Feminists Leading Change: Lina Abou-Habib
Based on an interview with Lina Abou-Habib by Aayushi Aggarwal and Natasha Harris-Harb
Meet Lina Abou-Habib. A woman blazing trails for all in Lebanon, the MENA region and beyond. Lina is currently a Senior Policy Fellow at the Issam Fares Institute for Public Policy and International Affairs (American University of Beirut). She also serves as the Chair of the Collective for Research and Training of Development-Action (CRTD-A) and is a Strategic MENA Advisor for the Global Fund for Women. She is a member of the editorial board of the Gender and Development journal published by Oxfam and Routledge. Abou-Habib was the former Executive Director of WLP Lebanon/Collective for Research and Training on Development–Action (CRTD-A), and is a co-founder and coordinator of the Machreq/Maghreb Gender Linking and Information Project.
Our stories hold our truths
“In the global south, and particularly in the MENA region, there is a rupture between intergenerational conversations. That is one of the reasons why feminist role models are not so visible. One of the causes is the fact that we tend to neglect women’s history. We’ve neglected being incredibly diligent and thorough in making sure that we are writing our own history ourselves, particularly in the MENA region, and in other parts of the global South.
We feminists need to start documenting our own experiences and our own lives and our own stories and our own narratives. This stands particularly true for the younger generation.
People in the Global South, so far have been interpreted by others. We always thought that we were too busy to write our own stories, and we undermined the importance of our stories, of our struggles. So, somebody else told our stories and somebody else also interpreted those stories. They turned out to be different, someone else’s account of our lives. A big part of the feminist struggle is to write our own story. The struggle is for younger feminists to write themselves their own stories, and, not for these stories to be reinterpreted through the eyes and mindset of white feminists.”
Leading the way
“In the Global South, we don’t promote our own leadership. We are not highlighting our own leadership skills and the different forms of leadership that we have. It appears as if it’s all in a day’s work, which of course is a myth because so much of what feminists do is actually serious leadership. When you are framing issues, campaigning for issues, working both on the ground, and also speaking truth to power, you are exercising leadership in different ways. But we fail to showcase it as such. With this in mind, I think it’s important for the emerging, nascent generation of intersectional feminists from the Global South to actually acknowledge themselves as leaders. Particularly given the ways in which they have been departing from perceived practises and actually truly challenging the big beasts – patriarchy and all its historical power. And it’s very well grounded in social institutions, and dealing with new and more powerful and more hostile and more aggressive forms of oppression, particularly in the Global South. So, these are daily acts of feminist leadership.”
If you want to look at role models, let’s look at what our younger sisters are doing on a daily basis.
“Look for your leadership models from within your spaces – your workplace, family, community, networks, friends.. They are the ones making the nascent feminist movement incredibly vibrant, incredibly powerful, and incredibly elegant. My generation tried to work with what was there, most of us tried to outsmart the system. In some ways we were able to get somewhere. But I think that the overwhelming, overarching strategy was outsmarting the system.
We are seeing different leadership styles emerging now. Feminist leaders now are questioning the system and working towards breaking it. They are saying that it’s game over for existing oppressive structures. It has to go away. And that is actually the mark of true leadership.”
Learning from the past
“We need to learn from the past mistakes, to turn the page on these mistakes, and do different and do better. And one of these mistakes is that we didn’t invest a lot in being interconnected– in actually practicing, living, breathing, feminist solidarity. And that is something we collectively need to reflect on. While one must not get stuck in the past, it’s important to understand how these dynamics worked in the past or didn’t work. And why many of us took the decisions that we took, what worked and what didn’t work.”
Shoulders – yours, mine and ours.
“We stand on other women’s shoulders and they stand on other women’s shoulders and it goes on and on and on and on. And I think if we are able to identify these women, be it from our immediate surroundings or women whose writings have influenced us, or women who inspired or who made sure change happened that impacted us, or those who touched us in some ways. I think once we’re able to reflect and think on whose shoulders do we actually sit as a person, as an individual woman, then we would realize how amazing our feminist history is.”
Natasha Harris-Harb is UNGEI’s youth engagement adviser and Aayushi Aggarwal is the communications manager at Gender at Work.
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