Director’s Update: January 2017

We stayed warm in January by keeping busy!

This month we launched our Gender in Development and Humanitarian Assistance (GDHA) Diploma with the first two courses: Fundamentals of Gender Equality and Gender and Development.

We’ve got 20 students from a wide range of backgrounds, ranging from professionals to students and stellar trainer Aimee Ghanem, who brings extensive field experience working as a consultant for UNICEF, UNDP, UNFPA, and Mercy Corps. This awesome diploma program is geared toward those who are interested in practical skills to address gender issues in development and humanitarian contexts. The full cycle of GDHA courses will continue until July, but you don’t have to take the full diploma! Individual courses - Gender Mainstreaming and Gender in Emergencies - are open for registration, and will begin in February. And, for more information, you can always email us!

In January, we also welcomed our new gender studies faculty member, Connie Caroe Christiansen. Dr. Christiansen is a gender expert, an accomplished academic, and a seasoned practitioner. Her experience includes conducting research, teaching and managing a programme on gender issues in the Middle East. She was an Associate Professor in International Development Studies at Roskilde University, and has published research from Denmark, Turkey, Morocco and Yemen on gender, migration and Islam, before she became a Senior Advisor at the Danish Centre for Gender, Equality and Diversity where she managed the academic programmes. Dr. Christiansen also managed a collaborative project, which established a Master Programme in International Development and Gender at San’aa University, Yemen, currently running with several batches of students. She has her MA in Cultural Sociology and Ph.D in Anthropology from Copenhagen University, Denmark.

I traveled to Morocco this month to attend the 7th Euro-Mediterranean Seminar of RUSEMEG (Euro-Mediterranean University and Scientific Network on Gender and Women) for a discussion on “Making bodies and producing gender inequalities”. I talked about “The politicization and polarization of the body: Determining priorities in addressing gender-based violence in contexts of conflict”. What this long title means in practice is this: we know that gender-based violence (GBV) is a critical human rights issue – possibly the most important human rights challenge of our time. And, we also know that one in every three women worldwide has experienced some form of GBV. Think about that for a second: one in three! The problem exists everywhere, cutting across all barriers and prevalent in many forms – sexual, physical, emotional and economic. And yet in most countries around the world, sexual harassment, marital rape, and being coerced into sex are not viewed as violence. In this region, women’s bodies are politicized, often carrying the weight of culture, tradition, and nation. So, how do we address – and END – this scourge when simply talking about women’s bodies is challenging?!

The highlight of our month was an event honoring IWSAW’s founder and first director – Julinda Abu Nasr. We at IWSAW believe that it is critical to thank – and celebrate! – our founding foremothers, and Dr. Abu Nasr is both a remarkable leader and a force of nature! She established the Institute in 1973, and served as director for 24 years. As we all know, IWSAW was the first of its kind in the Arab region – and also among the first in the world! And 43 years later, the Institute is stronger than ever in its commitment to equality and empowerment, thanks to Dr. Abu Nasr. So we gathered at the LAU library in Beirut to honor our very own Raida, our pioneer who built the movement before us - and FOR us - and on whose shoulders we now stand. In fact, I had heard of Dr. Abu Nasr’s work long before I ever imagined I would be trying to fill her fabulous shoes! The event was filled with warmth, humor, anecdotes and accolades.

The big surprise was that IWSAW had been collaborating with the LAU libraries to ensure that the resources on women and gender that Dr. Abu Nasr first built would be preserved. We wanted to immortalize her contributions, to ensure that every generation that comes after us will know her name - and what she has done for the Institute, for LAU, and for the women’s movement. And so we inaugurated the NEW Julinda Abu Nasr Women and Gender Collection! We felt that this was the best way to honor an extraordinary woman who valued education and equality above all else! If you’re in Beirut, please visit the collection, and celebrate our founding foremother!

In light of the upcoming parliamentary elections scheduled to take place in May 2017, the National Commission for Lebanese Women (NCLW) hosted a series of participatory meetings from July until December 2016. These meetings resulted in the adoption of a unified paper signed by more than 150 Lebanese NGOs, whose main objective is to mobilize NGOs and the civil society on the adoption of a unified stance to increase women’s political participation. A press conference was held this month to solidify the coalition’s demands for political reform, namely introducing a 30% gender quota to increase women’s political participation. Attendees included Jean Ogasapian, new Minister of Women’s Affairs, in addition to decision makers, lawyers, reports, journalists, and NGOs. The Institute is going to be engaged in this process – watch this space!

As you’ve probably all seen, this month has been an extraordinary one in the fight for equality, human rights, and social justice! On 21 January, we witnessed the Women’s March on Washington – the largest political protest in recent US history! And it wasn’t just in Washington! Marches took place all over the US, and the world. And it won’t end here - our work is just beginning! This is a global movement that demands the rights to which we are ALL entitled – justice, dignity, and equality without exception. Get to know the Women’s March, what they stand for, and why we should all be involved! It is our collective responsibility to take action through these powerful – and peaceful - social movements to bring about the change we want to see in the world.

March on!