Lebanon Takes Its Feminist Movement to Another Level, Launching the First International Feminist Festival in the Middle East

lebanon feminism Film Festival

Often, talking about feminism and the Middle East can seem tautological to us; the Occidentalism to which the Arab world is subject does not allow us to see beyond the stereotypes.

That is why, when talking about feminism and art in a world known abroad for its theological machismo, the surprises are many and often good ones.

According to The961, the political revolution that Lebanon is experiencing at the moment has given space to other movements such as the feminist one, which not only demands the democratization of spaces, but also the opening of new channels of discussion, such as the cinema, for example.

This is where the idea of the International Feminism Festival comes from, an event organized between the Institut Français du Liban and the Joumana Haddad Freedoms Center, whose first edition opened on February 27.

During three days, the public could attend film projections, performances, workshops and colloquiums focused on the debate of the role and position of women in the Middle East.

“This is a festival about feminism in the whole world. As much as we think that the times have changed, women’s rights are still lacking in the Arab world and the Western world. There’s a lot of discrimination, injustice and that needs to change,” said Lebanese author and activist Joumana Haddad, to The Daily Star.

However, unlike the West, Lebanon is currently experiencing its fourth feminist wave, which was triggered by the Spring Revolution in 2005 and the protests over the territory’s sovereignty and against Syrian troops in the country.

At that time, women were a major force felt in the streets of the whole country.

“In this era, the rhetoric of global and multicultural feminisms seemed especially salient,” wrote Rita Stephan in 2014. “Some feminists saw opportunities for the woman’s rights movement in the unstable situation in the Middle East, as old autocratic structures were falling and old alliances were coming apart.”

That is why the discussion on equal rights is now more important than ever, especially considering the political openness of the debate on the restructuring of the social system. 

One need only see the strong presence of the sectarian courts in the Arab cultural fabric to realize that, even in the rights of mothers over their children, women are still heavily oppressed in countries such as Lebanon.

“Women in Lebanon have in many ways borne the brunt of the sectarian system of governance in the country,” Lama Fakih, director of crisis and conflict division at Human Rights Watch [HRW] told The New Arab.

“Some of the demands women’s rights activists are making are for a civil personal status law, equality in the nationality law, a reform of the kafala system, reproductive rights, end of child marriage, protection from violence and harassment, and to be represented in government,” Fakih added.

“Too often women’s rights have been held hostage to flawed sectarian rhetoric.”

Now, thanks to events such as the International Feminist Film Festival, women’s rights activism in the Middle East will have a platform with a much broader scope and, hand in hand with social networks, promises a radical change in the break with old paradigms that no longer have a place.