Director’s Update: March 2017

March is our favorite month! We celebrate women’s achievements and reaffirm our commitments to equality throughout this month, and in particular on 8 March – International Women’s Day. Check out my update last year if you’ve forgotten why we have International Women’s Day in the first place!

LAU was very active this year! The Human Rights Club organized “We Can Do It”, an on-campus event to talk about women’s rights and get students excited about equality! The People’s Society Club organized a discussion on “Defending Equality” where I spoke about inequalities for women around the world. The event started with a video of LAU students’ perspectives on feminism and equalities, asking students if they thought women should have the right to give their nationalities to their children, and asking if students can name famous women scientists – other than Marie Curie!

We joined ESCWA again to celebrate International Women’s Day with a range of participants including the keynote address by recently-appointed Lebanese State Minister for Women’s Affairs  Jean Ogassapian and an excerpt from Raida Taha’s powerful play “Where Can I Find Someone Like You Ali?” by LAU’s own Lina Abyad, that tells the story of a Palestinian family from the perspective of Ali Taha’s sister, Suheila. It is a celebration of the strength of Arab women!  

We also heard a strong speech by then-ESCWA Executive Secretary Rima Khalaf, who has since resigned after the agency was forced to retract a report stating that Israel is an “apartheid regime”. Her resignation letter is a must-read for those committed to equality, human rights, and social justice. Rima Khalaf reminds us all that “discrimination against any human being on the basis of religion or skin color or gender or ethnicity is absolutely unacceptable, and cannot be made acceptable by political maneuvering or brute force” and that “to speak truth to power is not only a human right, it is our obligation”.

To embrace this year’s theme, #BeBoldForChange, IWSAW launched an art competition asking youth to submit their artwork depicting what it means to be a female pioneer. Our main event – in collaboration with activists, student clubs and NGOs – began with a panel discussion led by students along with Dr. Dima Dabbous, LAU faculty member and former IWSAW director, who addressed the topic of gender and language. Students spoke powerfully and bravely about their experiences – including one student who read a letter to her sexual harasser. We continued to be inspired by their courage! The discussion was then followed by a “living library”, an interactive session where participants rotate around the room and engage in discussions on specific topics such as language and pop culture, mental health and language, the meaning of the word feminist, and more. At the closing of the event, we announced our art competition winners and asked the inspiring artists to share the messages behind their creations. The winners will feature on upcoming covers of Al-Raidastay tuned!

Also this month, I published another article in the online news source The Conversation on What’s holding Arab women back from achieving equality? The article raised critical issues such as ongoing conflict and insecurity, increased gender-based violence, economic disempowerment, low political participation, and restrictive family laws. In short, we have a LOT of work to do. We know that no country in the world has achieved full gender equality, but the 2016 Global Gender Gap Report ranks the Arab region lowest in the world!

IWSAW was honored to host members of LAU’s Board of Trustees for a breakfast briefing on the Institute. We presented the Institute’s work, strategic vision and future direction, in line with our five-year plan. Board members were delighted with our animated song on gender equality ‘In My Hand’  and ‘Covering up’, the winning video from our competition, by LAU’s own Kourken Papazian.

And - we celebrated a special gift from one of our pioneers and advocates, Dr. Sonia Konialian Aller, an LAU graduate and a student of Dr. Julinda Abu Nasser, IWSAW’s founder and former director.  Dr. Konialian Aller and her husband, Dr. Wayne Aller, expressed their support for IWSAW’s work by establishing the first-ever scholarship endowment fund within the Institute: the Assadour and Elize Konialian and Zabelle Bezdikian Memorial Endowment Scholarship Fund. The fund will provide, in perpetuity, an annual scholarship award to be granted to an outstanding student to pursue a Masters in Interdisciplinary Gender Studies. Dr. Konialian Aller is a distinguished leader and remarkable woman in her own right – and this gift has enabled the creation of another future woman leader! We thank the Allers for this remarkable gift, and for paving the way for LAU students to change the world!

To fulfil our own commitment to changing the world, we joined 2600 women’s rights activists, students, feminist NGOs, domestic workers, Lebanese and expats of all ages and backgrounds, to march in solidarity with women’s struggles everywhere under the slogan “Different Causes One Struggle”.

Laying the foundation for gender equality and human rights cannot be restricted to one day of the year. We must acknowledge our achievements but recommit to the challenges we have ahead.  We’ll continue to conjure up events to keep you informed and inspired - and we welcome your energy and innovative ideas!

Together we must resist – and persist!