BEIRUT: “What are the challenges [that women face] and why do they exist?” inquired the Arab Institute for Women in a speaking session organized at the Lebanese American University on Monday.
As part of the Food for Thought speaking series, the AIW, the Womanity Foundation, and women’s advocate Hayat Mirshad came together to address the struggles of Arab females.
“We organize a monthly speaking series called Food for Thought to engage university students in gender-related issues,” said Myriam Sfeir, Assistant Director of the institute. “We choose topics that are of human interest and tailor-made for university students.”
The event came in response to the Womanity Foundation’s request to host this specific initiative.
The Womanity Foundation was established in 2005 by Yann Borgstedt, a successful Swiss businessman and entrepreneur who believes the best way to build sustainable growth is through collaboration with the social sector and the business world.
The foundation focuses on the education, training, and empowerment of women in Afghanistan, Brazil, India, the Middle East, North Africa region, and elsewhere.
The event kicked off with a warm welcome from Sfeir. She then opened the floor to the Womanity team, who introduced themselves and presented snippets from Noha “Be Yourself” season 3 series that launched last April. Noha is an animated female role model created to affect change in Arab women’s lives and emphasize female empowerment.
The Lights were turned off and the sketches rolled.
As displayed, the show revolves around Noha, the heroine of the series, who works as a journalist and encounters a wide range of social issues, which she tackles and finds creative solutions for.
Noha is noting in her dialogue that men often reject a variety of "initiatives that come from women."
According to Layla Fattah, program lead for Womanity Middle East, based in Dubai, topics explored in season three include the role of men in the process of women’s empowerment and the topics commonly regarded as taboo: divorce, street harassment, equal opportunities, treatment in the workplace, as well as positive messages around female leadership and agency.
According to Lara Amar, an LAU student, “Be Yourself” redefines the image of an animated female character.
“From Snow White’s phrase ‘and then he will carry me away to his castle, where we will live happily ever after’ to Noha’s slogan ‘If our patriarchal culture is to stop women’s voices and refuse initiatives that come from women, then I don’t want to be part of that culture at all’ is an appreciated step in visual media,” Amar told Annahar.
The team then cleared the floor for Hayat Mirshad, co-founder of Femalecomms and an activist, to lead a lecture followed by a discussion about the challenges Lebanese women face.
“The first challenge women are subjected to in Lebanon, is when their status as female activists are not taken seriously,” said Mirshad. “Some people look at feminists and say ‘look, look they’re trying to imitate the West they’re trying to act open-minded’.”
Mirshad addressed several key challenges women face, some of them are; the lack of laws that protect women in the workforce and against domestic violence, the unjust differentiation between men and women, and the patriarchal upbringings that engrave gender roles in society’s mentality.
“Everyone is treated better than the Lebanese women in Lebanon,” noted Mirshad. “Take as an example the foreign women. If a non-Lebanese woman who had kids from a non-Lebanese man got married to a Lebanese man after a divorce, the Lebanese law grants her and her kids the Lebanese nationality, even if she then got a divorce from her Lebanese spouse.”
Ending her lecture with how activism affects change Mirshad noted that no matter how abundant female-mediated NGOs are, they may not reach everyone. Thus, in order to be inclusive, every other woman should empower another woman to create a snowball effect.
“During the session today, I picked up on the real meaning of empowered women empower women,” said Zeina Kanaan, one of the session’s attendees. “Activism is contagious; you just have to pass the flu. If a fictional woman character like Noha can do it then I can and I will.”
Welcome to “Naya,” the newest addition to Annahar’s coverage. This section aims at fortifying Lebanese women’s voices by highlighting their talents, challenges, innovations, and women’s empowerment. We will also be reporting on the world of work, family, style, health, and culture. Naya is devoted to women of all generations — Naya Editor, Sally Farhat: Sally.firstname.lastname@example.org
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