I spent the weekend working. Again.
I was invited to speak at an event called “Mind the Gap: Igniting Opportunities”, focused on fixing what needs to be fixed in Lebanon. It was a high-level thing, including President of Lebanon Michel Aoun, First Lady of Afghanistan Rula Ghani, and many others, entering with much fanfare, hidden in a cloud of gray suits and coily things sticking out of security ears.
I was put on a panel called “Culture as a Platform for Preservation and Progress”, which I admittedly found very strange. What is culture!? This conversation could go in any direction. So, I did what I usually do in ambiguous situations – prepare nothing and wait for the surprise!
The panelists were a fascinating collection of women with a lot to say, but time was short. I said some useful stuff – but here’s the full monologue that I would have launched, if I could have!
Here’s the thing: Yes, sure, culture IS a platform. It isn’t static – it can change. And it has the power to make change. So, yes, culture can be used for preservation – but let’s make sure we are preserving the right things!
Culture can be a vehicle for progress – but that progress must be inclusive. Meaning – reflective of women’s rights and fundamental freedoms. We need to use it as an opportunity rather than an obstacle. Because – let’s face it – “culture” is often used as an obstacle to women’s rights.
Feminism?! It’s not our culture, we are told, from grassroots to government. Not everyone says this – but too many still do. Truth is: this isn’t true.
The fight for equality, for rights, for dignity, exists in EVERY culture. We need to use this momentum to bring about the rights we want – to build the Lebanon we want. That’s the cultural change I’d like to see.
I had just come back from London the night before this Mind the Gap thing – where I attended an event for women parliamentarians around the world. I looked at the room and thought that I would like to see a day when women parliamentarians, women leaders, women decision-makers is not something remarkable and unusual – but rather something ordinary and common and expected. As a part of our “culture”.
Nope. We are not there yet.
It is up to us to change this aspect of our culture. We often say that women in Lebanon are a force – but an underutilized force! Underutilized – and undervalued – in politics, in the economy, in every aspect of society. And I say “women in Lebanon” because this must include ALL women in Lebanon – not just Lebanese women.
I firmly believe that a world better for women is better for EVERYONE
I was so excited to hear First Lady Rula Ghani speak. After all, I lived for many years in Afghanistan, and although I left in 2006, I never forgot what I learned there. I tell this story a lot…
In Afghanistan, a young man told me: The world thought they could bring freedom to women, but freedom is only won from the inside.
So, Lebanon, here’s the “gap” we need to mind. It is time to win our freedom from the inside – a freedom that fully includes women.