Almost 2,000 activists called for the rights of women in Lebanon by marching from Sassine Square to Kaskas Garden in Horsh Beirut on Saturday, March 11.
Despite the heavy showers of rain and the many dismissive remarks from onlookers, the protesters persisted with the march, which was organized on the occasion of the International Women’s Day as a joint effort between several student, feminist, and women-centered groups.
The collective movement of organizers included four AUB clubs, which are the Feminist Club, Red Oak Club, Secular Club, and the Gender and Sexuality Club, as well as various non-governmental organizations and feminist initiatives such as Fe-Male, Space27, and the Dammeh cooperative.
“We marched in celebration of our diversity and differences; to make a statement of our solidarity with one another against the injustices of patriarchy,” said the AUB Feminist Club President Aya Jamaleddine.
The collaboration emphasized the intersectionality of several forms of oppression and the need for further coordination to tackle an issue that is prevalent in all aspects of society, according to AUB Gender and Sexuality Club President Patrick Hourany Haddad.
“We in the Gender and Sexuality Club participated in the Women’s March because we believe the efforts against the patriarchy and the efforts against misogyny are intertwined with the efforts against homophobia, queer-phobia, and other forms of oppression exercised upon people with diverse genders and sexualities,” said Haddad.
Under the umbrella banner of women’s rights and as the slogan “different causes, same struggle” implies, organizers and marchers voiced out gender-related struggles and inequalities faced by individuals from various communities, including the LGBTQ+ individuals, migrants, and domestic workers.
“Looking at all the signs and banners yesterday, it was clear that each woman or group had their own reasons to be there, their own issues to face,” said Joumana Talhouk, president of the AUB Secular Club. “It’s great that we were able to provide this platform for all these issues to come to the surface. For me, this march is the beginning of a journey full of strength and solidarity.”
Banners and placards in English and Arabic read a variety of phrases, from pop-culture reference such as “A woman’s place is in the rebellion” and “Girls just want to have fun-damental human rights” to affirming presence and freedom with “Trans* and queer people – we’re here” and “We want to be free of the binds that control our bodies and the laws that legalize killing us.”
The march brought together concerned women and activists of different regions in Lebanon, religions, and socioeconomic backgrounds, with students –and some professors –from different universities such as the Lebanese University, Balamand University, and the American University of Beirut constituting a large chunk of the protesters.
“Our approach is mainly about going beyond an elitist feminism that ignores the 99 percent of women and limits the action against patriarchy into NGOs,” said the Red Oak Club’s May Makki, who believes that the march could not break Beirut’s activist centrality and that building a successful feminist movement in Lebanon requires an organic flow at the local level, or something initiated by local women from all over the country to represents each of their concerns.
Organizers provided that platform while ensuring the comfort of protesters by wearing color-coded ribbons on their arms, telling them to approach individuals with yellow being for general questions, red for route information, and purple for harassment and safety concerns.
Those marching across the Bechara Khoury highway chanted for the women on the balconies to join the rest of their people on the streets, asked women to raise their voices against the patriarchy, and cried out that rape is a crime, among other things.
“You are not defeated as long as you resist,” read one sign, and the march was indicative of a variety of feminist networks in the Lebanese community that could offer both that resistance, and incite social change when they unite.