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International Women’s Day: Shaping Lebanon during its troubled times

Every 8th of March the world gathers to celebrate women in their entire splendor and for all of their unimaginable strength. This women’s day will be the 112th celebration of this remarkable day. It started in socialist policies back in the 1900s with labor movements particularly in New York City, but the 8th of March was not proposed then just yet. March 8 would find its roots in Soviet Russia, after a female protest in Petrograd demanding bread and peace during the fight against the Tsar’s rule, this protest culminated in the women’s right to vote in what would become USSR in 1917 as well as their right to abortion and divorce among other things. Now although most countries recognize these rights, other challenges have risen to disrupt women’s cause, on a multitude of fronts, like the political, social and economic. The scales are especially intensified in countries considered under-developed. And today we are about to take the example of the Middle Eastern Arab country of Lebanon. Ever since 2019, Lebanon has been hit by an ever growing and hard economic crisis fueled by political instability as well as the August 4th 2020 Beirut Port explosion, plummeting the rate of the Lebanese Pound (Lira) in relation to the US Dollar as a consequence. It is certainly not the first crisis to hit the country as Lebanon’s history is filled with instability accompanied by the ravaging effects of a 15 year long civil war (1975-1990). Whatever the problem may be, women were and still are on the front line to defend, protect, and portray their country and its people in different forms of art among a lot of other ways. Today we honor these women, from the past and in the present, who dedicated their precious lives to their country and its cause. They were courageous and outspoken on different issues.

Etel Adnan 

 Etel Adnan, the Lebanese author and Artist. The New York Times

Etel Adnan is a Lebanese-American philosopher of the century in which she was born, a committed artist and militant for the causes of the oppressed, described by those around her as being a generous, enlightened, extremely cultured, very intelligent, gifted and talented person.  Born in Beirut on February 24, 1925 to a Greek Christian mother and a Syrian Muslim father, she lived in California before settling in Paris for health reasons. She died in Paris at the age of 96 on the night between Saturday November 13 and Sunday November 14 2021. She has made exemplary contributions to the field of art and paintings. Her most famous work is her novel Sitt Marie Rose, a true story about a Christian woman, Marie Rose, living during the civil war, who fell in love, tragically, with a Muslim Palestinian militant. With this novel, Ms. Adnan perfectly embodied the hate and fear of the « other ».

Fatimah al-Khawajeh and Warda Butrus Ibrahim

Fatimah al-Khawajeh and Warda Butrus Ibrahim are two lesser known women in Lebanese history, even though their impact was great. They were both workers. Ms. Khawajeh was a worker at the popular sweets factory Gandour, while Ms. Ibrahim worked at the Reggie tobacco company in 1946. Both were killed when the strike and protests they both participated in at their respective companies were brutally repressed by security forces. But their sacrifice was not in vain, as their companies granted the workers their demands. their unfortunate demise resulted in the passing of the Lebanese Labor Law (after the death of Warda Butrus) and wage law (after the death of Fatimah al-Khawajeh). Pay raises and equal pay among men and women were also introduced and the verbal and physical humiliation women workers received was finally put to a halt.

Sana'a Mehaidli

 Sana'a Mehaidli in her SSNP uniform.

Sana’a Mehaidli is the story of women’s struggle against occupation, an increasingly famous story in Lebanon. Sana’a was a member of the Syrian Social Nationalist Party in Lebanon (SSNP), a party that aims to unify the natural Syrian region known as the Fertile Crescent under one banner among cultural lines. During the Lebanese Civil War, the SSNP picked up arms fighting against right-wing militias and the Israeli occupation (especially in 1982). At the age of only 16, Ms. Mehaidli lit up the fire of resistance when she embarked in a Peugeot car full of explosives and blew herself next to an Israeli army convoy in Southern Lebanon killing twelve soldiers in the process. The resistance she started would later result in the Liberation of Southern Lebanon at the hands of various resistance groups. She has eternally been dubbed the Bride of the South.

Amal Alamuddin Clooney  

Famously known as the wife of famous renowned actor George Clooney, Ms. Alamuddin is a very powerful Arab woman, among the 100 Most Powerful by Arabian Business and amongst the 10 World’s Most Powerful Arab Women by Forbes. She is a renowned humanitarian lawyer and activist defending multiple high profile Human Rights cases. Of those cases we cite working in the Office of the Prosecutor at the UN Special Tribunal for Lebanon and at the International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia.

Lebanon may be small and is witnessing a troubling period but it has surely produced big names with even bigger achievements, both internally and externally. You have read only about five courageous strong women, but there are many more. I permit myself to cite women who represented Lebanon on an International scale like the legendary Fayrouz and Sabah and Majida al-Roumi, authors like Emily Nasrallah, and resistance figures like Souha Bechara, Lola Abboud. The list goes on and will continue to go on not only in Lebanon but in all of the countries as more and more inspirational generations of women break stereotypes and leave their imprints in the hearts and minds of all of us.  


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