Hello, hi, hello
I’ve been receiving loads of amazing submissions for The Greater Conversation. This week, Rola El Chami has written about Survive For Women, her initiative that aims to help women in the Middle East suffering from domestic abuse.
She writes about how domestic abuse cases in the Middle East (and worldwide) have increased exponentially during the current global crises, as well as how the lack of financial independence is so often a factor in preventing these women from leaving their abusive husbands.
I thought maybe I would open the newsletter by writing about power in that sense, in how money makes the world go around, in the importance of financial independence.
But I can’t stop thinking about George Floyd. About the abuse of power and the inherent imbalance of power that led to his death, and to the deaths of so, so many other black people.
In the wake of this week’s fresh tragedy, new calls for white people to engage with and unpick their privilege, and the ways in which they – consciously or unconsciously – perpetuate racist structures, are mounting.
But, as I literally just finished writing in my column for Restless magazine (published soon!), it’s high time non-black people of colour reckon with these questions, too. That’s us, btw.
Did you know it was an Arab shop-owner that called the police on George Floyd? No doubt his decision to do so stemmed somewhat from the historically deep-rooted perceptions of black people, that ultimately caused Floyd’s death, at the knee of the white police officer.
In truth, as communities of colour we often fall for, and perpetuate, false ideologies rooted in anti-blackness. There is so much anti-black racism in Middle Eastern culture, stemming in part no doubt from colonialist mindsets, and the Middle East’s involvement in the slave trade. It is imperative we unpick this and call out anti-blackness wherever we find it.
In truth it comes back, as always, to power. Or a desire for it, anyway. A distancing of black to be closer to white, to attempt to have some form of white-adjacent privilege.
As Neda Maghbouleh put it in her book, Limits of Whiteness, however, “whiteness is fickle and volatile.” In pandering to it and upholding its ideals, in buying in to its promise for and promotion of power, we are also serving to uphold white supremacy, and the grossly unequal power imbalances that concur. Power imbalances that mean that black people in the United States are three times more likely to be killed by the police than white people.
It’s the power imbalance between men and women, too, that contributes to the inequality of the world as we know it. To the sheer number of domestic abuse cases that occur daily, worldwide. As Rola writes, below, one in three women worldwide have experienced physical, mental or sexual violence in her lifetime. This is most often at the hands of an intimate partner.
We all need to do much better, to be honest. I’m not sure what more to say than that. I feel disheartened and heartbroken today, so I apologise for leaving it on that.
It was back in 2013, after I had returned from Palestine and Jordan – where I worked with an international NGO that supports communities in Occupied Palestinian Territories, and Palestinian and Syrian refugees – that I ended up back in Dubai, where my parents were at the time.
I found myself in a difficult situation. I wanted to be back at work, where I could make a difference and be in the field, but it was not something I felt able to achieve in Dubai.
With time, I entered the metropolitan lifestyle, and began working at a PR agency, where I represented a range of internationally renowned clients. Between work, my social life and the beach, I continued my research on refugees, women, and children, focusing on domestic violence in the Middle East. At the same time, I began making hand-made bracelets in an effort to keep my stress levels down.
After several people in my network expressed interest in purchasing my bracelets, I decided that I would donate the profit from sales to women I personally knew, who were suffering from domestic abuse by their partners. And that is how Survive for Women was born. Our mission is to support women subjected to any form of domestic abuse in the Middle East.
Violence against women is one of the most significant epidemics in the Middle East today. – and around the world. Statistics from UN Women show that 1 in 3 women worldwide have experienced physical, mental or sexual violence in her lifetime. This is most often by an intimate partner. For Arab women, reported figures estimate that 37% have experienced some form of violence.
With the current COVID-19 lockdown, reported cases of domestic abuse have risen significantly. In Lebanon, calls to the domestic abuse hotline have doubled; in Tunisia, authorities say cases have increased five-fold, and in Jordan, a video of a woman in tears describing her abuse under lockdown has gone viral. This is to mention just a few examples.
Two of the main factors which contribute to Arab women remaining in abusive relationships are fear, and lack of financial independence. Although we live in 2020, and the number of women entering the workforce is indeed increasing, in the Middle East, this is still just a fraction. Most women remain at home, and depend on their husbands to financially support them.
If we can help them financially and allow them to stand up independently, that is already one hurdle overcome, and hopefully one step closer to them being able to leave their marriage, and their abuser.