Interview with Farah Salka: “Nasawiya, A Revolution in the Making”

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With a lot of drive and ambition, one year ago, a group of young feminists launched the Feminist Collective (FC) in Beirut. “After an exciting feminist 2009, lots of achievements, lots of disappointments, always challenging, always enriching, after a few months of hiatus that were not without brainstorming & conversations, today we re-launch a re-attempt at a feminist collective organized differently for 2010,” says Nadine Moawad, last year’s FC coordinator, on January 28th announcing Nasawiya.

Bekhsoos took this re-launch as an opportunity to speak with Farah Salka, the new General Coordinator of Nasawiya. Farah is a promising young feminist organizer who has previously worked on many social justice campaigns. She will be taking the lead in coordinating all the Nasawiya initiatives, strategic planning, and administration.

Bekhsoos: What is Nasawiya?

FS: Nasawiya is a revolution in the making. Nasawiya is feminist at the core, but our feminism is one that is in touch with all other justice struggles around us. We do not focus on one thing and dismiss another. We fight oppression in all its forms: occupation, patriarchy, racism, sectarianism, and the many things that follow.

Bekhsoos: The political and social codes of this country are based on patriarchy, a system that feminists wish to eradicate. Who do you think is suppressed by this system? How do you think change happens? Is it happening in Lebanon?

FS: True. The political and social codes of the globe as a whole are still based on patriarchy. And Lebanon is a perfect case study to look into. Who is being suppressed? More than half the society is. From migrant workers to single mothers to sex workers to “house wives” (not for lack of a better term but for emphasis on the stupidity of our dictionary’s limited wording) to women married to non-Lebanese and the list extends for pages. In short, every single woman in this country whether she admits it or not, knows it or not, cares for it or not, is suppressed by mere nature of being a women living here. A woman with the best possible advantages (of education, money, understanding parents, etc…) is suppressed by law and society. So I leave you and your imagination to estimate how worse the situation would be for women from “minority groups:” a lesbian in Lebanon, a Syrian single mother, a Lebanese woman with an Indian husband and 2 children.

Change is hard. But change is possible.

It takes inspired and inspiring people who refuse to stay indifferent to injustices around them (even if they do not touch upon them directly). It takes willingness to invest time and effort in strategizing, looking back and learning from mistakes, moving over silly quarrels, and looking into what unites us change-seekers under one umbrella rather than what divides us under many. It is a big challenge once we are trying to fight huge systems and things like patriarchy, corporations, dictatorships and the like that we keep a focused eye on the enemy and not lose sight midway through and starting thinking of each other as enemies. Falling into such a trap would be the biggest successes to the big bad wolves I mentioned above.

Change is happening in Lebanon but at a very slow pace unfortunately. There are so many indifferent people everywhere, and it is not so much of any easy task to fish for those people who give a damn about the status quo and the need to alter things. Just take a look at the case of migrant workers and the average death toll of 2 per week (yes 2 per week) and how people are just totally ignoring this whole crisis we live in. This in itself says a lot about what kind of society we have become (or have always been?!).

A glimpse of hope: Nasawiya is not indifferent and its members do give a damn and will be working 24/7 to try and change things around. Join us.

Bekhsoos: Is there a misconception that to be part of
the feminist movement you have to be a woman?
How can a man contribute to the feminist

FS: Certainly, that is a big misconception. I do not
have to be a Palestinian to be pro-the Palestinian
cause. I just have to be a human being with a brain and
a heart. All it takes is logic and a human rights
perspective to things. I do not have to have
someone I know been tortured in Israeli prisons
(and Lebanese prisons and Syrian prisons) to be
a fervent advocate for no torture. Same thing with
our feminist struggle. Women have been oppressed
for ages and ages and as we speak now. Understanding women’s struggle does not entail that you have to be a woman. You just have to be a feminist (even if some people do not like to adhere themselves to this word for lack of understanding of what it really means) and a justice-seeking activist.

Men and women alike can contribute to breaking this stereotype.

Feminists are not against men. They are all against patriarchy and the men and women in that system of patriarchy. I can meet the most unfeminist women on earth (take Nayla Moawad as an example) and I can meet a great feminist man (take “Angry Arab” as an example). So basically, a feminist can be any individual, not necessarily a male or a female.

Bekhsoos: What are the priority issues that Nasawiya will be working on this year?

FS: Nasawiya has 22 causes that are all important in our struggle. Our approach is all or nothing. We do not advocate for women in leading business positions by postponing our call for full sexual and bodily rights. It just does not work this way. Neither do we advocate for Lebanese women’s rights and forget about the thousands of battered African and Asian migrant domestic workers everyday. All or nothing.

Bekhsoos: What does the lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and queer movement have in common with the feminist movement in Lebanon? In your opinion, should LGBTQs and feminists join forces?

FS: The LGBTQ community has a lot to do with the feminist movement. Actually, it is part and parcel of it. I cannot imagine someone from this community who is not a feminist. We are asking for the same things in the end, more or less with minor specifications, in both struggles. The right to choices, gender justice, and freedom to love remain at the core of both. No doubt, they/we should join forces to make our voices higher and movement stronger.

Bekhsoos: How will Nasawiya celebrate International Women’s Day on March 8, 2010?

FS: We are in the process of preparing a number of activities to mark IWD this year. We will be using techniques from Theater of the Oppressed to perform in different areas of Beirut, similar to last year’s taking to the streets. You can join us on Thursdays at 7 PM to take part in any of the actions if interested.

Bekhsoos: Is there anything you would like to add?

FS: For anyone who would like to join the movement and take part in any or all of our current projects (or even start your own), please check and write me on . I would love to meet up and tell you about all our plans for this year and beyond. So much needs to be done and we need many many many cool feminists on board. We are a few today. We will become thousands tomorrow. Or is thousands too little?!

Lynn is actively involved in Meem, a community of queer women and trans folk. She's also into pixels, among other things.

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