During the past week, social media was inundated by celebratory messages following the announcement of the endorsement of a sexual harassment law and the reform of the law to protect women and family members from domestic violence.
Thoughtful feminist writer and activist, Maya Ammar, has pulled apart these alleged victories and proved beyond a doubt that there is indeed nothing to celebrate, that the said achievements are mere window-dressing and even more so an attempt to showcase a malign regime as modern and pro-women.
As a feminist activist in Lebanon, I will not celebrate baby-steps and I will not participate in shamelessly whitewashing a regime that has impoverished its people, encouraged heinous and violent racist crimes, demonized refugees, allowed the destruction of a huge part of the city, refused to acknowledge the plight of victims of the Beirut port blast and their families, obstructed and thwarted justice, allowed religious courts to go on unhinged in the oppression of women and the violation of their rights, harassed and detained activists, and contributed to the destruction of everything that was still standing in Lebanon. A regime that has consistently refused to show any simple act of decency….
Each time I hear invitations to Lebanese women to be thankful for the pitiful gifts thrown away by the patriarchal regime, I will suggest that we at least glance at the Human Rights Watch damning report which documents the various ways in which Lebanon has failed and continues to fail its women.
I will, however, celebrate courageous feminists such as Dayna Ash and many others who were brutally attacked by law enforcement many a time during the revolution, only to make them more determined to fight the regime and to take on patriarchy by the horns.
I will celebrate the queer and trans community, who claimed the revolution and who overcame a brutal history of layers upon layers of oppression, violence, exclusion and discrimination in Lebanon. And I will celebrate the many beautiful voices, captured by Rasha Younis in her amazing documentary, “If not Now, When?”
I will celebrate the hundreds of independent professionals who got together organically after the criminal August 4th explosion to organize a “revolution of labour and science” and created the Khaddit Beirut platform which has immediately become a citizens-led recovery in a context where the state is at best dormant and indifferent. More than four months after this crime, and with the complete inertia of the regime, Khaddit Beirut has already kicked off a recovery process and has used individual resources to jumpstart small businesses, open a community clinic and mobilise the support of the diaspora in this process.
I will celebrate the independent individuals and groups who, without any support from the failed state of Lebanon, switched into emergency mode and extended life essential support to the most vulnerable of populations namely women victims of violence, sex workers, LGBTQI, refugees and displaced and people with disabilities. I will celebrate those groups who, despite suffering serious material losses themselves, made sure that their centres stayed operational and their sexual and reproductive health services remained available to all those who needed them.
I will celebrate one year of uninterrupted and relentless campaigning for Lebanese women’s right to confer nationality to their families in a context where the regime’s narrative, accepted by many unfortunately, has been that of “we wanted to reform the law but they would not let us”. I will celebrate the effort of one particular feminist activist who spent a good time of the year taking down deceitful politicians one at a time, challenging fake news and ensuring that women and their families accessed some of the rights and entitlements they are due.
I will celebrate the passion and determination of many an individual and group who, single handedly, were able to extend immediate help and support of women migrant domestic workers stranded in the streets of the city and who were able to gather resources for their dignified repatriation.
I will celebrate the informal groups of women migrant domestic workers who have been organizing since the beginning of the pandemic to gather, arrange and distribute relief packages to thousands of domestic workers who have been left astray without food, shelter or resources.
I will celebrate Carol Mansour’s beautiful and powerful tribute to Beirut and her people in her timeless short film “Beirut 6:07” .
I will celebrate the hundreds if not thousands of beautiful volunteers, citizens and residents, including the Lebanese Red Cross who rushed to the streets of Karantina, Mdawwar, Gemmayze, Mar Mikhail, the port area, Geitawi, and other destroyed areas to extend help to citizens and residents as they were struggling with the losses of their homes and loved one. Among these, I will celebrate the Palestinian Red Cross and the migrant workers communities who did not hesitate to take the streets and clear the rubbles despite their experiences of consistent and systemic discrimination, violence and abuse.
In short, I will celebrate the revolution and the resistance of those who oppose the regime, those who fight oppression and injustice on a daily basis and in many different ways, those who refuse to give up, those who are not deterred by the pandemic or the abysmal conditions imposed by the regime, those who believe that Lebanon and its people, both citizens and residents, deserve better, those who will not compromise, those who will not whitewash the regime, those who walk the talk. These are the real achievements that deserve to be celebrated.
It is because of all these wonderful things that happened in 2020, against all odds, that I am hopeful.