23rd and 24th of June 2023, Beirut’s Hippodrome was the place to welcome the arrival of summer by celebrating women in all their diversities. FEMALE has organized a free Feminist Festival open and inclusive to all for the occasion of its 10th anniversary. 10 years of joy, tears, beauty, screams and struggles working towards a more inclusive feminist movement. And that was only the beginning… Decades of Loud Proud Feminism are still to come up!
A Feminist Festival was not only important to celebrate the hard work FEMALE has been doing for the past 10 years to challenge society’s patriarchal norms but also to give the opportunity to the public to learn, meet, share, network and most importantly be inspired by one another.
Despite online threats sent to FEMALE a couple of days before the festival kicked off, FEMALE decided to maintain the event and stand proud in the name of the ideas they fight for. Indeed, an anonymous person asked the security forces and the Lebanese Ministry of Interior to cancel the event as it promotes “perverted and immoral acts”, the voice stated. The group behind the threats also stated they will organize a protest at the Hippodrome as the feminist event unfolds.
FEMALE requested extra security to be sent to secure the event but no protest was organized and no one came to bother the success of the event. These threats were definitely part of the pressuring of conservative religious groups to keep societal change from happening in the broader Lebanese society and the repetitive backlash against the feminist movement. Groups such as Dar el-Fatwa and Jnoud al-Rab (Soldiers of God) have been repetitively threatening events that have to do with LGBTIQ+ rights and feminism seems to be one of their new targets.
A successful turnout means a successful event
Under the shining sun, activists, professionals, politicians, entrepreneurs, artists, intellectuals, risk takers, DJs, fighters (literally!), and many more featured in the festival through different talks and activities that satisfied all tastes and interests. The event was a great occasion for all women to be seen, heard and celebrated in their diversity but also empowered to break down gender-based barriers.
Over 2,000 people joined the event from all over the country: Bekaa, Chouf, North and South, refugee camps and remote villages and from all parts of Beirut. Attendees and speakers came from all kinds of backgrounds and Halime Kaakour, Lebanese MP, rightly stated that “there are women, men, youth and we are celebrating together the sharing of the same values which are equality, justice and dignity.” Hussein who came with a group of 80 young people, boys and girls, traveled all the way from Al-Rashidieh Camp south of Tyre to attend the festival. They valued the importance of designing “a relationship between Palestinians and Lebanese people, especially through the celebration of FEMALE and the rights they fight for.” Two other young Beiruti men came to show support in the cause and “to see wonderful and powerful women that we really need in our society”, they hoped that the freeing of women would be the first step for them to see more rights appearing for the LGBTIQ+ community in Lebanon.
A few insights within the talks and activities featured
Inspiring talks gave rhythm to the event. Indeed, personalities such as the MPs Paula Yacoubian and Halime Kaakour, the influencer Yara Bou Monsef and the ex-Miss Lebanon Nadine Wilson Njeim kicked off the event on Friday evening by giving their perspectives while inspiring the audience with their insightful stories. Attendance was thriving for these speakers’ talk and plenty of attendees got a chance to get a selfie with them. Paula Yacoubian stated that it was “her duty to be here” and that she needed “to raise [her] voice and to speak out about feminism and about important issues in this country.” All speakers came here to show support for the cause but also to educate, inspire and empower the public.
Interesting panel discussions also featured entrepreneurs, journalists and businesswomen and provided an insight into the challenges faced in their professions, as well as the opportunities available. Activists and advocates also shared their thoughts and experiences and called for the need for more intersectional feminism. Indeed, Amal Charif highlighted the struggles of being a woman in a wheelchair in Lebanon but only reminded us the necessity to incorporate all sub-minorities of women within the movement.
Moreover, doctors, sexual therapists and psychologists gave precious talks about women’s mental and sexual and reproductive health. Not only informing the crowd about women’s bodies and questioning pre-conceived ideas about female sexuality, they also gave the audience tools to nurture their well-being and get to better know themselves, their bodies and their sexual selves. Questions were thriving in these sessions and women had the chance to find answers to their doubts and break myths. Dr. Gaël Bou Ghannam, OBGYN, emphasized the need to have such sessions in an event like FEMALE’s festival as the audience was very diverse from what she is usually used to and thus had a broader impact. She stated that the feminist movement goes hand in hand with her activity: “Women can be empowered in different ways and understanding their bodies, their reproductive and sexual health is one of these ways.”
The festival also featured uplifting activities such as a Zumba session to dance the celebration out and self-defense classes that were very much awaited. Indeed, several attendees we interviewed showed strong interest and amazement in the self-defense classes delivered by Nancy Rashed and her students. A young active woman from Rashidieh Palestinian camp explained that she was very excited to take on what she had learned in the session to the camp to empower girls in her community and “prove that women can do anything: they can self-defend and they can protect themselves by themselves.” An inspiring artist also drew a mural with the help of attendees who could express themselves by taking over paintbrushes.
To end the talks of this special weekend, two witty stand-up comedians made the crowd laugh away all the severe topics through irony. Last but certainly not least, both days of the festivals were captured by lots of smiles and dance moves performed by the public on the beats of talented female musicians and DJs. But let’s be honest, the dancing never stopped throughout the weekend, every break was accompanied by self-improvised dabke dancing and the audience did not forget to bring with drums to set the rhythm.
To allow as many people as possible to join the venue from all over the country, a kid’s zone entertained children who had the fun of their lives in inflatable games while families could stroll past the booths featuring local women-led initiatives and organizations. Small businesses thus benefited from exposure and could offer their products to the public (food, accessories, crafts…).
Such festivals are so important because “it is very important to keep the discussion happening, tell people what we are doing, why we are doing it and why we will keep on doing it every single day. For me, it is important to have all these women together” agreed the activist and psychologist Warde Bou Daher.
“The event [was] so good with great, amazing and empowering women” – Yara Bou Monsef said it !
The Hippodrome was Loud and Proud last weekend and FEMALE was the buzzword for a more inclusive Lebanon!