BEIRUT: The feminist collective Nasawiya has launched an initiative to pinpoint 50 women leaders in Lebanon to be featured in a book the organization aims to publish by Christmas 2012.
Nasawiya aims to identify inspirational, but overlooked women, who have overcome social, familial or legal hardship to excel in public service, aviation, filmmaking, publishing, sports, education, online gaming, or other fields.
Farrah Shamas, one of a team of 20 working on the project, explains that the idea was inspired by the ALWANE (Active Leaders for Women’s Advancement in the Near East) project launched by the nongovernmental organization Women’s Campaign International.
ALWANE, Arabic for “my colors,” consists of experienced and emerging leaders from 17 countries across the Middle East and North Africa who have formed a coalition to advance women’s leadership in the Arab world. Working at both a national and regional level, ALWANE aims to generate discourse about the challenges facing women’s full participation in society, and seeks to create a platform to advocate for change across the region.
She explains that the book will not constitute an end in itself; rather, it will be one facet of Nasawiya’s continued endeavor to promote equal rights for women in Lebanese society. The NGO is lobbying the Lebanese government to pass a law to protect women from domestic violence and rape.
“The book will be part of a bigger movement fighting against the patriarchal society we live in,” Shamas vows.
“We hope that by highlighting examples of successful female leaders we can inspire the younger generation and help women in their communities achieve greater freedom in terms of educational and employment opportunities and also on a psychological level.”
Shamas believes that the greatest obstacle to achieving equal rights for women in Lebanese society is a cultural psyche based on compartmentalized gender roles that situate women firmly within the domestic sphere. She points out that qualified women may be overlooked in favor of men when applying for jobs because employers factor in time expected to be lost during maternity leave and the possibility that a woman will quit her job once she marries.
“Women are expected to start families and become housewives, not CEOs,” Shammas observes.
“Girls feel pressured growing up compared to guys. Even their mothers expect them to settle down and start a family. There is nothing wrong with being a housewife, but we want to help give women the right to choose what they want.”
In order to illustrate this point, the publication will feature numerous women who have successfully balanced family life with flourishing careers.
“The two are not mutually exclusive,” Shamas argues. “It is important to show that you don’t have to choose between a family and a career.”
The NGO is in the process of compiling the list of 50 women leaders. Recommendations are welcome on the group’s website (www.nasawiya.org) and Facebook page.