Lesbian Issues Brought Up at the Arab Feminisms Conference

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An Arab Feminism(s) Conference was held this past week at the American University in Beirut, bringing together academics, researchers, writers, activists, and professors working on feminism and women’s rights. We got very excited about the conference and knew that it would be a challenge to bring up lesbian issues amidst what we predicted would be a conservative audience. So we banked on our allies from the Feminist Collective, the Global Fund for Women, the Coalition of Sexual and Bodily Rights in Muslim Societies, and Sisters in Islam, members of whom were present at the conference as speakers and participants.

Indeed, our friends were true to their alliances and the topic of lesbians was brought up at different times, through Zeina Zaatari’s speech for the inclusion of sexual rights in our feminist discourse. The Feminist Collective also made sure to speak about Bareed Mista3jil during a panel on feminism and art. Zeina Anwar from Sisters in Islam was also a vocal ally. But my most pleasant surprise came with the brave and radical interventions of Prof. Amal Amireh, a delightful woman who took it upon herself to insist that the Arab feminist movement should embrace lesbian issues as an integral part of its struggle. It was a touching moment – to say the least – for many of us Meems present at the conference. Amal Amireh is and will always be a hero to us. Here is a recount of what happened, adapted from the Feminist Collective blog entry “Feminists Split Over Sexuality:

This morning, and finally, the split was vocalized clearly and homophobia was brought out into the open. Kaltham Al Ghanim form Qatar University confused gender identity with sexual orientation reprimanding women who want to act like men (by wanting to sleep with other women). In her opinion, by doing so, they are glorifying men. She asserted that she did not see lesbian issues as feminist and thought the conference should respect her opinion. A few people clapped. She also went on to call feminist revolutionary talk as childish and unrealistic, asking her fellow academics to be practical in their proposals and thoughts. She also accused them as being distant and ignorant of the real feelings and lives of the real average Arab woman (assuming of course that she was in close proximity of the lives of these women). “Why defy our culture?” she asked.

I was happy it came out of her. I was happy the ridiculous ideas of a good part of these conference participants were vocalized so clearly because then it allowed for a comeback. And, indeed, Professor Amal Amireh (biography, books, blog), one of the accused revolutionary feminists, took on the responsibility of responding critically to these ideas by stating that Dr. Ghanim’s view on feminism and culture could only be defined as backwards. “We have to acknowledge that sexuality must be an indispensable part of our feminism and that lesbians are women, they are Arab women, they are among us, they are us.” Amireh went on to  state that “our feminist ethical responsibility will be measured by how supportive we are to our lesbians.” And the room went silent. Then some people laughed.

Et voila. Fantastic stuff.

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5 Responses to “Lesbian Issues Brought Up at the Arab Feminisms Conference”

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    Jun 08. 2010

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  2. salama

    Oct 14. 2009

    My mom slept with me especially when I was little. She told me many things about respect, religion, sex etc.
    The most obvious advice she repeats is “be honest and learn to listen”. “Always remember the golden rule”.
    Women slept with men or women they respect and trust. Not because of money but with reputation. The law of common sense in making wise choices comes from the deepest insight of any group of cultures.

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  3. Maha

    Oct 14. 2009

    and the room went silent………………….that says it all………….so much work to be done…..thank you for all your efforts out there.

    Reply to this comment
  4. Rita

    Oct 13. 2009

    “Kaltham Al Ghanim form Qatar University confused gender identity with sexual orientation reprimanding women who want to act like men (by wanting to sleep with other women). In her opinion, by doing so, they are glorifying men.”

    OMG! I can’t believe that lady said that! Women sleep with women because they want to act like men! That is truly hilarious. I’m glad that you guys brought up lesbian issues in the feminist conference. People need to realize that lesbians and bisexual women should not be excluded from feminism because they don’t necessarily follow the social norms.

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  5. amina wadud

    Oct 12. 2009

    This is always a hard nut to crack within the ranks of some third world feminists. Some how to have to think let alone “include” issues of sexual orientation within the feminist discourse means that those majority hetero-normal females might not get the issues dealt with which they experience regarding oppressions. It is hard to see that one form of oppression actually includes the seeds of other forms and so the battle is wholistic. As a hetero woman I find this failure to connect regarding sexual orientation exhausting but like all other issues one which must continue to be raised until we stop being part of the problem.

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