On the 13th & 14th of May, 2014 we got the privilege to get to know 14 young and promising women’s rights activists from Egypt, Iraq, Jordan, Lebanon, Palestine and Iraqi Kurdistan. They all came to the beautiful city of Amman to participate in the last regional conference of the Young Women’s Peace Activism Initiative, launched in Alexandria in 2012.
We have always felt that young women’s voices are nearly absent in the debate on peace and social change. It is true that social media has given them space and tools to voice opinions and an outlet for engaging them virtually but their voices and opinions rarely make it to the traditional media outlet, public discourse or political forums. So the idea behind organizing this initiative was to broaden the base of young women advocating for women’s human rights, peace and social change in the Middle East and contribute to creating a second generation of women’s rights and peace activists.
During the course of the initiative the participants were requested to conduct a study on young women’s priorities and issues of concern in their countries and the conference in Amman, was an opportunity to reconnect and to share their experiences around the themes of their researches. On the final evening, a reception was held, where they also shared with a wider public their main messages. The fact that the Swedish ambassador Helena Gröndahl Rietz together with representatives from the local media and other local and international organisations came to meet and listen to the young activists was certainly an important factor that added to their enthusiasm, excitement and their levels of stress as well!
And so after this long introduction, are you still curious to hear about some of the issues the young brought up in their messages?!
Rand, Ekram, Duaa, Hanan and Elham from Palestine spoke about the problem of Palestinian women and their limited opportunities to decide who they want to love and marry. They explained that the Israeli government has frozen all reunification applications submitted by Palestinians since 2002 and so married couples who does not carry the same nationality or identity card are deprived of their right to reside or stay with their families, thus resulting in breaking up many families and making young women the primary victims of this policy.
Hayat and Roua from Lebanon shared with us the injustice that Lebanese women are suffering from as a result of the nationality law that deprives them from passing their nationality to their families and the complications those families face as a consequence of this law.
Ferial and Nada, spoke honestly and frankly about the increased sexual violence in Egypt and how it affects them and other women in Egypt.
From Jordan we heard from Lina how social media has become the trusted source for information for youth in Jordan and from Asmaa we learned more about the phenomenon of violence in Jordanian University and an analysis of its causes and background.
The young women from Basra and Kurdistan, Hiba, Awan and Jwan, gave us a picture of how patriarchal norms and traditions contribute to limiting women’s freedom and keep them imprisoned at home without the possibility to choose how they want to live, study, work or love.
But despite the important and heavy issues discussed, we left Amman with a lot of positive emotions and hope. We do not often hear from young women who fight for their and others’ rights and freedoms. Their ideas are seldom taken seriously and the media is rarely interested in giving an outlet for their stories. But in Amman they were able to take some space and share with us their stories. And that is a step in the right direction, for them and for all young women around the world.
Matilda and Nadia