Gender equality is a fundamental pillar of any free-thinking and secular society. The flame for gender parity in pay, suffrage, opportunity and expectation is one that has burned bright for over a century, and is still going strong. From the suffragettes of the early 20th century to the #metoo movement, women have continuously campaigned and called for equality despite all the adversity and opposition they have faced over the years. They have come far, but the fight is not yet over. Freethought Lebanon is committed to further advancing women’s rights by breaking down stereotypes and promoting justice, tenacity and hope. We are proud to celebrate International Women’s Day 2018. The theme for this years IWD is #PressForProgress, we urge you all to head over to the IWD website to learn more about the cause and get involved!
In celebration of International Women’s Day 2018, we asked our friends and family to share with us stories of their success; anecdotes of times they felt proud and tenacious. We heard stories from women of all walks of life, but all of them had one theme in common: perseverance and ambition. Their accounts inspired us, and we hope they inspire you.
From The Supermarket to the Prime Minister’s Office
“I was compelled to work from the age of 15 because of my family’s financial situation. I applied to administrative work in a supermarket , and worked full-time every summer for three years so that I could at least afford the registration fees for school. By the time I had graduated high school and started university, my parents’ financial situation began to deteriorate greatly, and I promptly took up teaching in my spare hours, even though I attended the Lebanese University, which has no fees. I needed to earn so that I could support my family and pay for my brother Mohammed’s education, who became a telecommunications engineer now. I would go to university and study from 09:00 to 17:00, and then immediately prepare to start teaching from 17:00 until 21:00, sometimes later. Even though I was studying full-time, I had to balance the time I spent learning with the time I spent teaching not only at work, but also at home, where I took care of and taught Mohammed. I did this every week for 4 years, and upon graduation, I wasted no time in enrolling in a master’s degree.
After I studied for my masters, I then moved to Paris to pursue a PhD in Law the same year France introduced the ban on the hijab, which put extra strain on my studies and my time there. Throughout this whole period, I never stopped supporting my parents, and I had to cover the cost of Mohammed’s university fees, too.
Concurrently, the outbreak of the 2006 July war pushed me to work in the humanitarian field with the Norwegian Refugee Council, helping Syrian and Iraqi refugees.
While I was studying, I applied for positions in the USAID then in the UN and got accepted. It was during this period as well that I entered the marriage phase of my life, and I insisted that I would not get married unless I could finish my doctorate, and in my first year of marriage, with immense support from my husband and my parents, I finished my PhD. Having done so, I traded private tutoring for teaching at universities.
Since 2010, I’ve worked as a legal officer in the prime minister’s office to help build and implement policies regarding Palestinian legal issues. I also teach in several university faculties, focusing on Humanitarian Law, Refugees’ Law and other related courses. It was difficult, and I struggled to simultaneously provide for my family and get an education, but none of this would have been possible without their and my husband’s support.”
May Hammoud, Lebanon
Literacy Is Not For Men Only
“Back in the 20s and 30s, in some Muslim areas in Lebanon, women were forbidden from getting an education by their parents. The reasons varied; some were afraid it will empower them, others feared girls will learn how to write love letters. My grandmother lived in that situation. Her name is Shama Zaherdine. She was born in 1923 and passed away in 2008. Although her father was an Arabic language teacher, he only educated his sons and decided to leave his daughters illiterate, much like the norm back then. My grandmother was always curious and eager to learn what her brothers were learning. She wanted to be able to read books like the men around her. Thus, she managed to sneak out to the room her father established as a class in the house’s garden. She used to sit under the window and eavesdrop. She secretly managed to get the book the other students had, and she sat there for a few days holding it while listening to the class until some students noticed. They immediately told her father. He was furious at the beginning, but a few days later, taken by her persistence, he changed his mind and agreed to teach her how to read and write.
Unfortunately, he did not allow her to teach her sisters, and some of her sisters even decided to go with the flow and remain illiterate! After she became literate and well-educated in grammar, she started to read more and more to improve her language. Then, at the age of 16-17, she started to teach the kids in her village how to read and write at home through the Quran, the same way her father taught her. The old women in the village mainly remember her story, especially those who were her students. She later got married at the age of 25, an age that was considered to be too old to get married for a woman of that time.
Her persistence helped her stand firm against the patriarchal society and to fight for her right in getting an education. I feel proud and empowered by her story. Perhaps I inherited or developed my curiosity, thirst for knowledge and tenacity from her; characteristics that I hold on dear to in hope of continuing in spreading her message.”
S.H, Lebanon, submitted by her granddaughter
Malala Yousafzai, Pakistani activist for women’s education and the youngest Nobel Prize laureate.
To Whomever It May Concern
“Growing up, I moved from place to place. Having been raised in Africa, moving back to Lebanon with my family was a huge challenge for me. Everything was incredibly different and it was too hard for me to deal with. I realised that in Lebanon and in other Arab countries, women were still trying to demand their rights, and sexism was prevalent everywhere. I grew up in a country where equality was a must. In my school, males and females could do whatever they wanted. But in Lebanon, suddenly everyone was trying to influence me by saying things like “you’re a girl, you can’t do that”, or telling me that “you’re a girl, you need to learn how to cook and clean for when you become a mother and housewife”. This made me feel that I shouldn’t let heartaches and failures impede my growth. So what did I do? I got stronger. I studied harder and constantly thought about the changes will make when I get older. I never gave up on those changes. A lot of people would say I’m weird and mock every girl that thinks that way, but in the end, I wanted to change, and to do so, I had to start with myself. That’s what every girl should do, and I’m proud to see women from my country and all around the world proving everyone who doubted them or mocked their ability wrong! Start with yourself, and never let anyone tell you that you can’t do it.”
Batoul Bachir, Lebanon
A Mother’s Struggle
“When the the Israeli assault of 2006 began, I escaped to London aboard a British warship. We were evacuated like refugees, even though my children were British citizens. I had my 3 boys with me a small bag with a few bottles of water in it. My youngest child was 7 years old. The oldest 13. I had to choose between protecting my children and saving their lives while enduring a journey of suffering and pain or staying in Lebanon and risking their safety. As a mother, I had no choice. When we left, I was shaking and lost. I didn’t know where I was going to go or what I was going to go through. I only had a dark, frightening image of our future, and after a gruelling 3 day journey from Beirut to London, I arrived barely speaking a word of English.
It wasn’t easy to find a place to settle in and find a place for my children to live and go to school. I struggled daily and nightly, and my anxiety prevented me from sleeping at night. I fell into a depression and felt hopeless. I began taking anti depressants and I found life difficult. One night, I had argument with my son about my weakness and how much I cried. So I decided to make a change. I enrolled in English, ICT and Childcare courses. I studied hard and balanced my duties as a mother with my need for an education. After three years, I came out with an array of qualifications and I dived into the world of work. I trained to become a personal development tutor for special needs students and worked tirelessly at a nursery. I soon became a senior practioner and helped upgrade my nursery’s Ofsted rating to good; the second highest available rating. I learned how to manage my time and raise my children well whilst also working full time.
I went through some very difficult times that pushed me to my limits, but several years later, here I am, standing strong. Despite my depression and my intitial hopelessness, I managed to become a better individual. All of my kids went to great universities and are now successful in what they do. They came out wonderfully and I couldn’t be any more proud. Not just of them, but of myself and my accomplishments.”
Betty Karim, Lebanon
Setting Myself Free
“Many Muslim families and societies think it is their right to choose for girls what to wear at a very early age. It is better to make girls wear the veil at the age of nine, as Islam dictates, an age where girls are vulnerable to be controlled by parents and society. I was one of those girls, for they made me wear the veil at the age of 10. I was never really given a choice or a break from the constant demands of my cousins to wear it. When I reached the age of 13, I started to have doubts about religion, and I hated the veil. I dreamt of taking it off many times, sometimes every day. Fear from my extended family and society imprisoned me for years. I stayed like this, until I became an atheist at around the age of 19, an atheist who wears the veil. Of course, I kept this whole transformation a secret to myself. I fantasized about taking my scarf off in another country, where no one knew me. It is a hard move to make in an eastern culture, where society demands you to be obedient. I also couldn’t get a proper job because of it. Until one day, waiting was no longer an option for the woman inside of me that longed for her freedom to be her true self. I finally collected the courage to fight for my rights, to fight most of my cousins and my society. I literally took my veil off and was ready to fight everyone who was going to stand in my way. I felt liberated, powerful and free. My self-confidence increased, and most important of all, I was finally myself. My life changed for the better on all aspects, I got a job and I became a happier and a freer person in general. I shared my story in details a month ago, and I did not expect at all the results it had. The responses, personal messages and support I received were overwhelming. People I don’t know from all over the world contacted me. Girls who are fighting what I fought for contacted me and shared their stories. Some girls met me in person to share their story, in hope of getting support and a push forward to continue their fight to gain their freedom. This is what mattered to me the most. I shared my story to tell girls who are wearing the veil unwillingly that they are not alone. You can do it. Hold on to hope, be strong, stubborn, be a fighter, for freedom craves a strong fight.”
Sarah Harakeh, Lebanon
We have come far in the fight for equality, but it’s important we realise that we are not done. There is still great gender disparity in the world and we have quite a long way to go before that’s resolved. We hope that these stories inspire you to keep dreaming big and achieving bigger! If you have any stories you would like to share, comment them below, we would love to hear from you!
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