The Arab Institute for Women

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Work That Breaks Gender Barriers

The Arab Institute for Women (AiW) held a webinar entitled “Work That Breaks Gender Barriers”. This is the fourth and last webinar tailored to the needs of our LAU Middle East Partnership Initiative (MEPI) - Tomorrow’s Leaders (TL) students, specifically the MEPI-TL Gender scholars. The webinar was part of our monthly speaking series Food 4 Thought (F4T)an informal monthly speaking series that engages LAU faculty, staff, and students in relevant gender issues – information about previous F4T events can be found here. These events connect the wider LAU community with gender scholars and experts from a variety of backgrounds – both academic and non-academic – who share their personal experiences while also providing in-depth information about the implications of gender discrimination on legal, political, and economic systems in the Arab region and beyond.

This F4T included Mozn Hassan, Egyptian women’s rights campaigner, Founder of Nazra for Feminist Studies and was awarded the Global Fund for Women’s inaugural Charlotte Bunch Human Rights Award in 2013 and the Right Livelihood Awards, known as the “alternative Nobel Peace Prize”, in 2016; Diana Abou Abbas, Executive Director of Marsa;  Zahra Langhi, peace activist and expert on gender, conflict resolution, and peacebuilding; and Laury Haytayan, Director of the Natural Resource Governance Institute (NRGI) in the MENA region. AiW’s Director Myriam Sfeir moderated the session.

Zahra Langhi joined our talk and took time out of her busy schedule while she was in Tunisia participating in a three-day meeting of the Libyan Political Dialogue Forum Legal Committee facilitated by the United Nations Support Mission in Libya (UNSMIL) to follow up on the progress of the constitutional process and finalize discussions that will pave the way for national elections on 24 December 2021. Zahra provided an insight on the importance of women’s political participation in Libya and on women having a seat on the decision table in the light of the new government. She emphasized the importance of gendering the peace process through the four pillars of Women Peace and Security Agenda: participation, protection, prevention, and relief and recovery, and the urgent need of building partnerships with youth and other men that believe in the same agenda. She also mentioned that: “It is not about human rights only; it is about protecting women who dare to be vocal and speak to the authority about their rights, their vision, and their opinions and to put preventive measures against anti-corruption.”

Mozn Hasan talked about Nazra’s work in building and continuing to build the feminist movement saying that: “It is about independent feminist movements growing as a public sphere.” Mozn, being an activist that took part in the protests of the Egyptian revolution of 2011, worked to help those who were sexually assaulted at the time, and who is currently subject to a travel ban by the Egyptian government, shared her personal experience in countering backlash. She also talked about targeting and arresting women human rights defenders in Egypt. Mozn also  highlighted the importance of reclaiming the narrative of the feminist movement and how they have been struggling while developing the feminist movement as people did not accept them considering “feminist” as ‘a bad word’.

Diana Abou Abbas talked about Marsa’s work and the challenges they face. She highlighted how the pushback towards freedom of speech against activists since 2016 has influenced the LGBTQ community and this began when the security forces canceled the homophobia and transphobia event that was supposed to take place in Lebanon in 2017. She also mentioned how the Beirut blast and the economic crises have affected the LGBTQ individuals where they became more vulnerable to sex work and are in danger to lose access to education and working opportunities because of their sexual orientation and gender identity.

Laury Haytayan recounted gendered implications related to working in the field of oil and gas and the challenges she faces on daily bases being a woman working in a male dominated field and the importance of women having a say on the decision-making table on issues related to geopolitics. She provided a historical review of how this field was male-dominated and shared her experience with mansplaining in the workplace saying: “I see men explaining everything I just explained”. She considers that the current generation is interested in making a change in this world by adding: “They are the generation who will defy the current norms.”

Myriam Sfeir concluded by reiterating how important it is to have vocals figures who do not shy away from talking about gender issues irrespective if they were subjected to a travel ban or were threatened. She added: “We don’t need to tick the boxes anymore and we need to have effective representation to disrupt the narrative. We need to redesign the process and reclaim the space. We need to rebuild the movement and give voices to young people, and also create a space for young activists.”

To watch the full event, check out our YouTube channel.