@FeministsInUAE is a Twitter account which aims to address the issues that women in the Middle East face, a topic that is often quickly shut down in the region.
Question: Can you tell us more about your account, its goals and why you started it?
Answer: Our account is @feministsinuae and it is to raise awareness on the societal issues that women face, the struggles and the opportunities they were denied due to their gender. We want to create a safe space in which women can share their experiences, let people know of them and hopefully inspire a change in peoples’ way of thinking. We wish to empower women, let them know that it’s not shameful to be who they are and do what they want. We are intersectional as well, which means that we acknowledge that oppressive institutions such as racism, sexism, homophobia, transphobia, ableism, classism, etc, are connected and we stand with making people aware of them and change their views. However, due to legal issues we can’t publicly support homophobia and transphobia, but we are trying to create a safe space for the LGBT+ community to talk with us privately. We were basically a group of girls in the middle of the night complaining about the state of women’s rights on a Whatsapp group, and two members decided to create a twitter because it was the fastest method of spreading knowledge we had. We were so fed up and we created it out of frustration, however we did not expect to receive this much support and backlash. The people who have been supporting us, speaking to us, sharing with us have inspired us to continue this account even when we were tired of the backlash. We had some members who have anxiety issues, and due to the backlash, one of them left but we still stayed because we wanted to be the force that amplifies the voice of all of these women and men in this society on the platform that we chose.
Q: How many girls are there?
A: Right now, there are 5. We used to have another member but as I said, she left because she was overwhelmed. We started with two, but then the other three joined later on.
Q: You’ve gotten a lot of backlash, to the point where people threatened to contact local authorities, along with many other treats. What do you think drove it to that point? How did you handle it?
A: Concerning the backlash, I believe it reached that point because some people are just cruel and like to flex online to show others that they have power or that their faux twitter persona is badass. We received a lot of threats from them such as (trigger warning) rape, defamation, arrest, etc… as well as insults and more. The threats caused us to make the first move. I decided to contact authorities and I asked them thoroughly about the things we can and can not discuss on such a platform. I thought that nipping it in the bud would cause us to move forward fearlessly and without restraint. Also, doing so has silenced almost all of the threats and the insults, so it was beneficial on both sides.
Q: Your account allows a lot of women to share their experience and stories about why they need feminism anonymously, a lot of whom missed out on great opportunities because of society’s (and sometimes their own parents’) misogynistic idea of what is “socially acceptable” and what isn’t. What advise would you give to those girls and how do you think they should handle the situation?
A: This is hard because every women’s situation is different, and some can be almost impossible if the guardians/parents are extremely unwilling. But I would advise them to find loopholes if they cannot face the problem head on and get what they want directly. Or trying to find people who can influence their parents. Persistence can pay off, if not then I don’t know. It’s hard for these girls (and guys), and I hope the opportunities they had will be replaced with better ones.
Q: Can you explain how sexism affects men in our society, and how feminism can help them?
Briefly, feminism can help them by helping men embrace themselves and their attributes regardless of the stereotypes. Feminism can also help men by defending them in assault cases or tw: rape cases because so many men are made to feel like they’re ‘less than’ if they report or suffer from such cases.
Q: How can we combat this issue?
A: There are efforts to combat this in the UAE, but even though the citizenship is granted the social alienation is there. It’s just a matter of ignorance and the only way to combat it is by letting people know the importance of such things. Most problems or conflicts occur because there is a misunderstanding or a missing link in the communication process. Different parts of society aren’t speaking to each other, and for such issues to be solved communication is vital.
Q: What do you mean by “different parts of society aren’t speaking to each other”?
A: By different parts of society, I meant the older generation not communicating with the younger ones. Also, men and women not openly speaking with each other causing a lot of ‘lost in translation’.
Q: Can you think of any other factors, particularly those that stem from cultural or traditional beliefs, that may encourage misogyny? If so, how?
A: Back in the day, women didn’t know the meaning of misogyny, all they knew and were raised to believe is that men are the ones that brought food to the table and took care of everything so you have to obey them no matter what and treat their wishes as your commands. These beliefs were embedded in their systems so deep, they don’t realize that they’re internally misogynistic. Hence raise their sons and daughters to believe in this too and that is why we still find men (majority) thinking that they’re the ‘hot-shots’ of the world that own women. Though they won’t admit to ‘owning’ women, they will definitely act in that manner, like women are something they have to boss around to keep them in-check. The upbringing plays a major, defining role in how men and women think.
Q: Can you describe racism in the Middle East? How prevalent is it, what forms does it take and who are the targets?
A: Racism is also one of the issues we see in our society. As in, black people (or the term I prefer: dark skinned) are still treated differently than the fair skinned. The government doesn’t condemn such behavior and hence all rules apply to all the citizens but people don’t necessarily act in the same manner. An example of this is marriage; it’s almost impossible to see dark skinned individuals married to fair ones. Families won’t give their daughters to dark skinned people because they don’t deem it right by their ethnicity which brings me to another issue faced in our society. Ethnicity plays a major role in the way our people operate, whether they were Arabs* or Ajam* or Baloch*. Ethnicism is something we see on a daily basis, different parts of society look down on the other because they view themselves in a better light. Arabs view themselves as the ‘blue-bloods’ because the UAE is an Arab land whereas perceive Ajam and Baloch as the outsiders who gained citizenship. There’s no open-hate between the ethnicity groups but the majority won’t (for eg.) marry from different groups and in some case, won’t even befriend. All the groups acknowledge their differences but won’t necessarily bash out on someone for belonging to a different group; it’s okay in that sense but the fact that it’s seen or perceived as a part of a persons’ identity can be bothersome. The younger generation (18-25 year olds) are the most open minded when it comes to ethnicity, but the older generation still believes in the importance it holds hence creating issues. Ethnicity is important but not when it’s too extreme and by extreme, I mean judging a person based on it and depreciating their value because of what ‘history’ they carry with them.
*descendants from Makran, Balochistan
Q: How do migrants’ rights compare to Emiratis’ rights?
A: Recently, Emiratis’ and Migrants’ rights have been very equal due to some changes in the government when it comes to making them more even. Before it used to be a bit biased towards Emirati’s but not anymore.
Q:Can you give an example of everyday feminism that is particularly common in this region?
A: Everyday feminism in this region is women speaking out on social media, exposing things that are considered ‘dirty secrets’, uncovering injustice which is especially uncommon in this region.
Q: Why do you need feminism?
A: We need feminism to show the people and the rest of the world that every individual has rights and beliefs, shouldn’t be judged, should be allowed to exercise their free will as much as they please with no chains. To let everyone live the life they want to own and desire. To open up all the bulked up, hidden potential that goes to waste because of ‘societal norms’. To reveal different sides and perspectives in people and show them to the world and say it’s okay to be like this. It’s normal to be different, different doesn’t make you weird or the odd one out.
Q: Is there anything else you’d like to add or discuss?
A: Yes. Religion is important; knowing your religion and working by it as much as you can a good thing, it’s not what’s suppressing you. There are conflicting opinions among the girls in this group when it comes down to the LGBT community from the religious perspective. However, we don’t want to see them harmed or would personally go out of our way to harm them in any way possible. They’re exercising their free will in their own way and we respect that. Also, people think that being a feminist means wanting men dead or hurt (what men love to believe) which is not true, it’s a very bad misunderstanding. What bothers feminists is all the inequality and unfairness we see all around on a daily basis, having a girls’ rights removed and seeing her as a liability is what infuriates us. We’re not against men or hate them, we’re against the wrong morals and set of beliefs engraved into them. We’re not against men; we’re simply wholeheartedly with women. If men were facing inequality, you’d find us doing the same for them.