Rola is a 29-year-old Lebanese feminist activist who created theAProject, an initiative to address sexuality and gender in Lebanon from a sex-positive and feminist perspective. She is an Asia Safe Abortion Partnership Youth Champion, a nurse, and a researcher who has published a number of peer-reviewed papers on youth sexuality. In this Q&A with IWHC Program Officer Jessie Clyde, she talks about the “innate feminism” that spurred her activism for women’s and transgender rights.
Could you describe the city where you’re from? What was your favorite subject in school or favorite extracurricular activity?
I’m from Beirut and my favorite classes growing up were biology and social sciences—such as sociology, economics, philosophy, and history.
How did you become involved in advocating for sexual and reproductive rights for young people? What drew you to the movement?
I was drawn to sexual and reproductive rights due to my early fascination with the field of sexuality, which led me to pursue my studies in health and nursing. Also growing up within a system of patriarchy, I discovered I had an innate feminism and that I had to work towards changing the current injustices. The best place to start is with protecting the body—which is the first and most personal place of attack.
Can you tell us a bit about the organization you work with? Specifically, what are you hoping to accomplish or change?
TheAproject emerged from discussions and interactions within ASAP’s Youth Advocacy Institute. We hope to provide a critical space to discuss sexuality and allow for narratives of women and trans people to emerge with regards to their/our experiences in embracing and struggling with sexuality.
Who most inspires you in the work you’re doing? What motivates you to keep going?
I am inspired by local and other global south initiatives such as NASAWIYA, MEEM, SAMSARA, CREA, ASAP, TARSHI. The successes and failures that these groups have faced have really taught me about the importance of the politicization of sexuality and have all contributed to the creation, and hopefully the continued existence and effectiveness, of theAproject.
What is the biggest challenge you face in your work?
The biggest challenge is to have our politics seep into mainstream politics and to influence policy. In fact that is such a challenge that we have decided that we are not interested in direct policy change and that our work is best at the grassroots level with the individuals who would benefit directly from our action. Addressing political leaders and lawmakers who basically create and enforce misogynist laws feels like an endeavor that is energy-draining, apologetic—and a waste of time. Our time and energy is best spent on the persons we care about, they are our goal and they are our focus.
What is your greatest dream or vision for your community or country?
My dream is that feminists and activists who do not necessarily label themselves as feminists find ways to stand together in solidarity and work to create the changes we want in our country and communities. We have to respect each others’ work and differences because the truth is, none of us can do this alone or divided.
What are some encouraging signs or changes you’ve seen?
Syrian feminists who have been displaced and migrant women living in Lebanon who are forced to endure racism, sexism, classism, and other forms of hatred have managed to create beautiful ripples and waves in the hateful laws and communities within Lebanon. These women are inspirational to me. The fact that they speak so loudly against the injustices they face is a daily reminder of how much the fight is ongoing and it’s encouraging to other women in Lebanon to follow in their footprints; their courage and strength is contagious.