Wonder Women

As a female, growing up in Saudi has had a huge impact on my lifestyle, perceptions and way of thinking. Although I am not originally from Saudi, living there my whole life has affected me enormously in different aspects of my life such as the way I speak and dress up. Moreover, as the Middle Eastern countries are more or less conservative, people and especially women are raised based on traditions and culture rather than religion.

In Islam, women are given the right to speak up for what they feel and want. They are authorized to have a print in society and to influence others in a good way. However, because of the conservative guidelines most Arab countries follow, women have limited opportunities to express themselves or to be part of their communities.

Today, despite that, influential women are contributing to their societies by developing initiatives that would encourage other women to speak up for their rights. Moreover, the artist that influenced me to come up with this idea is Laila Al-Shawa; her art pieces speak up for who she is and what she believes in as a woman. She believes in women empowerment and the opportunity that needs to be given to each woman to express herself freely. Therefore, the reason I chose to go with the proverb “see no evil, hear no evil, speak no evil” as my main inspiration which incorporates women, peace and Islam is because women in my culture are obliged to act within a framework set by their societies.

My Inspiration

I have always had a specific perspective on the way I see and think of things. But ever since I came to university, my perception of things changed significantly and I started to see things in a different way. Meeting new people made me a better and more understanding person. I now appreciate diversity and different backgrounds. Women shouldn’t be judged as per the stereotypes and double standards. At the end of the day, we are all human and what we stand for as individuals is what really counts. I chose to portray women in black and white because they are at the two ends of the spectrum which I believe is a reflection of reality. In our societies, women want to say and do certain things but do not because they simply cannot. The peace symbol originated as a logo based on an individual in despair. I incorporated it in a simple and straightforward manner because it echoes both frustration and a sense of optimism.

Crazy World!

I read in a post on Facebook about “a dog who got a new chance at life”. How many human beings would like to be that dog and get a new chance at life?

Statistics, studies, numbers, researches, all come together to classify what and how to give a new chance to the person who gathers all courage and walks down the corridors of health away from depression, obsession and addiction. Professionals sit behind their well manicured masks to dissect the life, the emotions, the drive behind every movement and thought of their patient. Humanity is lost somewhere between the helper and the one seeking help. And most of the time, these protective walls become the prison where the human being drowns in the darkness that seems to grow more and more with every passing day.

We have forgotten the stories of courage and determination. We can read books on psychology and therapy and hide away the wisdom of ages told and retold to make sense of the human condition. In the old stories, those who endure and struggle are the ones to be crowned with the feathers of victory; those who dance with the ugly, the unknown, the deprived are the ones whose riches are bestowed upon; those who follow the call of their heart and brave the dragons are the ones deemed to rule the kingdoms. But in today’s stories, these are the ones who must be drugged so they are rendered insensible; these are the ones who must be put in an asylum because they are so passionate that they forget to feed and care for themselves; these are the ones to be a ‘mascarade’ because they do not follow the rules of the sane society.

Welcome to the crazy world, once hailed as the world of the brave, the strong and the wise.

Something went completely ballistic in this picture… When will we give our brother and sister their chance at life again? When will we offer our humanity instead of our numbers to meet the one that exists in the other with open heart? When will we allow ourselves to be touched by the seekers of truth and the lovers of life?


Many women have been exposed to cruel mistreatment from family members and partners in life.

Women who are exposed to domestic violence often experience physical, mental or spiritual traumas that can be worsen if they are not addressed. Furthermore it is common for women in an abusive relationship not to recall many aspects of their personalities before being abused, especially if they have been exposed to violence for an extended period of time. Also domestic violence can have a serious impact on the way a person thinks and interacts with the world as domestic violence affects one’s thoughts, feelings and behaviors and can significantly impact one’s mental stability, increased anxiety, post-traumatic stress disorder and depression symptoms.

Recovery from exposure to domestic violence is possible, and although it requires addressing painful realities, it also entails discovering new inner strengths, a process that needs time, space and safety to begin. However, it is quite known that victims of domestic violence do not always report the incident fearing their partner’s reaction, or fearing their reputation be compromised. In other cases, victims do not believe that the government will help, although there are many National Councils for Women and non-governmental organizations that specialize in dealing with violence against women, and can provide victims with the support they need. About 35 percent of women worldwide have faced physical violence from their partners or family members. No woman should ever go through this pain!

I chose to create a two dimensional painting that represents this major issue.

About the colors I used:

Colors include red, blue and green, and are used to express feelings, a mix of warm and cool colors. For example, different shades of browns were used on the eyes to create a warm, dark and mysterious feel to them. The red and green above the eyes symbolize rage and envy while colors such as Ultramarine blue and other shades of blue such as Turquoise were used to create a cool effect under the eyes as a symbol of bruising and pain. Furthermore purple was used to create some consistency as purple is considered warm. Finally the butterfly is a  vital part of the painting. I chose it as it’s a beautiful creature with wings and wings symbolizes freedom; I placed it on the mouth to symbolize suffocation as speech is the only solution women can use to be freed of domestic abuse.

Biography :
My name is Malak El Gohary, I’m currently an international relation student at American university of Dubai. I was born and raised in Egypt and moved to Dubai when I was seven. Living in Dubai has helped me accept diversity and people coming from different backgrounds.

Nazret Mogtama3 نظرة مجتمع

I’m a 20 year old Muslim Egyptian girl who was born and raised in Dubai. However, I visit my home country every year (…). In my family, I’m the only girl who is not wearing a Hijab and I get judged for that – ‘a girl who doesn’t fulfill her religious duties’. It used to affect me before, but [their] words don’t really define me! They don’t define the way I was raised knowing my religion, and they don’t define my relationship with Allah.

This artwork displays the image of a non-Hijabi girl who is surrounded by many books however she chose to read the Qur’an. (…) I was inspired by the style of photography and writings of the Egyptian novelist, Ahmed Mourad.


Title: Nazret Mogtama3 (Society’s look)
Dimensions: 210 x 297 mm
Media: Photography

لا تفعلي هذا

لا تفعلي هذا فالرجال لا يحبون المرآة…القوية

لا تفعلي هذا فالرجال لا يحبونا المرآة…الذكية

لا تفعلي هذا فالرجال لا يحبون االمرآة…المتحررة

لا تفعلي هذا فالرجال لا يحبون االمرآة…المفكرة

لا تفعلي هذا فالرجال لا يحبونا المرآة…الرومانسية

لا تفعلي هذا فالرجال لا يحبونا المرآة…الحالمة

لا تفعلي هذا فالرجال لا يحبون االمرآة…المتكلمة.

اذا سألت معظم الفتيات عن أكثر خمسة أشياء لا يحبها الرجل فاغلبيتهم سيذكرونها لك. أما اذا سألتهم ما هي أشهر خمسة كتاب في العالم فقليل منهم سيعرف. أنا لا ألومهم و لكنني أعتب على نسبة كبيرة من من رباهم.

في مجتمعنا الشرقي بعد بلوغ الفتاة تبدأ عملية غسيل المخ  والبرمجة الذاتية من أجل “أهم يوم” يوم الزواج. يثير حزني كيف تم اختصار جميع الأيام المهمة الأخرى كيوم التخرج، أول يوم في العمل أو حتى يوم الفوز بمدالية في السباحة أو التنس الى يوم واحد وهو يوم الزفاف.

تبدأ البرمجة منذ نعومة أظفارها ودعوات مثل “ نفسى تكبري و أشوفك عروسة” و “ الله يبعت لكِ ابن الحلال” لماذا لا نستبدلها بأن نتمنى أن نراكِ أستاذة أو دكتورة؟

ثم تكبر الفتاة لنعلمها أنه لا يمكن لفتاة أن تفعل هذا وذلك لأن الرجال لا يحبون هذا.

تتشكل حياة الفتاة في حدود ما يحب وما يكره العريس المنتظر.

“لا تلعبي الكرة الرجال لا يحبون المرآة المسترجلة” و كان كل فتاة تلعب الكرة مسترجلة.

“لا تظهري قوتك، تظاهري بالغباء” الرجل لا يحب الفتاة القوية.

“لا تتحدثى عن إنجازاتك أو نجاحاتك” الرجال يخشون المرآة الناجحة والذكية.

ومزيد من أوامر النهى وبعد هذا الكم الهائل من البرمجة المبكرة نتفاجأ بارتفاع معدلات الطلاق، ونجد أمامنا نساء ضعيفات، متخلفات، يتم استغلالهن بسهولة، يائسات. عاجزات عن إسعاد آنفسهن، يعيشن من أجل أرضاء المجتمع.

هنا من يجلد المراة ليس المجتمع بل امراة أخرى :الأم، الأم التي قبلت الوضع عوضا عن أن تثور وتغيره، أصبحت هي من يحافظ علي بقائه عن طريق زرعه فى عقول الفتيات الصغيرة. وهكذا عقليات لا تساعد فى تطوير أو إصلاح المجتمع. هى فقط تزيد لنا النسل ككمية و ليس كنوعية.

لماذا نبرمج الفتاة بأن أهم ما في الحياة رجل؟ أنا لست ضد الزواج و لكن هناك أشياء أخرى لا تقل أهمية عن الزواج. أصبح لدينا جيل كامل يخاف “الفوز” بلقب عانس. جيل كامل من النساء برغم نجاحتهن و وصولهن الى مناصب رفيعة المستوى لا يمكنها أن تدرج اسمها ضمن لوائح النساء الناجحات بسبب عدم وجود خاتم في اليد اليسرى.

كل هذا الضغط يؤدى إلى الفشل المؤكد. يجبر المرآة على الأستعجال فى أختيار الشريك، و مع الاختيار الخاطئ يكون الطلاق أول الطرق الى الخلاص. أو بقاء المرآة فى قفص الزواج بلا روح، بلا شهية، فقط من أجل تربية الأطفال وإعادة و تكرار كل ما تربت عليه و هكذا نعيش فى دائرة مغلقة لا يمكن أن يكسرها أو يفكها أحد غير المرآة.

على المرآة أن تعلم بأن من سوف يحررها ليس فريد شوقي أو سوبر مان بل ذاتها. لكل أم تقرا هذه السطور، لكل فتاة تعيش فقط لارضاء المجتمع و تضحى بما لديها من طموح، لكل فتاة على وشك الزواج فقط من أجل فكرة الزواج. فكري، تحرري من الأفكار العقيمة، لن يساعدك أحد غير نفسك، فلنضع لهذه المهاترات حداً لانه لا يدفع ثمن هذا العذاب والضغط الا امرآة أخرى. ساعدي فى إيقاف هذا الوباء و لا تكوني سبباً فى عدوى أحد.

مرأةٌ جوهر كتاب


أنا كتابٌ لا تحدّه الصفحاتُ،

أمامي مدافعٌ تودّ بطلقاتها

وضعَ فواصلٍ

تفصلني عن معادي.


أمامي أيسٌ

يضع في صُلبيَ حركاتٍ

تحرّك أحشائي لتقيّدها،

فتخضّها أرجائي

وتبصقها أمعائي.


تحتي ثلوجٌ

تريدني مستريحةً خامدة

تتلفّقني وتمحي دهوري

فلا ينبت عشبٌ

ولا تمطر الدوالي.


على مياه ملاعبي بجعٌ أسود

ضاق ذرعاً بالألوان،

وحده لا يفهمني.


ريثما من يفهم ينساني

فأعربدُ مع أشلاء الأرض،

أتجدّد في اللامتناهي

وليس في المطلق




كتابٌ أنا،

يشرد فيه

من لا يتبارك ولا ينادي.


من خلفي لبنانُ

ووطنٌ عربيٌ

لا وطن فيه

ولا مكان لمن يبالي.

Are We Dead Yet?

The puss oozes from many places in a body ravaged by a cancer inherited down generation after generation. The smell lingers in the air of rotten tomatoes, half emptied bottles of shampoo, a leftover kebbe. The flies feast on gangrene, it celebrates with a nightmarish buzzing the filth that covers a society deadened to its own illness. The rats eat away with no restraint, the lost beauty of a ripped signé shirt or the exquisite taste of a white wedding cake. Rats populating corners and alleys occupied by ghosts, unaware of their doomed existence. Minarets and bells call to awaken, knock on the door of consciences tucked away neatly in closets of righteousness. A gong sound, emptied of its many vibrations, barely moving the muck so thickly resting on the waters of rivers and sea.

Shouts of youth walk out in the streets like mirages of laughable acts. Hope is squashed as soon as it peaks its head from under the thorns. Flowers are trashed as soon as their fragrance invites to be alive. Fingers are broken as soon as they learn the ecstasy of molding a new future.

But I have seen trees sprout when all the fields have been cut low, moss and grass pop out of stones, butterflies roam desolate lands and one crow croaking laughingly at all the emptiness of a valley of death.

From the ashes of desolation, we emerge to heed the call of our lost ravaged body. We refuse the bandages of empty promises, pouring our compassionate hearts into every wound. Against the tip of knives that has disfigured our souls and dismembered our thoughts, we flow like an unstoppable river of love that heals us and them. We dance, we sing, we write poetry on top of houses and in the darkest recluses of brothels, until light shines again from our pure hearts, our searing tears, our unwavering will to exist and be.

Let's Talk about Female Circumcision and Islam!

Combating female circumcision (FC), also known as female genital mutilation (FGM) or cutting, is a shared goal amongst human rights activists and feminists. The exact reason behind FGM’s emergence is unknown, but there is proof that it began long before the rise of Islam. Historians believe it was first developed in ancient Egypt for ritualistic and medical reasons.

Even though FGM has been practiced for thousands of years, it has only been scrutinized by society in the last 25 years or so. The growing concern for the subject stems from the fact that FGM is currently being practiced in many areas with a predominantly Muslim population, mainly in countries across Asia and Africa.

The World Health Organization has separated the female circumcision procedure into three categories. Type 1 circumcision is the removal of the clitoral prepuce, which is very similar to the prepuce of a penis, which is removed during male circumcision. This is the most basic procedure of female circumcision. The other procedures, types 2 and 3, involve the extraction of the labia minora, labia majora, and clitoris. Type 1 circumcision aligns the best with the teachings of Islam in that it brings the least harm; however, all types are currently being debated upon by Muslim scholars.

Female genital mutilation is typically done by traditional circumcisers, who often play other central roles in communities, such as attending childbirths. Sometimes health care providers perform FGM due to the incorrect belief that the procedure is safer when done by a medical professional.

FGM is internationally recognized as a violation of the human rights of girls and women. It represents inequality between males and females, and is an extreme form of discrimination against women. It is almost always performed on minors and is considered a violation to the rights of children. The practice also violates a person’s rights to health, security and physical integrity, the right to be free from torture as well as inhumane, cruel or degrading treatment, and the right to life if the procedure results in death.

Some Muslim scholars from these areas feel like the efforts of various human rights organizations and activists are an attack on what they consider to be an Islamic tradition. Many of these scholars have issued fatwas, also known as religious laws or rulings created by a Muslim scholar’s interpretation of religious sources such as the Quran, supporting FGM as an Islamic tradition. However, other Muslim scholars completely disagree with this practice and believe that it should be prohibited.

Similarly in the non-scholar Muslim population, some believe that female circumcision is not allowed according to Islam, while others believe it is required. It is difficult to say whether or not FC has a place in Islam because there is not enough evidence supporting either position.

The topic of FGM is controversial in the Muslim society because there are hadiths, also known as teachings of the Prophet Mohammed, which support female circumcision. However, the hadiths can be considered weak by some; in other words, they cannot be used to create an Islamic ruling because the legitimacy of the sayings are questionable. In terms of the Quran, FC is not forbidden as long as it does not harm the health of the female, but it is not explicitly supported either.

According to Islamic law, all male babies are required to be circumcised. While all scholars agree on this law, they fail to provide a united stance on FC due to the different schools of thought. For example, there is no direct evidence that can be found in the Quran to support FGM. However, jurists who follow the Shafi’i school of thought consider FGM obligatory. They believe they have evidence from Al-Nahl verse 123 which states: “Then We revealed to you: ‘Follow the way of Ibrahim with exclusive devotion to Allah. He was not one of those who associated others with Allah in His Divinity.’ ” Shafi’i scholars argue the justification of FGM using this verse and Prophet Mohammed’s saying that prophet Ibrahim was circumcised at age eight.

However, the verse is an irrelevant argument for FGM because firstly, and most importantly, Prophet Ibrahim was not a female. Secondly, the argument poorly supports FGM because it has been incorrectly interpreted. The verse actually means that Muslims should follow the way of the Prophet Ibrahim by preaching monotheism, refusing to surrender to the tyrant ruler, and calling others to the oneness of God with wisdom and arguments, which can be seen when the Prophet Ibrahim called his father and his people. Emulating Prophet Ibrahim encompassed believing in the oneness of God and nothing else.

Even amongst those who support FGM exist discrepancies in thought: some consider it obligatory, some a Sunnah, some permissible, and others an act of respect. This applies to even Muslim scholars who follow the same school of thought; for example, some jurists of the Hanafi school of thought believe FGM is Sunnah, while others consider it as an honorable practice for a woman but not a legal requirement. However, both groups do use the same hadith for justification that translates to: “circumcision is Sunnah for a man and a source of respect for a woman.”

Another source of evidence for supporters of FGM is the words of Mohammed in the chapter about the hermaphrodite. In it states: “a hermaphrodite is circumcised in Islamic law, he would not be circumcised if it was a source of respect; this is because of the possibility that a hermaphrodite may be a woman. On the basis of this analogy, it is not allowed for a woman to do that (i.e. a woman should not circumcise a hermaphrodite because it is also possible that he may be a man) Thus, circumcision is excused because of the absence of the reason (i.e. it may not be carried out if a woman is not available to circumcise a woman).”

The original text is not clear, which is why many Hanafi jurists cannot come to a mutual agreement. Muhammad b. Muhammad Al-Bazzazi (d.819 A.H./1424 C.E.) of the Hanafi school of thought supports the view that FGM is a Sunnah. He argues that since a hermaphrodite is circumcised in Islamic law, this supports the view that female circumcision is not merely done as a respectful act. In other words, a hermaphrodite is considered a woman but is circumcised. However, Muhammad Amin Ibn ‘Abidin (d.1252 A.H./1836 C.E.) –the leading Hanafi jurist, disagrees with Al-Bazzazi’s beliefs. He uses the same argument given above but states that a hermaphrodite is circumcised because of the possibility that he may be a man and “circumcision of the man is necessary, thus it (circumcision of a hermaphrodite) is considered a Sunnah.” In his point of view, circumcising hermaphrodites is acceptable in Islam because of the possibility of them being male; this does not imply that circumcision should be considered as a Sunnah for females too.

However, it has been proven scientifically that FGM is harmful for women and ought to be prevented and prohibited through education and legislation. Medical experts agree that circumcision can be beneficial to males only; the benefits males receive from circumcision are completely absent when done on a female. Instead, there are many negative physical and psychological side effects associated with female circumcision.

FGM also violates the hadith and well-known saying, “Do not harm and don’t be harmed.” A government of any Muslim country should consider this hadith first before they consult the other ambiguous and lesser-known ones.

Furthermore, according to Islamic law, Allah has allowed many things for human beings for their benefit. The Quran states that “Allah wants to lighten your burdens, for man was created weak.” With FGM only posing as a risk to all females, clearly it is unsupported by Islam.

Apart from holy texts, another justification for FGM is that it reduces female sexuality and prevents females from acting upon their impure thoughts. However, that the female sexuality deserves restraint is in itself an unfounded and even a misogynistic claim. Even if it were a valid motivation, circumcision does not realistically contribute to preventing immoral sexual activities beyond its symbolistic meaning.

FGM thus not only causes physical and psychological harm on females and takes away their right to enjoy sexual intercourse, but also defies Islam by disfiguring God’s creations.

However as mentioned before there is proof that female genital mutilation has been practiced before the emergence of Islam, and FGM is in fact still practiced today by many non-Muslims. This indicates that FGM is not only influenced by Islamic law but also on the culture, traditions, and customs of a country.

Female genital mutilation takes place in many non-Muslim societies in Africa and is practiced by Christians, Muslims, and Animists. In Egypt, the Demographic Health Survey in 2000 revealed that 97% of married women surveyed experienced FGM. The women surveyed came from different religious backgrounds such as Coptic Christians and Muslims. These statistics shed light on the fact that FGM is not a religious practice but a cultural one instead.

In Africa, people who take part in the practice say they do it for a combination of cultural and religious reasons. For example, Muslims and Christians both believe that circumcising females prevents them from performing immoral acts while making them more attractive for their future husbands. Mothers fear that their daughters will not be able to get married if they have not been circumcised.

There are even myths that have emerged amongst the people living in these villages which act to justify FGM. For example, in Sudan it is believed that the clitoris will grow to the length of a goose’s neck until it dangles between the legs, in rivalry with the male’s penis, if it is not cut. According to statistics from UNICEF, 9 out of 10 Sudanese women aged 15 to 49 have been cut. A majority has undergone a procedure known as infibulation, or “pharaonic circumcision,” in which all or part of the inner and outer labia, and usually the clitoris, are removed. Even though a traditional birth attendant performs the operation it is still considered to be a procedure that comes with no health benefits but many health risks.

Despite the pain and shame associated with female circumcision, the practice still continues for a variety of reasons. Some Sudanese people insist that it promotes hygiene, while Sudanese men place a higher value on a woman who has been circumcised. Such women bring a higher bride price, which is important in a predominantly poor country. Social pressure is also a powerful motivation to continue FGM in Sudan. People who support the practice are usually the older women in a Sudanese household, who consider FGM to be a long-standing tradition that has been passed on from generation to generation. There are also many cases where girls themselves have asked to be circumcised due to peer pressure. About 42% of Sudanese women aged 15-49 years still support FGM, which is a decline from 79% in 1990. Support for the elimination of FGM is mainly found among Sudanese women with a higher education and financial status. Support for FGM has gone down by younger women aged 15- 19 years (58% in 2006 and 37% in 2010), meaning that attitudes towards the practice are changing over time. When it comes to men aged 15-49 years, 73% say that FGM should be stopped. Unfortunately, many Sudanese people still fear that their daughters will not be able to get married or will be socially excluded. Midwives and traditional birth attendants, who perform over 90% of the circumcisions in Sudan, are also a group of staunch proponents of FGM, as it is a major source of income.

Despite these social factors, religion still influences the prosperity of FGM in Sudan. Many Sudanese Muslims believe the Quran decrees for women to be circumcised. Thus, while Christians in southern Sudan also practice FGM, it is much more common in the northern region which is predominantly Muslim.

Ironically, Sudan was the first African country to legislate against FGM, and in 1946 the infibulation form of the practice was declared illegal by the Sudan Penal Code. Sudan has also ratified many different international human rights agreements under which FGM is considered a violation. Some of them include the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights, and Convention on the Rights of the Child. Unfortunately, these legislation have failed to bring any tangible change due to their weak enforcement by the government.

Growing up in North America and the United Arab Emirates has kept me sheltered from hearing about such topics. The first time I heard about FGM was only two years ago, but I thought it only happened in remote villages in Egypt and the rest of Africa. I believe I am fortunate to not have any personal stories relating to the issue but it was difficult for me to write this paper without it seeming like a rant.

A five page essay is nowhere near enough to discuss the horrors associated with FGM, it is barely enough for an introduction. I decided to focus on Islam because I identify as a Muslim and the topic is unfamiliar to me. I felt deeply saddened while reading the supporting arguments of the so-called Muslim Scholars. I do not believe that FGM needs a lot of analysis because it has been medically proven time and time again that it is physically and psychologically harmful to females. Also, all of the scholars are men. Why is it that since the beginning of time men believe they have total control over a woman’s body? But that’s a question for another essay.

I decided to use Sudan as an example because there is just too much information about the subject to use many countries as examples. However, my research made it clear that FGM is not only a religious act, but a cultural one as well. What my research confirmed was that FGM is an outright violation of the human rights of females around the world. I also wanted to talk about Sudan because they have put in a great deal of effort to fight the cause, which cannot be said about other countries.

As you can see from the research I have done, saying that female genital mutilation is a part or Islam, or any other religion for that matter, is like saying that ISIS are doing God’s work. I believe the whole situation is a shameful excuse for men to control women, just like they have been doing since the beginning of time.

Gender Equality by 2030: Possibility or Utopia?

Haeley Ahn and Pamela Chrabieh
Dubai, 2016

This year’s March 8 International Women’s Day United Nations theme is “Planet 50-50 by 2030: Step It Up for Gender Equality”. With the new global 2030 roadmap and 17 Sustainable Development Goals approved by UN Member States, gender equality appears to be the most critical[1]. According to Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka, UN Under-Secretary-General and Executive Director (UN Women):

“Without gender equality and a full role for women in society, in the economy, in governance, we will not be able to achieve the world we hoped for”.[2]

Numerous governments have signed their support for such a change by amending legislation to eliminate discrimination against women, improving enrollment of girls in primary and secondary education, reducing maternal deaths… However, to that date, the support has not been felt all the way through society – often, diverse social layers are not responsive or energized in the way the government wants them to be – , the gap between those who draw up the commitments and those who are supposed to carry them out has been widened, gender ministries have tended to be underfunded and lacked the influence and weight of larger and stronger ministries, and advances have been low in other vital areas such as increasing women’s access to decent work, higher positions or equal pay.

To that date, no country has achieved 100% gender equality. So much more is needed to learn lessons from the past – with both its worldviews/spaces of gender equality and of inequality, such as the past of Southwestern Asia and North Africa – and change the trajectory of gender equality and the empowerment of women. First, the question as to whether there ought to be a spontaneous involvement from all individuals and groups within a society, or whether the government must induce the change, needs to be answered for change initiatives to succeed. The same question is asked when it comes to diversity management in any institution, the academic for instance.

As I see it, the engagement of governments is important but certainly not enough; any top down change initiative needs to be communicated appropriately through official and non-official channels such as education (in schools and universities), knowledge production and dissemination (research centers, independent scholars), media campaigns and continuous awareness programs (traditional media, social media). We certainly need awareness in our schools and universities when it comes to feminism and gender equality! My researches in Lebanon when I used to teach in three different universities from 2007 to 201 indicated the prevailing existence of confusion and misconceptions at this level: gender equality for instance was perceived by many young women and men as simply, ‘the end of men, tradition or identity’, and feminism as misandry – meaning feminists are ‘men-haters’. The preliminary results of a small-scale research conducted by my assistant researcher Ms. Haeley Ahn in her school revealed the existence of a wide spectrum of opinions when students were asked the following questions but with a relatively high percentage of misconceptions: Did you know that March 8th is the International Women’s Day? How do you feel about women’s rights in the region (Middle East)? How do you think women’s rights could be improved in this region? What is your perspective on feminism? Would you consider yourself a feminist? Do you think your perspective aligns with how society views feminism? [Excerpts of results are found here: Analysis]

According to Ms. Ahn:

“I realized that the biggest responsibility we feminists have is to redefine feminism in today’s society and eliminate any stigmas or stereotypes associated with it. The lack of understanding of what feminism truly is causes irrational fear and even hostility towards the movement. On a brighter note, those who did not identify themselves as feminists still mentioned that they advocate for gender equality. Once misunderstandings are cleared and people realize that feminism is in fact a call for equality, the feminist movement will surely gain an influx of supporters and a new momentum!”

The UN Millennium Development Goals define ‘gender equality’ as not only a fundamental human right but a necessary foundation for a peaceful, prosperous and sustainable world.

“Providing women and girls with equal access to education, health care, decent work, and representation in political and economic decision-making processes will fuel sustainable economies and benefit societies and humanity at large”.[3]

Gender equality does not mean that women and men will become the same, but that women’s and men’s rights, responsibilities and opportunities will not depend on whether they are born male or female. Gender equality implies that the interests, needs and priorities of both women and men (and other gender identities) are taken into consideration. And in fact, the Southwestern Asian and North African regions’ past and present include considerable examples of gender equality perceptions and practices: from ancient Egyptians to Zoroastrians and a number of tribes in the Arabian Peninsula, to the 19th c. feminist movements from Tunisia to Iraq, and contemporary voices/initiatives… Gender equality is not an imported concept-product. It lies at the heart of the local cultures and legacies. It is found in countless homes and minds. It just needs to be rediscovered and portrayed as such, encouraged where it already exists, and disseminated to every strata of society.

Governments do play a fundamental role in achieving these tasks. However, people who are forced to adapt to change through a top down approach have the initial reaction to resist. Individuals and non-governmental organizations ought to have their voices heard and taken into consideration in the way the change initiatives are managed. Furthermore, visionary ideas aren’t the products of only leaders and top management. Examples of innovations by activists, students, professors, artists, social movements and civil associations, and successful micro-management methods such as in schools and university classrooms, or in small and medium-size enterprises, are proofs of the ‘organic growth’ approach success rather than the ‘transplanted growth’s’ – or of the success of the two approaches’ combinations. The more people will be involved by governments in the change process, the less they will feel they are perceived as somehow incompetent, the less they will be unmotivated, the less misunderstandings will be created, the more people will be able to come to terms with change, and will be able to produce and contribute to their society’s advancement. Definitely, much will depend on our individual and collective, disparate, irregularly connected but certainly continuous initiatives, and on our abilities to articulate and foster coherent new paradigms.

Gender equality by 2030: Possibility or Utopia?

The question should not even be asked. Gender equality is already a possibility, as it constitutes one of the many realities of our pasts and presents. Let us not “dwell in possibility”, but recognize it, and embrace the challenges that lie ahead of us with courage, faith and hope.

This article is the product of a joint venture between Ms. Haeley Ahn and I. I would like to thank her for her amazing and enlightening work. A role model for our young generation of feminists!

Alice’s Pearls

I was interviewed few hours ago for a documentary and one of the directors’ questions was about my pearls. My answer had nothing to do with eclectic styles mixing and matching old and new, luxury and humbleness, ‘East’ and ‘West’, or the importance of filling one’s neck with necklaces that strike me fancy. Even if I am an artist and value fashion as a form of art, I am far from being a fashionista, and I certainly am not trying to incarnate Johannes Vermeer’s Dutch woman with a pearl necklace.

My pearls belonged to Alice, my beloved grandmother who passed away few months ago…

Birth and death are the only certainties for all humans, and every culture has had customs and rituals associated with burials and with the mourning of family and friends. Between yesterday’s lecture about Zoroastrian dakhmehs where the dead are left on the top of a tower to decompose in order not to contaminate the living, and today’s interview when I reasserted my belief in the necessity and possibility of continuity, of an afterlife connected with this life, I realized that my grandmother’s pearls, Alice’s pearls, do tell one of the many stories of the universal experiences of inheritance, legacy, women’s memory and the power of objects to bind and unbind human beings.

Psychoanalysts from Freud up to the present have defined the goal of mourning as the detachment of libidinal ties from the deceased love object. The ego thus becomes free of its former attachments and ready to attach to a new, living person. Nevertheless, both clinical and empirical evidence call into question the ‘detachment’ aspect of the theory (Rubin, Klass and Nickman, Shuchter…) and propose that an ongoing internal relationship to mourning objects is an important aspect of a ‘successful’ mourning.

In other words, mourning is seen “as a process of inner transformation that affects both the image of the self and of the object. It involves not the breaking of an object tie, but the transformation of that attachment into a sustaining internal presence, which operates as an ongoing component in the individual’s internal world” (1).

Some scholars would argue that mourning objects function to preserve and celebrate the ‘departed’ body, or that these objects are important because they define our existence, or that they have an embodied presence – they act as material substitutes for an absent body.

My grandmother’s pearls are definitely a visceral trace of her that reminds me of the fact that people die only when we forget them; a material imprint of her physical absence and intangible presence; and more, they remind me of the necessity of reassessing my picture of the world and my place in it, of restoring possibilities in my life – the passionate sense of the potential that keeps me going -, of “making what happened incomplete and completing what never was” (2).


 (1) John E. Baker, Mourning and the Transformation of Object Relationships Evidence for the Persistence of Internal Attachments.

 (2) Giorgio Agamben, Potentialities: Collected Essays in Philosophy.