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Jordanian feminists challenging the narrative
The Gender Dialogue Club invites open discussion around subjects treated as taboo in conservative Arab societies.
Lina Nasereddin hasn’t always been open-minded. Growing up in Jordan, her friends came from the same social sphere and shared broadly the same views. There were few opportunities for discussion and debate. Then something shifted. “I realized that my inner circle doesn’t represent Jordan, Jordan is diverse,” she says.
After accepting the status quo of her social group for almost 10 years, Nasereddin began exploring new ideas, searching for information online to find new sources of information. “At some point you need someone to challenge your narrative. I don’t want to be always surrounded by people that look and think exactly like me, it’s not healthy.”
Since 2013, she has been part of Ambassadors for Dialogue (AFD), an international discussion project that brings together people from Jordan, Egypt and Tunisia to discuss issues considered sensitive in many parts of the Arab world, including religion, politics and, in particular, gender. “It’s one of the subjects that is demonized here,” says Nasereddin, explaining that people often avoid discussions around gender because it’s considered controversial.
“I have been a feminist all my life but I did not understand the term. I believed in women’s rights and equality, but I did not really know what that entailed,” Nasereddin adds. To remedy this, she joined a feminist reading circle, which opened up new ideas and made her eager to learn more. Researching gender-related issues online, she realized there was a dearth of material available in Arabic.
So, with a group of AFD ambassadors, she started a Facebook page to stimulate discussion around gender-related topics on social media and provide a repository of material on these subjects that everyone can access for free in Arabic. “I wanted other people to have this opportunity so they can understand the subject and not demonize it for no reason,” she says.
“After the honor killing of Iman Irshaid in Jordan, we immediately started reaching out to local groups who are working to combat this barbaric practice. I hope that the gender dialogue group will succeed in achieving their mission. I hope fewer lives will be spared due to outdated and harmful acts.” says Faisal Saeed al Mutar, founder and president of Ideas Beyond Borders.
Two years in, the Gender Dialogue Club Facebook page has built a healthy following of 1500 people, 60 percent of whom are women aged 25 to 34. The other 40 percent are men, something the club did not expect in Jordan, where patriarchal values are deep-rooted. Now, the aim is to attract a younger audience by expanding to TikTok and Instagram with support from an Ideas Beyond Borders Innovation Hub grant.
“I believe dialogue can change things but it takes time… part of the reason for gender-based violence and other problems in our society is due to lack of tolerance but by communicating, we can change this mindset,” Nasereddin says.
The platform also features interviews with inspiring women who are defying gender stereotypes in their everyday lives. One woman is teaching robotics to girls in a refugee school in Amman, another is a former national sports-player-turned-entrepreneur who has started her own gym. There’s also the first female basketball referee in Jordan, talking about the challenges she has faced and the forces driving her to defy traditional gender roles to follow her dreams.
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