Talking Sexuality and Rights in the Arab World

Feminism and sexual rights seem to have had major wins lately. A lot of celebrities are declaring themselves as feminists, and words like “transgender” are increasingly appearing in mainstream western media. But these concepts remain poorly understood. Despite feminism becoming a fixture in pop culture, some still equate the term with hatred of men or the notion that women are superior to men. And despite the recent flurry of social media activity in the U.S. on equal access to public restrooms and transgender issues, people still conflate sexual orientation and gender identity.

This is especially true in the Arab world. IWHC’s partner, the Gender and Sexuality Resource Center (GSRC), part of the Arab Foundation for Freedoms and Equality (AFE) in Beirut, Lebanon, is working to tackle topics that are rarely discussed or not well understood by the general public. Earlier this year they launched Lam7a—which means “glimpse” in Arabic—a series of short videos that tackle topics such as feminism, masculinity, and reproductive rights. These videos can be viewed by anyone; they don’t assume any previous knowledge of the topic.

The activists and academics featured in the video relate the topics back to their own countries and contexts. One video features an activist talking about how female pleasure is exalted in an old Tunisian proverb. Another speaker says, “I was born a male in a society that is constantly trying to make me a ‘man.’”

The Director, Nour Nasr, explained that it was important to feature activists from the region because “this counters the idea that not much work can be, or is being, done in the region when it comes to sexual and reproductive rights. Now the international community will learn that a great deal of work is being done by the region, in the region, and for the region.”

While the team at GSRC was concerned that there could be backlash to the videos, comments have been overwhelmingly positive. Each of the videos has had more than 7,000 views, and those commenting have expressed interest and enthusiasm to learn more about the topics. Next up, the GSRC plans to release videos that deal with sexual consent, queer theory, and virginity testing.

While the videos have been a great success, the GSRC also recognizes that bringing visibility to the activists can bring about certain risks, especially as governments increasingly crack down and repress activists, journalists, and nonprofit groups throughout the region.

“Since its conception, the mission of AFE was to be a catalyst for social movements across the region, by providing all the training, resources, information, and security for activists to carry out their advocacy work in their own contexts,” said Nour. “We aim to equip activists with the capacity, the tools, the resources, the platforms, and the protection they need to keep their work going, even as our contexts become more and more difficult to operate in.”

Despite the challenges in the region, Nour points to several recent gains, including a new law in Lebanon that allows trans individuals to change their gender on their official IDs. And as the positive comments and responses to the videos clearly demonstrate, there is strong interest and support for sexual and reproductive rights throughout the region. Organizations such as GSRC are playing no small role in helping to foster this support and mobilize action.

You can watch all the videos here:

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