real solutions. I'm doing my bit and spreading the word about this campaign that is demanding a basic human right for protection from a government ambivalent to half its citizens.

If you're in Beirut then be there, on Saturday, January the 14th from noon until 3 pm at the Ministry of Interior. The demonstration will march to parliament. Bring your friends. Show those quasi-public servants that they are the only ones who are ambivalent.