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Meet Activist Fatima from Lebanon

Girls' Rights

“I can do change, I can make change, I can have an impact”.

The eldest of four sisters, Fatima grew up in a rural village in Lebanon. Growing up, she remembers great pressure on her parents to have a boy and how this caused a lot of stress in the family home. Fatima says the pressure on her mother to have a son is down to the fact that where she comes from, women are not considered equal to men, so she doesn’t hold bitterness towards anyone in her family. But she does credit this experience with what drives her to push for equality for girls and women.

“I say no to the violence against women I have said no discrimination, no to inequality.  There’s always the idea that men are better than women and that boys are better than girls. I have lived this,” she explains.

At 21 years old Fatima has a degree in journalism and works as a freelance journalist and content creator but says she had to fight for her right to leave her village and get her education. She says typically girls are expected to finish education closer to home, which limits their choice of subjects they study. She recalls her family all having an opinion on her feminist activism and how hard it was to be a girl with a different mindset to what was expected of her.

“The girls in the village consider me an idol. So, I’m so proud of this because being an idol for them is something so great and it gives me more responsibility. It makes me more responsible towards them and towards this long journey I am going through.”

Fatima says as a journalist and a content creator, she believes the future is on social media and that for her to succeed as a change maker this is the space, she must occupy to share her message, despite receiving online abuse. She wants girls and women in her community to understand that a girl’s career or education doesn’t have to stop when they get married or have children. She wants her peers and her sisters to have the freedom to study what they want to study and not to be limited.

“I really struggle with public transportation. I was taking some notes today and yesterday to write an article about this problem because we really as girls and Lebanon struggle with public transportation, it’s not safe at all. Even Uber is not safe for us.”

During her time at university, Fatima said meeting INGOs helped her understand the issues that had been troubling her. Joining Plan International’s ‘She Leads’ project united her with an army of strong feminists all fighting for equal rights. They worked together to build a podcast that highlights the issues affecting young women in the Middle East and North Africa to reach more girls.  

Fatima with her family
The eldest of four sisters, 21-year-old Fatima grew up in a rural village in Lebanon. Growing up, she remembers great pressure on her parents to have a boy and how this caused a lot of stress in the family home.

“I was born with this. I was growing up with these ideas without knowing that these ideas have a name, and then they have some technical names. I can do something I don’t have just ideas. I can do change, I can make change, I can have an impact.

“I get emotional when I remember She Leads because it was my first regional feminism activism. It was the first time I have met feminists from Jordan, Iraq, Tunisian girls and the Egyptians. It was so inspiring to me to meet them and to work on this project. All of us were working from our hearts and not just from our minds. We really have a cause that we are defending.

“With Plan International, I have learned a lot of things, I get the chance to know more about sexual, reproductive and health rights (SRHR). Thanks to them now I know better about this and I consider myself as an advocate of SRHR. The podcast we have made has an impact on people and they are listening to it, I’m super proud that I took part of this as well as the call-to-action campaign.

“It’s made an impact and some people were replying to my stories on social media saying bad things and good things. The bad things were good for me because I knew that when we are making something, it will have negative opinion and positive opinion. The negative opinion is a proof that we have made an impact and still now we are networking together as She Leads the feminists and activists, and we are talking and we are friends. The sisterhood Plan International gave us or offered us was something so priceless.”

Activism is a part of Fatima’s calling and she feels strongly that girls in Lebanon shouldn’t be scared to understand and talk about their sexual health and reproductive rights, subjects that are taboo in her village. She has campaigned on period poverty and says the engagement she received from girls online gave real meaning to her work. She can see direct impact, including on her own sisters. Fatimata says it should be normal for sisters and mothers and daughters to have these conversations about women’s health, believing that informing just one girl will see a ripple effect over time. Just seeing the hope she offers her younger cousins who look up to her builds her resilience.

Fatima says as well as helping her sisters she also learns from them and dreams of their future education. One of her sisters is a karate competitor who is often told to be less aggressive and more feminine in her tournaments. She encourages her to speak up and to have a voice online. One of the many challenges activists in her community face is a lack of resource – and for example, the lack of materials, a good phone and poor internet connection hold them back. But Fatima’s drive is not easily blocked, she says the responsibility she feels towards the girls in her community and in her country drives her. She wants to see fairer access to education and better representation in media and in politics. 

Her mother’s fifth child was a boy and at first Fatima admits she resented him for being the reason her family had become strained. Fast forward to the present day and Fatima says she loves her brother dearly and recognises that she plays a huge part in raising him, along with her three sisters. She says this is a precious opportunity to teach a boy that women are equal and hopes he will grow up and share this message. 

“It is really sad for me to say this but we have a long way to go… but we are making impact along the way. I feel that I have a ball of fire and it’s always warm and it’s always shining and I have a long way to go, but I’m ready for it. Whatever the struggles are, and whatever the barriers and that will be put in my road I will continue no matter what.

“I hope my story empowers other girls and helps them make a change.”