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Saturday, December 13, 2014

The Life of an American Freelancer in the Middle East



Published at OpenDemocracy 

“What’s more appealing to me as a freelancer is having the autonomy to go and create my own stories… without losing part of my freedom, or having to uphold any editorial line" - Eric Reidy 


 I met Eric Reidy last April in San Francisco, where we both spoke at Stanford University. We quickly bonded through our passion for writing, photography, listening to and telling people’s stories, a combination of what he defines as the package for freelancing.

Knowing him for a short period of time and understanding his motivation when he delivered his speech gave me the impression of him not being a typical American freelance journalist.

 In mid October, I received a message from Eric telling me that he was coming to Tunisia in two weeks time, with no plans whatsoever on where he will be staying, for how long or what will he be doing. A few days later, to my surprise, I met him there. 

Eric’s life appears to be unplanned, as probably most freelancers’ lives are. What distinguishes him is his clear vision, once he connects with the place and the people, of the kind of story he wants to deliver to an international audience. He has an interesting approach to freelancing; he sees it as a choice, an opportunity, an excuse and a challenge. For him, journalism is “an excuse to ask people the questions that you would want to ask them anyway but don’t have a pretext to do so”.


His journey started when he was 17 years old as a “news junky”, particularly with respect to the Middle East. “During the worst period of the Iraq War in 2006/2007, I started being exposed to more critical perspectives of what life is actually like in the region… a chasm opened up between the story that I had been presented with since I was a young adolescent, and reality”, he said. Eric was fascinated with how big a gap that was. 


He is an adventurous freelancer who is willing to take risks to get important stories but “being a freelancer can also be an obstacle as much as an opportunity”, he adds. “Unfortunately Iraq is a bit less accessible, particularly to American freelancers. Without training in reporting in danger zones, without financial backing from a major channel, without a strong network of connections, it is pretty foolish and dangerous to go there”. As much as he believes in taking risks, he also cultivates the personal safety to be able to tell these stories.


Eric’s first stop was Lebanon, where he went to study Arabic for two months as a fresh graduate from the University of Pittsburgh, but ended up staying for eight months. Lebanon was his first choice because of its reputation as a “cosmopolitan, relatively free cultural space in the Middle East, a region that is tightly controlled by governments and censorship”.  


He was lucky to find a job within a couple of weeks with a Lebanese foundation called the Samir Kassir Centre for Media and Cultural Freedom (SKeyes). “I thought it would be great to have an excuse to interview artists, to sit down and talk to them about their work and their life experiences with social and cultural censorship.” He interviewed 25 artists about the role of art in public life in Beirut as part of his project. His work resulted in the publication of a book titled, “A Fractured Mirror: Beirut’s Cultural Scene and the Search for Identity”.


The next stop was Palestine, which might seem as dangerous as Iraq to outsiders. However, Eric argues that, “to be a foreign journalist in Palestine is safer than Iraq”. He lived in Palestine for five months.


He has been writing for Wamda, which is a platform designed to empower entrepreneurs in the MENA region by covering stories of small businesses and growth trends. Eric was the only journalist covering the Palestinian entrepreneurial scene full time. “I found entrepreneurship to be a fascinating lens into Palestinian society”. He observed that “as a consequence of the occupation, a lot of people have understandable limitations to what they think is possible. There is a real sense that there isn’t very much possible in the West Bank because everything is really tightly controlled…”


So he looked for stories that would show Palestinians that there are those who have some agency to act on their own. “They are usually portrayed to the west as people who are either oppressed by a controlling system or people who are exercising violence”. He chose not to fall into that dichotomy but instead to open up more space to understand what he had come to see “as a much more nuanced existence”. 


This falls into his broader vision of “using the power of personal stories to break people’s pre-existing understandings and open up a little space within people’s preconceptions about a place or people or an experience…to have them start to be self-critical and question whatever they think is true or certain”.


Eric had to leave the Middle East in early February this year, after being deported from Israel, but he considers this as “a minor bump on the road”.


He has now been in Tunisia for five weeks, refreshing his Arabic and studying the Tunisian dialect, while exploring new stories. “Other than transparent free elections and the transition of power, I think the story that should be coming out of Tunisia is the longer ongoing process of what is actually taking place here, on how to build a new type of society out of the society that was previously governed by an authoritarian dictatorship. To me, that’s the story of Tunisia.”


So far, Eric has written three pieces on Tunisia claiming that “If we promote Tunisia’s model, by following its democratic transition, then we owe it to ourselves to actually understand what that means…People do not have to be dying for that to be an important story, and I hope I can convince editors of that while I’m here”.


As a totally new context from Palestine or Lebanon, he is finding his way in Tunis while “There is a bit of nostalgia and longing for the comfort I was able to build for myself where I was last”, he confsses.


He undoubtedly confirms the stereotypical image of the maddening life of a freelancer as “a hassle, you have to always keep coming up with story ideas, keep pitching, developing relationships with editors, with contacts, with people who can help translate things for you… Everything somehow is related to work. It’s kind of a consuming lifestyle as your livelihood basically depends on the network you develop…I always feel I should be working when I’m not, I have no sense of security”.


He has lived in three different places covering stories for AlJazeeraAl-Monitor, and the Middle East Eye among other international media outlets, yet he says he is new in the freelance space. “Everyday I sit down to write an article or do an interview I ask myself ‘am I good enough to be doing this?’ Do I understand well enough to put the stuff that I’m creating out there for other people to use as a source of information? Still something I have to prove to myself”.


This self-reflection is surely a mainstay of journalistic ethics and integrity and something that today’s journalists should be asking themselves as they report stories from the Middle East.


Over the past years, I have met many freelancers in Tunisia and Egypt who moved to the region to be journalists thinking that there were “a lot of violent, bloody stories they could cover to make a name for themselves.” Eric, however, has a different approach; he wanted to “correct” the media narratives that he grew up consuming. 


There is an urgent need to change the narrative of the region and shift focus from bloodshed, terrorism, religious, sectarian and tribal threats to more in-depth stories. How did a revolution turn into a proxy war in Syria? How are the elections shaping Tunisian’s lives? How does the Lebanese multifaceted identity manifest itself? Here's to more and better stories!




Wednesday, December 3, 2014

The Oldest in Civilization, The Youngest in Population: THE FUTURE LIES IN AFRICA





How can we not think about the future for Africa if the future is Africa itself?

Looking at the past and the future, Africa becomes a crucial part of this reflection. Africa developed the world's oldest human civilization and moving forward, it defines the world’s future. With a comprehensive timeline of at least seven million years, Africa is home to the first tools, jewelry, mathematics, astronomy, fishing, and art, among other essential humankind developments. It gave humanity the use of fire around two million years ago and made all nations rely on our land for their markets.

However, as much as Africa has given to the world, it has been abusively exploited by colonial and postcolonial powers, and dictatorships. The status, privilege, and wealth of the colonizers were often maintained and upheld through the use of policies that violated our rights. Unjust colonial practices and policies as a means to preserve their dominant status, subjected us to the loss of our lands, resources, identities, and sometimes even our lives. Yet, marginalized under colonial occupation, we continue to be marginalized under postcolonial governments.

Moving forward, we need futures thinking of Africa’s values, power and youth.

So, if the roots of humanity come from Africa, then true African wisdom will help us understand people and their organizations, inclusiveness, and deep respect for the other. Including everybody in the thinking of the community has always been part of Africa’s culture.

The Somali proverb says “wisdom is like a baobab tree, no one individual can embrace” - it requires a diversity of people holding hands in an effort to embrace the tree.


“Mahala” is the traditional African practice which teaches that it is proper to give to others without expecting anything in return.


The value of Ubuntu, indeed, is a basic foundation of each individual. It’s the value that one cannot exist, manage or lead in a vacuum because human beings are social and were created to live together in harmony. Ubuntu definition is, but not limited, to the promotion of co-operation, love, respect, togetherness and solidarity. I met Prof. Rob O’Donoghue last week and he said that “The value of Ubuntu has been taken away, like most things were taken away by academics like me”.


Ubuntu needs a revival because it can become that which will bring people together, but it is a vanishing practice, a value of the past. So, the aim in African culture is for a better community, which will, in turn, provide a better environment for the individual. But do we actually practice Ubuntu and live in harmony with others and ourselves?


We used to believe in our wisdom. Our teaching and proverbs used to be very common, but now we are trading our traditional wisdom for a handful of candied Western slogans broadcasted by television. Our ethics are turning into metaphysics; our group and common wisdom is turning into individual and elite wisdom. Are we on the right track or is Africa going Western? Our wisdom is poorly understood and so little appreciated in the West.


Therefore, the West has disbelieved in African thought for so long that Africa is starting to disbelief itself. Considering the future, we need to challenge the Western disbelief, as the tenets of the African cultural systems and practices form the fundamentals of living with others and with nature in harmony, which can teach lessons to humanity worldwide.


Besides, our African wisdom will enhance our decision-making. We have forgotten how to be human beings, and we must go back to our indigenous knowledge if we are to save our culture, people and future.


We have all become aware of our society’s social, economic, environmental and political problems, to a certain degree. However, we are still not sure on how exactly to go about fixing these problems because we’re underestimating our power. The solution is in the saying ‘kopano ki maata’, which means “togetherness is power”.


Another essential part of the conversation of futures thinking of Africa is youth. Africa’s population is the world’s youngest because half of our continent’s inhabitants are under the age of 19, while 70 per cent of the population is under the age of 30. More than 200 million people in Africa are between ages 15-24. By 2035 Africa’s working-age population, those aged 15-64, will be larger than that of China or India. Yet, one of Africa's greatest untapped resources is its young people.


As the youngest continent, we are not only important for Africa but also for the world. As we are growing faster than any other continent, we are the ones who lead innovation; we are a source of labor force of any economy. But until African leadership realizes that we are the solution not the problem then Africa will “rise” with its youth. Despite advances in education and economic growth, progress remains fragile; young Africans face major difficulties in finding decent jobs, participating in decision-making and fighting inequalities.


The lack of such freedoms in Tunisia was among the factors that led us to take to the streets demanding change and fulfillment of our legitimate aspirations for better lives. Empowering youth is essential for sustainable economic growth, political progress and management of the earth's ecosystems and resources. The world has to recognize the people, youth and promise of Africa. The continent has just experienced a decade of rapid economic growth. On the other hand, we Africans need to strive to overcome threats to peace and development, by building an environment conducive to democracy, social justice and peace based on our values, power and youth.



Thursday, November 27, 2014

SMILES THAT IGNITE PASSION



Dense rows of white tents and long lines of listless people that are queuing for a small portion of food and water, of which there is never enough quantity to reach everyone. This was the daily image of Ras Jdir refugee camp in Rmeda where I volunteered during the Libyan Civil War. When I first arrived to the Tunisian-Libyan border in June 2011 the total number of refuges reached almost one million.
We organized caravans brining donations from Tunis (the capital city of Tunisia) to the camp – despite all the conditions of insecurity of the trip. Beside our typical cargo – toys, food, water and covers – we also brought joy and hope to the refugees. Though our main targets were the young refugees, we indirectly sparked the solidarity in the Tunisian society that resulted in the collection of huge donations for weeks to come.
When I first arrived, the one mission I had for every single activity I carried out was to draw smiles on the children’s faces. Just after a few hours on my first day I realized that such a mission in the midst of the crisis is not just about giving joy to other people but also about giving a special meaning to my own life. These children that I was trying to support opened my eyes on what my passion in life is.
One day, while I was gathering the kids for the afternoon activities, a five-year-old Libyan refugee asked me:
“Why are these people fighting?”
I followed his gesturing hand, as it pointed to the queue of refugees waiting for lunch. That image – of a dispute over food – was one of many daily conflicts in the camp. “They are not fighting, they are asking for lunch in different ways because they come from different cultures” – I answered. It was this singular experience that taught me the importance of peacebuilding, coexistence and intercultural dialogue among the cultures.
Behind these daunting scenes of suffering in a refuge camp, I was also inspired by life-changing stories of African migrant workers in Libya. I learned about the traditional African beat and dance from Mali, special naming rituals from Ghana, slave trade that is still practiced in Ethiopia, the colonial creation of Gambia out of the Senegambia, the Somalian Civil War, and other stories that set me on my current path as a peacebuilder. These stories also influenced the process of shaping my own character. This exploration of African historiography, opened channels for understanding the continent. Since then, my compass has pointed me to explore even more about peace and conflict dynamics in Africa.
A few months after my experience at the Libyan borders, I took a trip to Kenya where I launched a project called Africa Inspire Project with the crucial support of a wonderful Kenyan team.  I had keenly followed the democratic rise in Kenya especially after the historic elections in the year 2002. Following the peaceful 2013 general elections, I decided to explore and highlight the role of youth in the peacebuilding process that had participated in the previous 2007-2008 post-elections outbreak of violence. Having experienced the 2011/2012 post-elections frustration in Tunisia and Egypt when monitoring the elections, I had a desire to learn more about Kenya’s experience and promote its model of choosing peace over violence. Thus, I decided to produce the documentary, Kenya’s Conscious Transformation.
I have been challenged with the idea that conflicts in Africa are too complex to deconstruct or understand; however, I refused to give up my quest for searching for proactive solutions. I interviewed Kenyan community workers and youth leaders at the grassroots level as well as government officials, lawyers, award-winning journalists and electoral officials at the national level. Unlike what I had seen in the international media – which portrays a situation of tension and potential violence – what I found in Kenyan society was instead resilience and commitment to make peace possible. After that discovery, my quest for combining art with the usage of alternative media to change this negative portrayal of Africa has only intensified.
Coming from a region where we have been going through many uprisings and revolutions… where everyone around me has lost hope in peace because of the rise of terrorism on a precedential scale… where young activists are falling into depression, desperation, breakdowns, and many times are completely burned-out… It was not a surprise that some of them turned to the usage of violence as the only language that could be heard. I believe that making peace starts from believing in the existence of peace and the sole belief that peace can be sustained. Young people need to see successful models and positive stories to reflect on their understanding of violence and its impact.
My blog, my documentaries and everything else that I do are only the first steps in achieving the ultimate goal of building peace and understanding by raising people’s awareness so that they can rethink their perceptions of each other. Contributing to peacebuilding in Africa defines Who am and aspire to be and at a same time gives me a motivation to serve others like I did at Ras Jdir refugee camp – uplifting others with positive vibes and voices, and inspiring them through what I capture and deliver with the lens of my camera.

Sunday, November 23, 2014

The Statement of the Rustler’s Valley Youth Retreat



We are 60 diverse young people from all continents of the world who met in Rustler’s Valley, South Africa from November 16 to 19, 2014 to discuss the state of civil society around the world and consider our role as young people within it. We do not claim to speak for all youth, or for the diverse views from within our own countries, but rather we seek to lend our voices to the on-going debate about the role of civil society in the social, political and economic transformation of the world. We also want to respond to and further develop the conversation begun by the Open Letter for Activists as young people engaged at grassroots, national and international levels.

Increasingly, the face of civil society around the world is a young one. Yet, we recognize much may be learned from other generations; their struggles, histories and lessons. Although we will face many of the challenges of the future, we believe that with intergenerational partnerships and a shared responsibility, we can transform civil society and therefore global society.

Current strategies to address restrictions on civil society space are failing. To create the necessary space at the national level, we should develop radical tactics to mobilize non traditional civil society groups, create platforms for international solidarity, and develop safe spaces where we can come together in a conducive environment to address these issues.

After much reflection, we collectively arrived at four primary topics of concern to those present: race, gender and sexual orientation; democratization of our own organisations and power structures; reform of relationships between civil society and donor organisations; and the divide between grassroots movements and civil society organisations (CSOs).

Eliminating discrimination: Race, gender and sexual orientation
As youth, we witness and experience the on-going reality of discrimination in civil society based on race, gender, and sexual orientation. We call on all sectors, especially media, governmental, non-governmental, and religious organizations, and the private sector to acknowledge and combat discriminatory practices. Civil society should lead the way by respecting diversity and completely eliminating all forms of discrimination from our own environments.

Democratization of CSOs and power structures
As youth, we acknowledge that current political, social and economic systems and organizational structures favour the few, not the many. We emphasize our duty to democratise:
·       Public dialogue through the use of inclusive and accessible language to broaden participation and break down the hierarchy among civil society and the communities we seek to serve.
·       Structures of power that prevent us from collaborating across issues and themes to establish civil society-wide avenues of influence and the elevation of our collective voice.
·       Access to intergovernmental and civil society processes for local and grassroots social movements.
·       Relationships between large civil society organizations and grassroots movements through the adoption of and respect for higher ethical standards.

Additionally, we should establish new methods of ensuring transparency, through the development of:
·       Conflict of interest indices;
·       Organization-wide gender parity measures;
·       Reporting on executive salaries and board fees;
·       Cooperation indices, and;
·       Mechanisms that ensure the full integration of all stakeholders into decision-making processes, including volunteers.

Rethinking relationships between civil society and donor organisations
As youth, the driving force of our work is our own vision, passion and values. To better serve those with whom we work, we must question the current relationships between donors and recipients. We pledge to:
·       Acknowledge the need to be financially autonomous through self-sustainability.
·       Mobilize unions through membership fees as a way of engaging our own constituencies to ensure their ownership and responsibility in our work.
·       Create alternative and innovative solutions to generate funds for our work.
·       Encourage donors to explore avenues of promoting collaboration between and with civil society organizations.
 
As youth, we see the increasing danger in becoming more accountable to funding sources than the communities we purport to serve. We recognize the need to first hold ourselves to account, and then:
·       Increase accountability of the international community to its by commitments and constituents
·       Develop the advocacy skills of community members to more effectively claim their rights

Relationship between Grassroots and Non-Governmental Organizations (NGOs)
The increasing importance of grassroots actors, both formal and informal, is undeniable in today’s world. Gone are the days where NGOs may claim to represent the “voices” of communities. Our communities can and do speak for themselves and stand on their own work. They invert power structures through community-driven development and building people-power globally. We believe in the following tenants: 

·       Access. NGOs should work to access, identify and develop leaders and existing solutions within communities. Serving as enablers, we can support accessibility to and sharing of the core resources needed to foster greater impact.
·       Sustainability. NGOs should promote capacity-building and community ownership to both catalyse the emergence of new grassroots groups and ensure existing groups continue their work self-sufficiently and sustainably. Instead of providing ready-made solutions, the focus should be on connecting likeminded leaders in decentralized networks of information sharing.
·       Measuring success. NGOs should work with communities to develop new, community-supported, ways of measuring and interpreting success around the values of sustainable change and community ownership.
·       Reimagining the playing field. NGOs should work to reorient all funding systems to align with these tenants and the under acknowledged needs of grassroots organizations.

As young people fighting for social justice, we make these criticisms and suggestions with the hope that they will contribute to a reimagining of the role, vision and methods of civil society. We recommit our lives to the struggle against inequality, poverty, environmental degradation and all injustices in whatever shape they assume.

We perceive the vision of our letter as an invitation to all—including young people and those in decision-making positions—to take immediate action to transform civil society. Let this letter stand not only as our message to civil society, but also as a broader commitment to move forward with confidence and purpose towards a just, sustainable and peaceful world. 



Wednesday, November 12, 2014

TUNISIA: Compromise-style politics


Around 5 million Tunisians were registered to vote, and 65 % of them did. Nidaa Tounes won 85 of 217 seats. This party was formed in 2012 and unites supporters of the pre-revolutionary regime, trade unions, opposition activists and anti-Islamist groups.

The Islamist party Ennahda, which has historical ties to Egypt’s Muslim Brothers, came in second with 69 seats. In the Constituent Assembly, it was the strongest party, and led a coalition government called Troika for two years after the revolution. Ennahda later gave up administrative power and agreed to a technocratic government when it became obvious that Troika rule had become divisive. People were upset because the government had not been able – or perhaps unwilling – to prevent two assassinations. Partly inspired by the Muslim Brothers’ disaster in Egypt, Ennahda’s priorities became passing the new constitution and preparing orderly elections.

Ennahda’s two secular coalition partners were punished by the electorate. Other secular parties fared better. Radical Salafis were sidelined and will not play a role in parliament.

Both Nidaa and Ennahda ran professional, rational and pragmatic campaigns. Neither party claimed to offer solutions to all problems or to possess an eternal truth. On the other hand, both indicated that they wanted to assume responsibility. Nidaa strategically argued:  “Not voting for Nidaa is a vote for Ennahda”.

Tunisia has been through many political crises since Zine El Abidine Ben Ali, the dictator, was toppled in early 2011. These crises were resolved in national dialogue. Compromise-style politics has worked. The election results show that Tunisians appreciate this, and that they want politicians to stay on this path. It was most welcome that Ennahda’s leadership congratulated Nidaa graciously.

The next major step will be the formation of the new government. Nidaa has three options. It can form an alliance with smaller secular parties, join forces with Ennahda or establish another technocrat government. The decision will not be taken fast. Beji Caid Essebsi, the leader of Nidaa, has said: “Everything will wait until after the presidential elections.” Those elections will take place at the end of November, and a run-off election may be needed in December. Nidaa suggests  it may ally with Ennahda if the Islamists support Essebsi's campaign to become president. He is the Nidaa candidate.

Twenty-seven other politicians are running too. Essebsi is the frontrunner, but he is also the oldest candidate. A lawyer and politician, Essebsi held several important positions in Tunisia between 1963 and 1991, under both Habib Bourguiba and Ben Ali, before being appointed prime minister of the first transitional government in 2011.

Essebsi likes to speak of the “the prestige of the state”, pointing to the need to stabilise Tunisia’s politics, economy and security. Supporters say only he can stop the rise of Muslim fundamentalism. His opponents, on the other hand, accuse him of being a product of the ancien regime. Some  leaders want the smaller secular parties to unite behind a single presidential candidate to beat Essebsi.

Mustapha Ben Jaafar, who is the Social Democrat who headed the Constituent Assembly, could be their man. Other contenders in the presidential race include the entrepreneur Slim Riahi and Moncef Marzouki, the current president. Kalthoum Kannou is the only woman running for the highest office. She is a champion of judicial independence and known as a fierce opponent of the former Ben-Ali regime.

Ennahda stated  it will not compete in the presidential race. It is not officially backing any candidate, but many of its members support Marzouki on social media.

In any case, the next president will have a the huge responsibility to restore stability, security and economic prospects. Terrorism is rocking the Arab world, and Tunisia needs to find its path. The good news, however, is that the next president will not enjoy absolute powers. The government and future legislation will depend on the recently elected parliament.


Monday, November 10, 2014

GENDER: BETWEEN PERCEPTION & REALITY


Co-writing the article with Katharina Walbert 
Published on European Youth Press Magazine during Peace Journalism Meeting 
"Rethinking Journalism" in Berlin

Republished on the North South Centre

While lyrics of the German anthem call for a “united Fatherland,” in other parts of the Mediterranean, many Arab countries are referred to as “the Motherland.” For decades, gender has been perceived differently where women and men are treated based on the influence of cultures, media and the marketing industry.

Tunisia, has been a leading country on women’s rights in its region. Tunisia’s laws have provided women an immersive measure of equality largely absent among its neighboring countries. Women have one of the most progressive Personal Status Codes: polygamy there is banned, and women have equal rights in marriage and divorce. The code also guarantees strict women rights in the criminalisation of domestic abuse and marital rape. On the other hand, this very Code has settled discriminatory provisions. For instance, According to Article 58, judges can grant custody to either the mother or the father based on the best interests of the child, but prohibits the mother from gaining custody if she has remarried. No such restriction applies to fathers. Unequal inheritance and the total absence of shelters for homeless, abused or battered women are still one of Tunisia’s biggest issues.

In Austria, things look quite different. There are approximately 30 women shelters located all over the country. Women who are in danger receive aid and protection from the state. Beyond that, Austria fosters strong gender-sensitive language discussions and initiatives. The Austrian anthem, for example, has been changed: The line which once referred to Austria’s “great sons,” was modified to now reflect Austria’s “sons and daughters.” Although there are laws protecting women, punishment for sexual harassment and rape are still low. According to § 201 StGB (Austria’s panel code), rape is prosecuted with a prison sentence between six months up and 10 years. In cases where the action is especially violent, or causes the death of the victim, the punishment can be raised up to 20 years in prison. However, perpetrators of sexual violence are often released after just a few years. Marital rape has been penalized in Austria since 2004, but refusal of sexual actions within marriage is still a reason for getting divorced. In addition to rape and sexual abuse, “every day-sexism” is problematic. Sexual harassment often happens in public spaces and work environments. Although the topic is highly discussed, the harassment is not deterred. Almost every woman has been sexually harassed in some manner at least once in her life.

Patrick Grunhag, a German gender-activist and member of Pinkstinks– a campaign that aims to challenge the heavily stereotyped roles of young children in media and marketing–thinks that Arab women are still fighting for the right to education and that “men have more power because of the religion.” He adds: “Women are punished when they are raped.” On the other shore of the Mediterranean, Alia Awada, a Lebanese activist and co-founder of Fe-Male, believes that laws protect women in Europe: “As long as there is a law to be implemented and respected, then it’s a way to protect women.” She believes that women in the Arab region “have a very long way to achieve women’s rights.”

The activists have also stated their perceptions regarding each other’s field of expertise. Alia had the chance to work with Oxfam on an inequality campaign in the UK, and deduced that “there’s no gender equality in the UK, even among women themselves.” Patrick also believes that in Western Europe, feminists shouldn’t talk on behalf of women “if they want to wear the veil or not.” He adds: “We should be an open society that accepts other cultures as we claim. As feminists movements, we shall connect, listen and help other movements when they ‘want [us] to,’ show how it works in our society, but not ‘tell’ them what they ‘want.’”

Sexual harassment, gender-insensitive language, the representation of women in the media, and sexism in advertisement are common struggles to mention a few. In Western Europe, products for children are overtly gender stereotyped. “There are two different types of nachos, a spicy one for boys and milder softer one for girls,” Patrick describes. “We also have BEEF Magazine, which is targeting men based on the prejudice that only men are interested in barbecues,” he adds. Patrick also criticizes casting shows like “Germany’s Next Top Model” broadcasted on Austrian and German networks that “show girls that they have to use make up and wear high heels to be considered beautiful and popular.” The ad and media industries try to shape the ideal woman looks, be it in weight or looks.

Alia is fighting gender stereotypes through television programs, talk shows and commercials in Lebanon as well. “We are still using images of women on TV that we’ve been using for 40 years now,” she confirms. One of her organization’s advocacy projects was an online campaign raising awareness on these stereotypes in the media. Alia clearly states the danger in the use of “sexually violent” images as a “joke” on TV. Overtime, violence against women becomes normalized and emphasized in society and in people’s mindset. Interestingly, Alia and Patrick both mention the same example of a female portrayal by the marketing industry used to sell cars, by which beautiful women are always placed next to. “Even when a woman is in power, the media discusses her fashion rather than her leadership,” Alia concluded. 



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