Mellanöstern och Nordafrika Tidningen
Published On: Wed, Apr 15th, 2015

Let us all be “Hanadel”

Ever since my early childhood, I’ve dreamt of working in the media industry. I honestly did not know whether this passion came from my adolescent love of fame or my striving for change which is built on the inner revolution that was, and still is, swirling inside of me.

And so I did. I studied journalism and received my Master’s Degree in this field. Luckily, I worked in a Lebanese civil society organization where I edited website news on social and economic rights. This is where I started my “journey towards equality”.

As a young woman, dreams would carry me away; I thought change would happen in a matter of hours and days. At the time, I was not yet familiar with the journey of experienced female activists from the Arab world, a journey that I was following with approval at times and revolution and refusal at others.

I remember attending condensed training workshops and reading a lot to know more about the situation of women – which I find to be a paradox of striking similarities and disparities – in the Arab world. In a talk about violence during a workshop led by a Lebanese activist called Joumana, she concluded by saying: “Determination and disapproval are important. If a woman refuses to leave the conjugal or familial home or any other place where she is subject to violence, you need to tell her: Look at the aggressor with strength; if you don’t have the physical force to resist, do it with your eyes! This shall be the beginning of your deliverance”.

As a “rookie” activist who aspired for change and advocated the rights of all humans and women in particular, this is exactly what I wanted. I wanted to convey this message to all women, myself included. I wanted us to believe that we really are change makers. I wanted us to refuse discrimination and to stand up against our own selves and our society that is driven by traditions, customs and power structures imposed by artificial factors.

A young woman walks past a wall that reads "Freedom is a daily practice" in Arabic.

A young woman walks past a wall that reads “Freedom is a daily practice” in Arabic.

I thus chose to engage even further in the civil society with the conviction that concerted efforts and the unification of goals are the basis of success. However, reality is far from our expectations; I have often seen the wide breach between women’s concerns and our work as activists and civil society.

Hanadel is a 23-year old Tunisian who studied engineering and who volunteers in a local organization. I met her recently while on a work assignment in Tunis. Her enthusiasm caught my attention; she wanted to engage in an advocacy issue as part of the “AMAL” program that works to enhance women’s political participation. The cause that Hanadel advocates, within the “Ligue des Electrices Tunisiennes”, is the enhancement of the infrastructure in Azmour including the schedule of public transport. You may question the link between infrastructure and women’s rights, but do you know that a woman in Azmour needs at least a four hour wait and two or more hours’ drive only to attend a workshop? That’s a minimum of six hours!

This is the essence of our cause. We do not address issues that are related to women’s daily life, their needs and the means they need in order to evolve from the inner circles to the larger public sphere. We always take giant steps to the point of forgetting the importance of the first steps. Similar to crawling toddlers; they do not walk directly, they cannot; they will fall and may not try again. We, too, need to go back to the needs of women in the Arab world and unite our efforts. Who said that women cannot be leaders in their families, their neighborhoods and communities as well as evolve to respond to their own needs within their regions before running in parliamentary or presidential elections?

As activists, we are a mere crossing bridge, a bridge that contributes to helping women move from a society of discrimination to a society of partnership. We do not decide the needs of these women nor how to respond to them. They do. Let us bear that in mind before designing our programs.

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