RAWE project raises the roof for gender equality in Lebanon

Photo: Aaron Yang, one of the project’s contributing interns

After 6 weeks of intense research, interviews, and events, AIESEC AUB’s project “Raising Awareness for Women’s Empowerment” (RAWE) came to an end after exchange participants from the Netherlands, Egypt, Turkey, Switzerland and China shared the reality of women in various regions within Lebanon.

AIESEC is a global non-political and non-profit organization that aims at providing the youth with a platform to discover leadership skills and capabilities.

RAWE was conducted between January 9 and February 20, where the exchange participants were exposed to the situation of women in Lebanon through the various lectures and workshops by prominent NGOs in the country advocating for social equality.

The list of NGOs included KAFA, Lebanese League for Women in Business, Sanabel An-Nour, Migrant Community Center, Marsa, AFE and LECORVAW.

Project Manager and Landscape Architecture student, Sara Hamzeh, explained that the project was built on the basis of the sustainable development goal being gender equality.

RAWE was focused on several sub-topics under the SDG, of which were eliminating any form of discrimination against women, encouraging women to participate and lead within society, ensuring access to sexual education and information, valuing unpaid care and domestic work, eliminating violence against women, as well as eliminating all harmful practices towards women.

Each week revolved around one of the aforementioned topics, where the exchange participants would learn about the topic in hand through the respective NGO’s presentation. The exchange participants gained awareness through the presentation, site visits, interviews and additional research.

The participants then took part in the NGO’s events as a form of engagement, and by the end of the week, they conducted on-the-ground interviews with women from various backgrounds and ages.

“They did surveys in Hamra, Saida and Tripoli. We tried to expose them to the spectrum of Lebanese women — not just the women in Hamra, but the women of the north and the south,” Hamzeh shared, “It’s really inspiring to see how proactive they are and how passionate they are of the subject.”

Throughout the project, participants also invested their time on their social media platform, sharing surveys, testimonials, videos and interviews.

Corry Xian from China was one of the exchange participants actively involved in RAWE.

“We are basically opening up the topic to help people talk about it and think about it instead of directly “fixing” the situation,” Xian told Outlook.

When asked about the difference in the situations of women in various regions of Lebanon, Irene Heessels from the Netherlands said she met such distinct women that she couldn’t summarize in one sentence. Instead, she focused on their stories and understood the social and cultural contexts behind them.

“The first week, I heard a lot of stories that the women outside Beirut are more conservative, they say that violence against women happens more,” Heessels said.

However, she noticed that there are many abuse stories that occur with women in Beirut as well.

Guusje van den Ouweland from the Netherlands elaborated that it was very common to interview women in Beirut that have been in a violent relationship.

“We interviewed a girl here in Beirut that works in a shop, and we were just talking to her so the story of violence sort of popped up. She was in an abusive relationship for 3 years. This is for me a typical lady of Beirut, Lebanon. On the surface, it really looks progressive and then suddenly these stories that we don’t expect come up,” she shared.

Xian spoke about their experience in Tripoli, where they interviewed many young girls that were already married and had children. He compared it to the situation in Beirut, where girls have the chance to receive a high quality education and have very decent jobs, but at the same time are still exposed to discrimination and violence.

When asked about the availability of data, Dutch participant Veronique Klaassen discussed that there was a substantial amount of data provided by NGOs but the problem was that the suggestions were not being implemented because the government was often in the way.

RAWE helped Xian gain a better perspective on how the situation of Lebanese women was simply a reflection of various social, political and economic structures.

“We went to talk to religious judges and professors and learned how the society works and how it affects women. So, the situation is basically a reflection of the religions, laws, societies, and cultures of Lebanon. This is what we are trying to learn and trying to understand,” Xian said.

Guusje added that many contradictions exist in the discussion of women’s rights and privileges in Lebanon.

“I think we learnt that there is not one way at looking at women. Everyone disagrees over the topics, some people are in favor of women rights, some people are against it, some people say the issue about women’s rights is women’s responsibility, some people say it’s not their responsibility, so there are a lot of contradictions and that makes it interesting,” she said.

When asked about ways to raise more awareness on the topic, Klaassen said that the best way is to start from schools and educational institutions to raise the generation on the basis of equality.

Project Manager Hamzeh shared that AUB AIESEC was the first to suggest, plan and carry out the RAWE project, which is reason to why she grew emotional of the topic.

“I feel like any shortcomings that happened during this time should only be a lesson and I really hope that AIESEC would carry on and do this project again next year. I wish they use all the resources we have and even the testimonials. I just feel very passionate about this project and I really want it to carry on,” Hamzeh expressed.

*article originally written for Outlook AUB on February 21, 2017*