feminist counter-narratives in the Middle East and Latin America

The power of feminism as a political subject becomes evident when it impacts territories that we believe to be distant and foreign. In Kuwait, some of its representatives consider Ni Una Menos as a movement that has come to bring about transformations around the world.

Naming, speaking, writing, finding oneself in the embrace of the spoken word is a personal and collective process that transforms our societies in Latin America and the Middle East. Building a narrative that erodes the legitimacy of those imposed on our bodies is a task that requires not only building a feminist consciousness but also courage and tools for self-protection. One of the biggest challenges we face in both regions is that feminists struggle to put gender and sexuality at the center of the debate, and conservative right-wing sectors are also putting these issues at the center of their discussions in order to attack us. . And this, despite cultural and linguistic differences, manifests itself in similar discourses and policies. If the advance against activism and the professional practice of a feminist conscience is organized and structured at a transnational level, it becomes urgent to know each other, to dialogue and to build bridges with our sisters from other regions.

The first obstacle to this, besides the language barrier, is the colonial imperative and its racist stereotypes. Many sectors of Latin American feminism tend to think that the lives of Arab women are overdetermined by religion and culture, and that their unequal status is therefore the product of a kind of millennial passivity. Perhaps that is why they are reluctant to believe that there are feminists in this region who are fighting the same struggles as we are. And one of them is to speak up to say what they don’t want to hear, what has been silenced and what they wanted to embellish: our dead.

What is not stated does not exist?

One of the common points that can be found in the two regions is the increase in feminicides and the articulation of demands around control cases. In Argentina, the seriousness of structural gender-based violence crystallized in the Ni Una Menos movement after the feminicides of Daiana García and Chiara Páez. Certainly, many of us who came forward on June 3, 2015 were still unable to grasp the extent of the violence in our lives. We felt that there was an invisible thread that connected our experience as women, transvestites, transsexuals, lesbians, to feminicides: that day many of us saw it for the first time. We were able to make sense of it, put words into everything we had experienced until then, recognize ourselves in feminism and understand that it was the only way to liberation.

For a long time feminism was a dirty word, and it still is in parts of the Middle East, but not for the reasons we imagined. Under the pretext of liberating women, countries like Afghanistan and Iraq have been invaded, resulting in destruction and a dramatic increase in gender violence, so that the region is wary of the word feminism. as a Trojan horse of imperialism and because of the paternalism and racist attitude that Western feminism has historically had towards Muslim women. Moreover, the racist Western Right is always eager to spread criticism of the region and of Islam that feeds its prejudices and discriminatory policies, so that the struggle of feminists – whether they call themselves or not – takes place on several fronts at the same time.

Although Argentina is emerging as the country in the region with the most progress, not only in terms of legislation such as the Media Equity Law, which provides for the integration of a gender perspective and the training of all workers, neither the legislation is sufficient nor the situation in the rest of the region is homogeneous. In a series of interviews conducted by the Office of the Public Defender as part of the 25th anniversary of the Beijing Declaration and Platform for Action (UN) last September, journalists and feminist leaders from different Latin American countries express their concern about the permanence of gender stereotypes, the symbolic violence exercised by the media and the need to advance public policies from a gender perspective.

In the Middle East, the undemocratic tradition hinders access to public media, not only for feminists but also for any narrative that opposes the official, so the only possibility is to do so through independent media. In Lebanon, for example, there are feminist publications like Kohl, on gender and sexuality, which brings together texts from activists, academics and researchers in the region and seeks to challenge orientalist prejudices and promote independent and freely accessible knowledge. In Egypt, the very popular Mada Masr, not only has a gender perspective in his editorial line but also many contributors and articles of interest on the subject, just like Daraj. These are some of the media that are building a counter-narrative in conjunction with feminist activism in the region and have started to question the use of certain supposed customs, such as safeguarding honor, so that crimes against women not only go unpunished, but are also justified.

To hell with your honor

Just as, thanks to the impetus of Ni Una Menos, it would be very difficult today to find in the local media the term “crime of passion” to designate a femicide, in the Middle East the struggle is being waged to eradicate another. formula. to embellish gender violence: honor killings.

The 2013 Arab Women’s Intifada, which emerged with the democratizing impetus of the Arab Spring to bond among women in the region and denounce the daily violence they suffered in their countries, can be seen as a first catalyst for the changes that are currently taking place within countries and the contestation of the narrative around honor as a form of control of female sexuality.

But what are honor killings? Sarah Qadurah, a Palestinian refugee in Lebanon, tells the story in one of her videos: https://youtu.be/-Nx9w1caE4s.

The femicide of Israel Gharaieb had a unifying and mobilizing impact in Palestine in 2019, creating the Tala’at movement, just like what happened with the femicide of Chiara Paez in Argentina. The fact that this movement has taken to the streets of all cities and camps where Palestinian women live, added to the fact that many of its leaders have gained space in the media, forced a change of discourse and shed light on the networks of impunity that weave between the judicial, legislative and institutional systems to protect feminicides, focusing on the patriarchal culture and linking it to other types of violence suffered by women.

When we first met, Sheikha al-Hashem, a feminist writer and researcher with whom I share a space for discussing gender and nationalism in the Gulf, told me how inspiring Ni Una Menos had been to her and these partner’work. In his country, Kuwait, the femicide of Farah Akbar last April sparked a massive demonstration in the capital and on the internet. Unlike other Gulf countries, in Kuwait “at least we can talk, organize and protest on the issue, but in terms of patriarchy, the system is the same as in the rest of the countries in the region. Despite the fact that the country has experienced advances that are present in the National Constitution of 1962, the great obstacle we face is that with regard to women, all sectors, nationalisms, tribalisms, religious groups agree so as not to improve our real situation. We’ve had more femicides in recent years, but we don’t have public records. Social networks have helped us to amplify and scale the problem. In 2016, we campaigned for the abolition of article 153 of the Penal Code, which qualifies femicides as crimes of passion ”.

As Sarah Qadurah pointed out in the video, much of the legislation regarding the status of women in the region has been taken from old French codes. The article 153 mentioned by Sheikha is part of this corpus and is also present in other codes of the region: art.70 in Bahrain, art. 334 in the UAE, art. 252 in Oman, art. 340 in Jordan, art. 526 in Lebanon, art. 548 in Syria, art. 279 in Algeria, art. 237 in Egypt, art. 418-424 in Morocco and art. 309 in Iraq. This is indicative not only of how the colonial project left its mark in forming an unequal gender hierarchy in the region, but also of how the Arab neo-patriarchal system maintained it in order to maintain it. its gender privileges.

According to Sheikha, when it comes to gender-based violence, “the fundamental problem is not laws or institutions but a culture that does not value the lives of women and girls, that sees women as subordinate and silences them, teaches them not to use their voices. ”This tutelage, regulated or not, seems to be everywhere where a woman’s survival depends on the desire of the men around her.

We speak in tongues

Patriarchy and misogyny are not the legacy of one culture or another, they are part of a system of oppression that operates and is fought transnationally. The power of feminism as a political subject, whose struggle for meaning is also a struggle for power, becomes evident when certain strategies have an impact on territories that we believe to be distant and foreign.

Ni Una Menos sparked Sheikha’s interest “because of her inclusion of many sectors: trans women, transvestites, lesbians, the intersectional approach. I think we can learn more from Ni Una Menos than from the Me Too movement because Me Too is very elitist. And above all, I think we can learn from the progress Ni Una Menos has made over the years. I know the situation is still difficult due to the high number of femicides in Argentina, but it would be fascinating to learn more about them and look for ways to collaborate. This is undoubtedly the path that we must build. Writing about our lives is also writing about our dead: winning the word is challenging death. As the chicana writer Gloria Anzaldúa said in his letter to women writers in the Third World in 1980: “Writing is dangerous because we are afraid of what writing reveals: fears, courage, the strength of a woman under triple or quadruple oppression. But it is in this very act that our survival resides because a woman who writes has the power. And a woman of power is feared ”.

By Caroline Bracco

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