art of resistance, Egypt, Jordan, Lebanon, Syria

Without Peace, We Can’t Have Women’s Rights.

obey_middle_east_mural_20141202505809/photo: Shepard Fairey, Obey Middle East Mural/

More than a century has passed since the famous strikes of female workers in the American textile industry. For more than a century, all around the world, International Women’s Day is celebrated on the 8th of March. A century later, inequality isn’t gone. To discuss the issues of inequality and representation in the Middle East, a region often in the spotlight for violation of women’s rights, we talk with female lawyers, poets, aid workers, directors and activists from the region – Jehan Bseiso, Hind Shoufani, Roula Baghdadi, Fatima Idriss and Nagwan El-Ashwal.

In the honor of International Women’s Day, in the name of continuity of the struggle, we’re in discussion with women from Syria, Lebanon, Jordan, Palestine and Egypt. We tackle the issues for women in general, and in the Middle East particularly. Western media usually doesn’t do justice to this topic and the mainstream discourse on Middle Eastern women is highly problematic. It’s not only about the stories written, it’s equally about the imagery that follows them – in some cases the photographs chosen to accompany the news about Middle Eastern women are less than representational of the story at hand. Let’s change that. The struggle continues, but solidarity continues too!

Jehan Bseiso: Between victims and superheros – too much of a burden

Bseiso is a Palestinian poet, researcher and aid worker. Her poetry has been published in Warscapes, The Funambulist, The Electronic Intifada, and Mada Masr among others. Her book I Remember My Name (2016) is the creative category winner of the Palestine Book Awards. Bseiso is co-editing Making Mirrors a new anthology by, for and about refugees. She is also working on a collection of poems: Conversations Continued, a compilation of real, misheard, and misremembered conversations. Bseiso has been working with Médecins sans Frontières /Doctors Without Borders since 2008.

In Jordan and Lebanon, women continue to carve out a space across all spheres at home and at work. There is a lot of incredible progress, but also so much work left to do in confronting unjust laws , like the one that lets a rapist marry his victim, permits a brother to shoot his sister in the name of “honor” and forces women to “declare pregnancy” when applying for a job.

I find that women from the MENA region are portrayed either as victims or superheroes, and that is too much of a burden, it needs to stop.  The ordinary is extraordinary and we forget that. Western media is particularly obsessed with the trope of “the oppressed Arab and Muslim woman” to an extent that first it misrepresents that story, and it overshadows any other narrative.

Concerning change – each step, however small, if it’s in the right direction it counts. The struggle for change and improvement of the situation for women in the MENA is historical and ongoing, it predates the “Arab spring” and it must necessarily continue to be allied to any call for systemic change.

Hind Shoufani: Legal system written against women

Hind Shoufani is a filmmaker and a writer, working and living in many cities in the Middle East. She’s Palestinian by blood, born in Lebanon and at heart a Beirut girl, raised in Damascus, but also lived in Jordan and held a Jordanian citizenship her whole life. Shoufani currently lives in Dubai and considers herself from all of these places. She is the founder of the Poeticians collective, where poets from all backgrounds read multilingual spoken word and poetry in Beirut and Dubai. She performed her poetry in various cities in Europe, the US and the Arab world and currently works as a freelance director/producer/writer in the UAE and the Arab region at large. Shoufani is currently making a video art feature length documentary on the sensuality, politics and religion present in the poetry and life of six female Arab poets. 

Aside from the violence against women, issues such as honor killings, assault and abuse that goes unreported and unpunished, women in the Arab world suffer the most from the legal system that is written against them. Whether based on Sharia law or civil rights law, women are never treated equally in the eyes of the law. We do not inherit assets, money or land the same way men do, we cannot pass on our citizenship to our children if their father is from a different nationality, and Christian women can be robbed of their children/assets/money if they marry a Muslim man who either divorces them, or passes away. Lebanon just removed the law that says if a rapist marries the woman he assaulted he will not be prosecuted under the legal system.

There are attempts in various countries to improve the standing of women in society as a legal citizen with rights, but it has not yet fulfilled any equality with men. This is mostly due to religion being the key reference for most arbitration in court, whether its issues of childbirth, divorce, inheritance or marriage in general. The personal status laws in the Arab world when it comes to women are abysmal and need a complete overhaul. Issues like violence against women are international issues and not specific to the Arab world, but our legal system really needs to be completely rewritten. A separation of “Church” and state is very much needed here. Sadly, there are very strong forces in the region who want to see us go back to a thousand years ago, and a massive clash of ideology is currently playing out, to very bloody and sad results.

That being said, a lot of mainstream discourse is offensive to Arab women. No one outside the region quite understands how amazingly strong Arab women are. We defy the odds and persevere every single day, we rise from swamps of hatred, prejudice, narrow minded beliefs, obstacles, violence, a legal system that treats us as inferior citizens, and we make life happen. We are doctors and poets and mothers and cleaners and dancers and teachers and warriors. This holds especially true for the Palestinian women who have resisted such a cruel occupation for over seventy years, and more recently Syrian women who are doing best to hold the sky together for themselves and their families dispersed in camps, prisons, street corners, homeless and refugeed and hated and besieged and starving.

The mainstream media is also missing a massive point. While there are hundreds of thousands of women who are struggling for a better life in the region, there are very large numbers of women who were born free, into educated and progressive and open minded families, who are leading brave and exhilarating lives. Not all of us are fighting oppression. Not all of us are in a camp, attempting to escape terrorists such as ISIS and so on. Not all of us have a brother or father who beats us. I personally know hundreds of women who have university degrees, live on their own, make their own money and are economically independent of their parents, choose their lovers, are lesbians, are artists, are outspoken activists and lawyers and nurses and teachers and poets. Many are atheists, some are spiritual, some Muslim or Christian. Free. The mainstream view of Arab women rarely showcases these stories because they are not considered sexy.

Roula Baghdadi: Without peace, we can’t have human and women’s rights

Roula Baghdadi is a Syrian lawyer. She is a part of supervisor’s legal team In Equal Citizenship Center inside Syria, and works with a legal team which defends abused women. Baghdadi is also currently doing her Master in Public law.

On the International Women’s Day, I am hoping for peace, in all of the world, for all of the people. Without peace we can’t achieve respect and fulfillment of all human and women’s rights.

Women in the region are in the worst situation, by the effects of religion and the Islamic extremism, but also totalitarian regimes. Our women today have to fight the long and strong history of thoughts and ideologies, wars, poverty… They have to deal with all of these problems to reach their rights. I believe women’s rights can’t exist without democracy, social justice, and full respect of human rights in general – in constitutions and laws and society. As a lawyer, I believe laws help societies evolve, but that still needs real development in the region.

In Middle East, women do their best. These issues will still need decades to be resolved, but we are on our path, we reject the old systems of the world – in which there’s discrimination between women and men, between black and white, between poor and rich. We reject the regime of profiling, we reject tyranny. And that is not easy.

Syrian women are sold in the markets and are whipped and are still being arrested and abducted. They are being targeted and used as a weapon of war, raped and sold, forced into marriage – particularly minors. All of the parties in Syrian war agreed to one thing, which is targeting of women. That’s why I’d like to say, once again, on the International Women’s Day – let’s work for peace, peace and peace. For all of humanity.

Fatima Idriss: It starts with people addressing immediate issues of daily life

Fatima Idriss is a general manager of Tadamon Council (Egyptian Multicultural Council for Refugees) since 2009, and one of its founders. In 2013, Idriss published a research booklet on education for refugees, which was mainly written by children and young people. She has participated in many international conferences in Europe and in the Arab world. Idriss has been working in the human rights field since 2001, with different international organizations based in Egypt, including: Save the Children – Regional office Middle East and North Africa as Child Participation officer (2004); or CARE Egypt on an awareness-raising project on SIDA (2006).

It has been proved that women still struggle globally – to be considered an equal human and citizen, and those struggles are not ending, due to multi-dimensional factors preventing women to achieve a decent amount of their basic rights.

In Middle East and Egypt particularly, being a woman is a trouble for the community on a daily basis. Women in Middle East have been heavily torn under the concept of “women rights defenders” by those who declare themselves as protectors of the rights of women, but are full of hostility and hatred for women – they are not happy as long as women don’t complete the form that they want and not what women really want. Every violence against women and sexual harassment is still seen as women’s liability, they are the ones blamed by the whole community.

Freedom is not always about grand political debates. It often starts with people addressing the immediate issues of daily life. When it comes to women controlling their lives, the current mainstream discourse on women is different  – the example of Tunisia is completely different from Egypt, and then there’s Gulf area, which is totally different from the rest. When questioning the current mainstream discourse on women as an act of justice to the reality, the answer is “NO”.

We are witnessing massive deterioration of women’s rights. We’ve gone from taking on the roles as active citizens after the Arab spring to passivity – due to limits of change in the social, economic, and political atmosphere in general. At one level, community members kept back to undercurrent burden of economic situation (Egypt as example), it keeps them so busy with the daily needs. The economic situation got the priority and that created limited space for all citizens to engage in public life – so women have less opportunity to be active.

Nagwan El-Ashwal: The issue of democracy

Nagwan El-Ashwal is from Egypt. She is PhD researcher at the European University Institute – EUI- Florence, Italy and she works on Jihadi movements in the Arab region. Also, she was a visiting PhD scholar at the Institute of International Studies at University of California at Berkeley and the chairperson of Regional Center for Mediation and Dialogue. El-Ashwal was involved with a lot of different organizations related to justice, equality and democracy in Europe and in the Middle East.

The main issue for women in the Middle East today is the issue of democracy and freedom from repressive regimes. Those regimes close the public sphere when confronted with any kind of activism.

I think that women activists in the first years of the Arab spring have enjoyed a lot with the free space where they could take part in all political activities and push society forward to get more rights – in terms of political and economical struggle. However, after what occurred – either in Tunisia, Egypt, Yemen or Libya, women involved in activism are getting back to the first step. The situation is better in Tunisia but it is still dramatically bad in other cases.

• • •

This article was also published in Croatian, on H-Alter.

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art of resistance, Egypt

Egypt: The Women Of The Village.

Hidden Hope/photo © Heba Khamis/

I was raised in a small village, in a humble, hardworking environment. Stories with such background always find a special place in my heart, I can relate to them and I can understand their depth, the struggle they are telling.

When it comes to harsh village life, in many places of the world, women are still those who get the worst of it. The Women of the village by Egyptian photographer Heba Khamis gives insight into such story.

It is a story about village women in Egpyt and their everyday journey, a journey they take because they need to do it in order to survive. They face hunger as they search for a better life – job, money, being able to provide for themselves.

In a country like Egypt, where a major part of society cannot imagine a place for a woman except in her home, with her family and under her husband’s control – this journey in search for work is particularly significant and risky for women.

hama0

“Um Alaa comes from Ezbet Sakhawy in Kafr al-Sheikh. The village is named after her family. Traders come to her house so that she can buy whatever she needs, while the rest of the women have to go to the markets. Each village market is held on only one day of the week. This means that if any of them wants something during the week, she has to go to a different village.”

hama1

“Seda, known as ‘Um Dalia’, works in Khurshid market in Sayah Kafr al-Sheikh. She is judged for sometimes showing her bare arms as she works. Though she has daily contact with the city, she still lives in a conservative society. Um Dalia is the mother of five girls, all of whom have completed higher education. She has managed to marry off three of them. Her next goal is to find husbands for the remaining two.”

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“Her struggle begins as the sun rises, hurrying to catch the morning train to Alexandria. If she fails, the day is lost because there are no other cheap trains. The only remaining option then is to hire a car with other women for LE50 per person.”

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“Hope for a better life is Salma’s companion. She is a 22-year-old a university student in her third year of study. Her subject is the origin of religion. Salma must organize her week carefully, rationing time for study and travel, covering her university costs and taking care of her family. As the eldest daughter, she is the one who looks after her sick father. Because of all these demands on her time, she attends university only one day a week, on Sunday. She has to work all the other days of the week. In the foreground, Hamida, 44 years old, is married and works to ensure that the children of her late brother have a decent life.”

Hidden Hope

“Soad takes cover under her scarf. The village beauties are on a constant journey that will not end until their lives come to a close. They have nothing but patience to ease their aches and pains. As she said, ‘I want to rest before I die.’ But then she remembered that she still has a daughter to be married and to furnish her house.”

This beautiful and important photo essay was published on Panorama, a platform for showcasing the best photojournalistic coverage of under-reported corners of Egypt and issues of interest to the greater Arab world.

The photograher, talented Heba Khamis, is now at a great crossroad in her life – and she needs a little help. She got a half scholarship from The Danish School for Media and Journalism in Denmark to study photojournalism where they will offer her a fee waiver but without any stipend.

She now started an IndieGoGo campaign to raise money  which would help her accept the photojournalism grant, develop her skills and – give us many more great stories like The Women of the Village. If you can, please help her and share her story – even if you donate only a couple of dolars – it’s important!

I hope to hear and see much more of her work in the future.

//all photos © Heba Khamis//

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Algeria, art of resistance

Remembering Assia Djebar: I Write Against Erasure.

Assia Djebar was the pen name of Fatima-Zohra Imalayen, an Algerian novelist, poet, translator and filmmaker. She died a month ago, at the age of seventy-eight.

Assia_Djebar/Assia Djebar, photo via Seven Stories/

Djebar is considered to be one of North Africa’s pre-eminent and most influential writers. She was elected to the Académie Française in 2005, the first writer from the Maghreb to achieve such recognition. Djebar moved to France to study when she was eighteen. She became the first Algerian woman to be admitted to the country’s top literary university, the Ecole Normale Superieure. Her first book was published in 1957, when she was just twenty-one.

Djebar was often criticized for writing in French, the language of the colonizers, particularly after the independence of Algeria. Still, there are those who feel that was a form of testimony that cannot be ignored, a form of writing that cannot be bypassed with explanations like ‘we don’t understand it‘ or ‘it’s not available’. It was out there, available for colonizers to read. And the fact stays – French was Djebar’s language more than Arabic was, she felt comfortable expressing herself in French.

So yes, she did write in French, but in her works she pays respect to her Berber roots and writes about her homeland writhed in pain. Djebar’s political stance is anti-patriarchal as much as it is anti-colonial; she wrote extensively about the issues women face in Algeria (and outside Algeria), and it made her an ideal poster face for the Western feminists. But Djebar didn’t always play by their rules, and she tried to dig deeper in her criticism. By deeper I mean to talk about more than looks, to talk about more than burkas -which is usually the longest range of Western feminism in relation to the women’s issues in North Africa and the Middle East – like Arundhati Roy writes; “The battles, as usual, have been played out on women’s bodies, extruding Botox at one end and burkas at the other. (And then there are those who suffer the double whammy, Botox and the burka.)”

I believe Djebar managed to offer more than those botox-burkas debates. She did not perceive the oppression of women as inherent to the Muslim faith but rather as a social distortion of power, and she tried to illustrate that in her writings. She exposed the hypocrisy of the patriarchal elite and the brutality of colonialism, bound together in vicious circles.

The theme present in most of her novels is memory. As she writes in Fantasia:

Memory purges and purifies the sounds of childhood; we are cocooned by childhood until the discovery of sensuality, which washes over us and gradually bedazzles us … Voiceless, cut off from my mother’s words by some trick of memory, I managed to pass through the dark waters of the corridor, miraculously inviolate, not even guessing at the enclosing walls. The shock of the first words blurted out: the truth emerging from a break in my stammering voice. From what nocturnal reef of pleasure did I manage to wrest this truth?

I blew the space within me to pieces, a space filled with desperate voiceless cries, frozen long ago in a prehistory of love. Once I had discovered the meaning of the words – those same words that are revealed to the unveiled body – I cut myself adrift. I set off at dawn, with my little girl’s hand in mine.”

Memory is important – important for writing, important for life – memory makes up life. In a 2010 interview, she stated she writes against erasure:

“Because a sudden fear seized me of seeing this shard of life, this moment of real life – with its grace, or the hollow of despair in an anonymous story, yes, sometimes fear grips me that these fragile moments of life will fade away. It seems that I write against erasure. Most often, in this flow of a past life, of desperate or brilliant experience, illuminating, a spark, shy at first, then hardened obstinacy makes me say: ‘this must be fixed, this should not plunge into the night, into oblivion or colorless indifference!’

She will be remembered.

• • •

Previous Remembering… sessions:

Remembering Howard Zinn: To Be Hopeful in Bad Times

Remembering Pablo Neruda: Pablo Neruda, Presente!

Remembering Nadia Anjuman: One Day, My Hands Will Become Weavers

Remembering Meena Kamal: Hope is The Thing With Feathers

and more.

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Afghanistan, art of resistance

Remembering Nadia Anjuman: One Day, My Hands Will Become Weavers.

Nadia Anjuman was an Afghan poet (born in 1980, died in 2005). She was born in Herat, a city captured by the Taliban in 1995. With no hope for continuing her education at that time, Anjuman rallied with other local women and began attending an underground educational circle called the Golden Needle Sewing School, organized by Herat University professor Muhammad Ali Rahyab in 1996.

Members would gather three times a week under the guise of learning how to sew (a practice approved by the Taliban government), while in actuality the meetings enabled them to hear lectures from Herat University professors and lead discussions on literature.

nadia anjuman/Nadia Anjuman, image via Phyllis MacLaren/

My first thought when learning about the Sewing Circle of Herat was very predictable – it reminded me of Dead Poets Society. The notion that they had to meet in secret to discuss literature and write poetry was terrifying and enchanting at the same time. Terrifying was the fact that they had to do it with such great risks, enchanting was that they did it in spite of that.

In 2001, the doors of the girl’s schools were opened once again. Anjuman was admitted to the Literature Department of Herat University, and couple of years later, when she died, her brother recalled how that was the happiest time in Nadia’s life – “she seemed as though she’d been handed the whole world”. Her parents were supportive and respectful of her talent and she was adored by her brothers and sisters. Her writing blossomed and she published her first book of poetry, Dark Flower, four years later (2005).

Rich

One day my thoughts, instead of a chill

will bring fireworks

One day my eyes will be wide open

such that

in seeing the shrunken leaves of the ocean, they continue flowing

One day my hands will become weavers

and upon life’s wasteland of a body

spin a gown with wheat and flowers

One day a lullaby

will bring sleep to the weary eyes of homeless children

One day I will sing praise

to the spirit of fire

with soothing songs of rain

On that day

I will write a rich and exalting poem

with the sweetness of a tree’s fruit and the beauty of the moon

(written in summer of 2001, translated from Dari by Diana Arterian & Marina Omar)

Unfortunately, Anjuman found herself in an unhappy marriage. Her husband, Farid Ahmad Majid Neia, graduated from Herat University with a degree in literature and became the head of the library there. Although he was a literature graduate, many of Anjuman’s friends and relatives claim Neia was not supportive of her writing.  One night, in November of 2005, Anjuman and Neia had a fight. That night Neia beat Anjuman until she was unconscious, causing severe bruising and a cut to her head. It was reported that she died as a result of injuries to her head.

Anjuman’s brother describes the night she died:

“It was the bitterest news we had ever received. No one could believe it. That night was a hundred times darker than other nights. The moon had been veiled and Nadia’s life had been extinguished!”

He continues to say:

“Nadia was buried amidst an aura of tragedy; the light rain fell like tears in the cemetery in north-east Herat. In the days that followed tributes appeared in all publications. Nadia’s poetry, talent, character and personality were praised. Interviews appeared in the media, round table discussions and scholarly dissections of her tragic fate. Many people still come to our house to bless Nadia, but to what end? Nadia has left this horrible world forever.”

Anjuman’s husband Neia was imprisoned after her death, but the tribal elders in Herat began to lean on Anjuman’s ailing father, asking that he forgive Neia for her death in order to shorten his prison sentence. With the promise that Neia would remain in prison for five years, Anjuman’s father relented. Her death was officially deemed a suicide by the Afghan courts, and Neia was released just one month later. Her father died shortly after from the shock, according to Anjuman’s brother.

The Complete Poems of Nadja Anjuman were published by Iran Open Publishing Group in 2014. There are couple of English translations of  Anjuman’s poems available online. She is now one of the dead poets, but the eternal pit of time will not be able to turn her greatness into the darkness of oblivion, I am sure of that.

Eternal Pit (translated from Dari by Diana Arterian & Marina Omar)

Once she was filled with the familiar

Her hands planted the rootless sprig

with intuition—

so it would grow

 

Once, in the bright spring of her mind

ran many great thoughts

 

Once, at times

her hand tamed the trees

 

Once even her guts were obedient

perhaps they feared her power

But today

her hands are wasted and idle

her eyes burnt sockets

her bright thoughts are buried in a swamp

fading

 

She distrusts even her feet

They defy her

taking her where she doesn’t want to go

 

She sits in a corner of quiet

lost in a sea of darkness

emptied of the thought of time

That

eternal pit

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Afghanistan, art of resistance

Remembering Meena Kamal: Hope Is The Thing With Feathers.

Hope is the thing with feathers, Emily Dickinson wrote a long time ago.  Where does it fly nowadays, does it keep its eyes on Afghanistan? Last night I read poems by Meena Keshwar Kamal (commonly known as Meena). I wanted to type something about Meena right away, but then decided it would be better to do it in the morning, to let her poems stay with me for a while, in the stillness of the night.

Meena was an Afghan revolutionary political activist, feminist and founder of Revolutionary Association of the Women of Afghanistan (RAWA). She was only 20 when, in 1977, she launched RAWA, Afghanistan’s first organized movement for women’s rights. Four years later, Meena launched a bilingual feminist magazine called Payam-e-Zan (Women’s Message).

Meena_founder_of_RAWA_speaking_in_1982/Meena speaking in 1982, photo via RAWA/

In the beginnings with RAWA, Meena started a campaign against the Russian forces and their puppet regime in 1979 and organized numerous processions and meetings in schools, colleges and Kabul University to mobilize public opinion. Payam-e-Zan has constantly exposed the criminal nature of fundamentalist groups. Meena also established Watan Schools for refugee children, a hospital and handicraft centers for refugee women in Pakistan to support Afghan women financially.

Sadly, when she was only 31, Meena was assassinated by agents of KHAD (Afghanistan branch of KGB) in Pakistan in 1987. She was married to Afghanistan Liberation Organization leader Faiz Ahmad, who himself was assassinated a year earlier, by the agents of Gulbuddin Hekmatyar in 1986. They have three children, whose whereabouts are unknown.

meenaaaa/photo from the book Meena, Heroine of Afghanistan/

In a biography about Meena, published on the RAWA website following her death, the organization said:

 “Meena gave 12 years of her short but brilliant life to struggle for her homeland and her people. She had a strong belief that despite the darkness of illiteracy, ignorance of fundamentalism, and corruption and decadence of sell outs imposed on our women under the name of freedom and equality, finally that half of population will be awaken and cross the path towards freedom, democracy and women’s rights. The enemy was rightly shivering with fear by the love and respect that Meena was creating within the hearts of our people. They knew that within the fire of her fights all the enemies of freedom, democracy and women would be turned to ashes.”

poster2/RAWA’s poster for Meena/

In her poem I’ll Never Return, Meena writes:

I’m the woman who has awoken

I’ve arisen and become a tempest through the ashes of my burnt children

I’ve arisen from the rivulets of my brother’s blood

My nation’s wrath has empowered me

My ruined and burnt villages fill me with hatred against the enemy,

I’m the woman who has awoken,

I’ve found my path and will never return.

I’ve opened closed doors of ignorance

I’ve said farewell to all golden bracelets

Oh compatriot, I’m not what I was

I’m the woman who has awoken

I’ve found my path and will never return.

rawa2

/photo from the book Meena, Heroine of Afghanistan/

I’ve seen barefoot, wandering and homeless children

I’ve seen henna-handed brides with mourning clothes

I’ve seen giant walls of the prisons swallow freedom in their ravenous stomach

I’ve been reborn amidst epics of resistance and courage

I’ve learned the song of freedom in the last breaths, in the waves of blood and in victory

Oh compatriot, Oh brother, no longer regard me as weak and incapable

With all my strength I’m with you on the path of my land’s liberation.

My voice has mingled with thousands of arisen women

My fists are clenched with the fists of thousands compatriots

Along with you I’ve stepped up to the path of my nation,

To break all these sufferings all these fetters of slavery,

Oh compatriot, Oh brother, I’m not what I was

I’m the woman who has awoken

I’ve found my path and will never return.

Meena represented the struggle Middle East needs the most – the liberation from within. Not some Western forces coming to “liberate” or to “establish a democracy”, but a true change that can never be achieved by imposing it from the outside. She spoke about the history of Afghan women’s struggle for social recognition and equal rights in connection to the history of the country’s physical and cultural devastation (by different invasions and wars). She connected the two, which is what Western mainstream media so often fails to do.

Her organization, RAWA, continued with work after Meena was assassinated, and is still very active today:

RAWA believes that freedom and democracy can’t be donated; it is the duty of the people of a country to fight and achieve these values. Under the US-supported government, the sworn enemies of human rights, democracy and secularism have gripped their claws over our country and attempt to restore their religious fascism on our people.”

meena22/photo from the book Meena, Heroine of Afghanistan/

Women from RAWA are doing great things and helping many people. In that sense, all those images we see of helpless and abused Afghan women in the Western media, obuscure the great role Afghan women play as agents of change in Afghanistan, and have been playing for the last couple of decades. It’s not just RAWA and Meena. One of the things that first comes to my mind is the story of the village widowed women built on a hill overlooking Kabul. Or the story of women’s bakery in a small village in rural Afghanistan. Or the story of Shamsia Hassani, Afghanistan’s first female street artist. Or the story of Setara, singer who appeared on the Afghan Star, sang with great emotion, and included dance in her final performance, an action that put her life in danger. Or the story of Sadaf Rahimi, first female boxer in Afghan national team, who was invited to London Olympics in 2012 (at the age of 17).

There’s many stories like this, and there will be many more, because the women of Afghanistan are not just oppressed, abused and broken, but powerful, brave and active. Like Meena was. Hope, that thing with feathers Dickinson wrote about, still keeps so many warm, and never stops – at all.

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art of resistance, Syria

The Feminism of Nizar Qabbani.

My newest article, The Feminism of Nizar Qabbani, is up on Muftah.

“Nizar Qabbani is one of the most famous Arab poets of the 20th century. From his direct, erotic poetry, addiction to women, and impulsive and passionate verses, to his constant criticism of Arab leaders and powerful calls for justice, sixteen years after his death, Qabbani remains an indispensable voice throughout the Arab world.”

show_942fa5a8-1879-4078-9c9f-8e2f5a190c9dNizar Qabbani /photo via Antika/

“Qabbani adressed many gender-related taboos, from the frustration of a woman whose husband will not satisfy her sexual needs, to the anguish of a pregnant mistress thrown out on the street by her lover for refusing to get an abortion. Out of his enormous love for the Arab world, Qabbani criticized what was wrong with the region, in the hope that progress and change for the better would come.”

It’s always inspiring to read and write about Qabbani. You can read the full article on Muftah.

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