ICAE Vice President for Africa, a social justice activist-scholar, based in Cape Town, South Africa.
Rima Abboud tells the story of some of the strategies used by her organisation, Aswat, which educates, communicates, advocates and networks on behalf of Palestinian Gay Women. This is difficult in a context where homosexuality is not accepted by the broader society. Aswat members, therefore, are forced to work with great sensitivity, sometimes in subversive, underground ways which protect members’ sexual identities. Many Palestinian lesbians feel very alone and Aswat works to build solidarity amongst them.
The Arabic language does not have words to describe non-conformist sexual orientations. Also there is prejudice in Arabic literature to any mention of LGBTI+ – Aswat’s responds by creating the language, or claiming words from history – and challenging the negative stereotypes that exist. This is often done through telling life stories. Illustrating what it means to be lesbian in Palestine through stories can make compelling reading but it also can be difficult. Exposing your sexual orientation is deeply personal and can have personal/political consequences. There is a tension for those involved between anonymity and exposure.
Aswat finds strength in networking with other feminists and connecting with organisations struggling for gender, social and economic justice. The work of Aswat is deeply implicated in broader political struggles and has ‘justice’ and ‘freedom’ as guiding principles.
This is a story of an organisation which demonstrates great collective courage in a context which is hostile. It has much to teach others concerned with activism against exclusion and for inclusion and diversity – which of their strategies resonate with your context?
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