Arab women winning recognition for their fight against injustice, contributions to society

US-Lebanese model Nour Arida (C) join activists and survivors in front of the Lebanese parliament, in Beirut. (File/AFP)
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Updated 08 March 2023

Arab women winning recognition for their fight against injustice, contributions to society

  • Women and girls across the Middle East often bear the brunt of conflict and economic crisis
  • Many have led social movements against gender based violence and falling living standards 

DUBAI: Layal, a 36-year-old Syrian Palestinian refugee, lives in a dilapidated building on the outskirts of Beirut city. Born to a Syrian father and Palestinian mother, she fled with her family from the brutal war in Syria to neighboring Lebanon in 2014.

Layal and her family are among many in an already impoverished society of Syrian and Palestinian refugees now facing extraordinary hardships daily.

She is one of thousands of young women sharing the same story. Living in war-torn nations, these Palestinians, Iraqis and Syrians — and many others living in devastating conditions — still find ways to be responsible members of their communities.

On International Women’s Day, females from all walks of life are celebrated for their resilience, endurance, patience and love through giving back to their communities.

Palestinian women working for foreign NGOs prepare meals. (File/AFP)

Lebanon’s economy continues its freefall into steep decline. The currency has lost more than 95 percent of its value since 2019, with the dollar currently trading at 98,000 Lebanese lira and 80 percent of people living beneath the poverty line.

Refugees struggle to find adequate work due to their status, and many lack official papers and legal residency, which restricts their choices and, at times, their movement.

“Our men are getting restless and angry. They feel less than for not being able to provide food on the table. Kids are going hungry to bed,” Layal told Arab News.

“I often go to have coffee at my neighbor’s who is a dear friend. We have been feeling powerless and restless ourselves; we ended up coming up with the idea of cooking and distributing meals to the community.”

Layal and two female friends meet three times a week to cook meals for more than 12 families. Each woman brings what she can spare from her household; sometimes, they receive food or donations from people.

A Lebanese woman poses with a face mask hiding a number for a NGO. (File/AFP)

Although living in an impoverished area, Layal and her friends provide meals to those less fortunate, an example of female resilience that is celebrated on International Women’s Day.

“We feel empowered that we’re feeding our community, that kids aren’t going to bed hungry every night. Fathers and mothers have a little less to worry about in the doom and gloom that is Lebanon right now,” Layal said.

It is a tale as old as time, women rising to the challenge of caring for their communities, and even those far away from them.

Less than an hour away, in Ghazir, Jeanne Azar, a 50-year-old Lebanese woman, has turned her home into a school for children between the ages of 8-11.

Azar says she feels blessed that her children are studying abroad in France, but she sees the misery of struggling parents around her, some of whom had to take their children out of school due to financial struggles.

“I live in a large house, my husband travels often. I decided to have children come to my house four times a week to teach them basic maths, basic French and some history,” she said.

The children visit five times a week for up to four hours daily.

Some are children of blue-collar workers and janitors, while some parents have lost their jobs and been forced to remove their offspring from school.

Women and girls continue to bear the brunt of gender inequality and gender-based violence. Girls are married off at an early age in some cases due to economic hardship. The parents see no other choice and find marriage a solution. This often leaves girls susceptible to abuse and health complications.

Iraqi women holding Palestinian flags march in solidarity in Baghdad. (File/AFP)

For years, women have been the driving force behind the widespread protests in Lebanon, fighting for the rights of children and women.

For struggling families, women such as Layal and her friends and Jeanne Azar are godsends for their communities.

With neither meals nor education politicized, Layal and Azar offer services to those in need, regardless of creed or affiliations.

“I see it in my community a lot, girls in their early teens married off because the parents now have one less mouth to feed. The fact that something so simple as providing a meal can end up saving a girl’s future is surreal to me,” Layal said.

Jeanne Azar also provides tea, cookies, and snacks to the children she teaches.

“I have a few boys in my classes; it has been a pleasure to teach them about the importance of respect toward women, be it their sister, mother or friend. That girls are equal to them. I only hope they keep those lessons to heart and enlighten the boys around them, be it their families or friends who might have a dark view on females which is passed on by their surroundings or from the Internet by the likes of Andrew Tate.”

International Women’s Day is the result of hundreds of years of women campaigning to assert themselves and secure their rights: From the suffragettes who marched for their political rights in 1913 America to Jordanian women obtaining their right to run for elections in 1974, to the Syrian women who called for freedom from oppression in 2011, to the likes of Layal and Jeanne Azar today who are seen as heroes by their communities for the services they provide.

Affected by war for more than a decade, many Syrian women living in impoverished areas find ways to survive difficult circumstances. Only the so-called “lucky ones” find their way out.

Waad Al-Kateab, the creator of the Emmy-winning documentary “For Sama,” chronicled her time in Aleppo during fierce bombardment by the Assad regime.

A Lebanese woman poses with her face painted with fake blood during a march. (File/AFP)

Al-Kateab was pregnant with her first daughter Sama at the time. Her story resonated worldwide with mothers and shed light on what Syrian women were going through — and continue to go through.

She has since founded “Action for Sama,” a campaign to spread awareness of civilian hardship during the war and to stop the attacks on health care facilities in an already fragile country.

The campaign also seeks accountability for war crimes.

Al-Kateab, an established journalist for many years, now lives in the UK with her family and mentors young female journalists via the Marie Colvin Journalists’ Network. She continues to work on projects that shed light on the horrors of the Syrian war.

Aliyah Khalaf Saleh, an Iraqi woman honored by Melania Trump in 2018, saved 58 young men from the terrorist militant group Daesh.

Known as Um Qusay, she hid Christian, Kurdish and Yazidi men from certain death if the militia caught them. For Shiite Iraqi men, she taught them how to recite prayers in the Sunni way, and for those at risk of recruitment, she obtained university cards.

Um Qusay often hid the men on her farm and smuggled them to safety whenever possible.

In honor of her bravery, she was granted the International Women of Courage award by the US State Department and was even awarded a high religious Shiite honor despite being a Sunni.

Um Qusay remains in touch with the men that she saved.

On International Women’s day, we honor those who continue to fight for themselves and the lives of their communities. As the late writer Maya Angelou said: “Each time a woman stands up for herself, she stands up for all women.”

Hamas leader Haniyeh to visit Turkiye this weekend: Erdogan

Updated 9 sec ago

Hamas leader Haniyeh to visit Turkiye this weekend: Erdogan

  • Private television channel NTV reported that the two men would meet on Saturday

Istanbul: Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erodgan said Wednesday he will host the leader of Palestinian militant group Hamas, Ismail Haniyeh, in Turkiye this weekend.
“The leader of the Palestinian cause will be my guest this weekend,” Erdogan, an outspoken critic of Israel, told lawmakers.
Private television channel NTV reported that the two men would meet on Saturday at the Dolmabahce palace in Istanbul.
Their last meeting was in July 2023 when Erdogan hosted Haniyeh at the presidential palace in Ankara alongside Palestinian President Mahmud Abbas.
Erdogan has been one of the strongest critics of Israel since the start of the war in Gaza, sparked by the militant group’s attack on Israel on October 7, 2023.
The attack claimed 1,170 lives, mostly civilians, Israeli figures show.
Israel has responded with a ground and air offensive that the health ministry in Hamas-run Gaza said has killed at least 33,899 people, mostly women and children.
The Turkish leader has forged friendly ties with Haniyeh, who is based in Qatar.
Erdogan last week offered Haniyeh condolences for the death of his three sons and some of his grandchildren in an Israeli strike in Gaza.
Erdogan has called Israel a “terrorist state” and accused it of conducting a “genocide” in Gaza. He has called Hamas “liberators” or “mujahideen” fighting for their land.

After surviving airstrike Palestinian boy dies seeking aid

Updated 5 min 7 sec ago

After surviving airstrike Palestinian boy dies seeking aid

  • The teenager was struck by one of the packages as he rushed to try to get a can of fava beans
GAZA: When an Israeli airstrike destroyed his family’s home in November, Zein Oroq was pinned under rubble. He was wounded but survived, while 17 members of his extended family died.
But Zein, 13, would later suffer a cruel fate in Gaza, where Palestinians face severe shortages of medicine, food and water in a deepening humanitarian crisis.
The population of the tiny enclave, where Israel and the Palestinian Islamist group Hamas have been fighting for more than six months, is at risk of famine.
Last week, during an air drop of aid, the teenager was struck by one of the packages as he rushed to try to get a can of fava beans, some rice or flour.
“The first time, when the house was hit by a strike, he came out from under the rubble with wounds in his head, hand and leg, God saved him,” said Zein’s grandfather, Ali Oroq.
The grandfather, standing by a large pool of wastewater, recalled how Zein would swim in a pond to get a meal from the air drops, and how he should have been sitting at a desk in school getting an education instead.
But, with mediators failing to secure a truce and Israel and Hamas braced for more war in Gaza, which has been rendered a wasteland by the fighting, his luck eventually ran out.
“While parachutes were falling, an aid box hit his head, also the stampede of people who were heading toward the box did not pay attention to the boy — they were also hungry,” said his father Mahmoud.
“So, his head was cut and wounded, he got fractures in the pelvis, skull and abdomen and with the flow of people, the pressure increased on him.”
Zein was taken to hospital, where he succumbed to his wounds on Sunday in the chaos of a war that began when Hamas militants attacked Israel on Oct. 7, killing 1,200 people and taking more than 200 hostage, according to Israeli tallies.
Israel responded with a fierce offensive that has killed more than 33,000 Palestinians, according to Gaza’s Hamas-run health authorities, and turned much of densely populated strip, home to 2.3 million people, into rubble, twisted steel and dust.
“My son is so precious, he was my support, my entire life, my first joy in this world, my biggest child, may he rest in peace,” said Mahmoud.

Israeli raid on Gaza’s Yabna refugee camp kills at least 7, including 4 children

Updated 8 min 33 sec ago

Israeli raid on Gaza’s Yabna refugee camp kills at least 7, including 4 children

  • The strikes hit the residence of the Abul Honoud family in central Rafah

GAZA: At least seven Palestinians, four of them children, were killed in Israeli airstrikes on Rafah in the southern Gaza Strip on Tuesday night.

The strikes hit the residence of the Abul Honoud family in Yabna refugee camp, according to Arab News’ reporter in Gaza.

Local rescue teams continue to search for bodies and injured people trapped under the rubble.

Approximately 1.4 million Palestinians have sought refuge in Rafah, with Israel having razed entire neighborhoods in northern and central Gaza, forcing survivors to flee south.

At least 33,899 Palestinians, 12,300 of them children, have been killed since Israel’s invasion began last October, according to Gaza’s health authorities.

Crew of ship seized by Iran are safe, operator MSC says

Updated 35 min 21 sec ago

Crew of ship seized by Iran are safe, operator MSC says

  • Iran’s Revolutionary Guards seized the container vessel in the Strait of Hormuz days after Tehran vowed to retaliate for a suspected Israeli strike on its consulate in Damascus

LONDON: The 25 crew members of the MSC Aries, which was seized by Iran on April 13, are safe, shipping firm MSC said on Wednesday, adding that discussions with Iranian authorities are in progress to secure their earliest release.
“We are also working with the Iranian authorities to have the cargo discharged,” the Swiss headquartered company said in a statement.
Iran’s Revolutionary Guards seized the container vessel in the Strait of Hormuz days after Tehran vowed to retaliate for a suspected Israeli strike on its consulate in Damascus on April 1. Iran had said it could close the crucial shipping route.
The International Transport Workers’ Federation (ITF), the leading seafarers’ union, said on Wednesday that their priority was the welfare and safety of the seafarers onboard.
“I can confirm the ITF has been in touch with family of the crew on board MSC Aries – who have reported today they’re safe and being treated reasonably,” ITF inspectorate coordinator Steve Trowsdale told Reuters.
“We continue to call on the Iranian authorities to urgently release the crew and the vessel.”
Portugal’s foreign ministry summoned Iran’s ambassador on Tuesday to condemn Saturday’s attack on Israel by Tehran and to demand the immediate release of the Portuguese-flagged ship.
Iran has also seized other vessels in international waters in recent years, heightening risks for merchant shipping in the area.
The Advantage Sweet, Niovi and St. Nikolas tankers, which were taken last year, were anchored in Iranian waters as of April 12, said Claire Jungman, chief of staff at US advocacy group United Against Nuclear Iran, which tracks Iran-related tanker traffic via satellite data.
Iran’s foreign ministry said on Monday that the MSC Aries was seized for “violating maritime laws,” adding that there was no doubt the vessel was linked to Israel.
MSC leases the Aries from Gortal Shipping, an affiliate of Zodiac Maritime. Zodiac is partly owned by Israeli businessman Eyal Ofer.
Recent attacks on merchant shipping in the Red Sea and the Gulf of Aden by Yemen’s Iran-aligned Houthis have also affected the global maritime transport chain.
The Houthis are still holding the Galaxy Leader commercial ship and its 25 crew after the militia’s commandos boarded the vessel at sea on Nov. 19.

Netanyahu ‘dragging West into total war’: Iranian diplomat

Updated 17 April 2024

Netanyahu ‘dragging West into total war’: Iranian diplomat

  • Tehran’s charge d’affaires to UK: ‘Another mistake’ by Israel will be met by ‘stronger’ response
  • Weekend drone, missile salvo a ‘legitimate’ defensive operation, West given ‘considerable warning’

LONDON: Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu is trying to drag the West into a “total war” in the Middle East, Iran’s top diplomat in the UK has warned.

In his first comments since Tehran’s drone and ballistic missile attack last week, Seyed Mehdi Hosseini Matin, Iran’s charge d’affaires to the UK, said “another mistake” by Israel would be met by a response, The Guardian reported.

Tehran would carry out a stronger attack without warning, unlike last week’s strike, which was communicated days in advance, he added.

The salvo of more than 300 drones and ballistic missiles came in response to the April 1 Israeli strike on the Iranian consulate in Syria, which killed senior Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps officials.

Matin said: “The response to the next mistake of the Zionist will not take 12 days’ time. It will be decided as soon as we see what the hostile regime has done. It will be immediate, and without warning. It will be stronger and more severe.”

Israel has committed to responding to the Iranian attack but has yet to release any information.

Matin said Iran had ruled out attacking civilian targets or completing its nuclear weapons program, both before the escalation and following any potential Israeli response.

US and European leaders have called for calm in conversations with Netanyahu, but have also urged the launch of a new round of sanctions on Iran in the wake of last week’s attack.

Matin denied that Tehran had made a strategic error in launching the strike, saying Western powers are “losing credibility” in the Middle East and the US will end up leaving the region.

“This is a good opportunity for Western countries to demonstrate that they are rational actors, and they are not going to be entrapped by Netanyahu and his goal, which is to be in power for as long as he could actually stay in power,” Matin added.

“Iran has considered its actions very carefully, and understood that there is a trap, but not for Iran: For the Western countries and allied countries in which they are drawn by the Zionist state into a total war inside the Middle East, and the whole world soon may be unable to control the consequences.”

Before Iran responded to Israel’s strike on its consulate, Tehran had urged Western officials to condemn the Damascus attack and push for a ceasefire in Gaza, Matin said.

But figures, including UK Foreign Secretary David Cameron, rejected the Iranian requests. “As Cameron mentioned, rightly, every nation has the right to defend itself against this kind of flagrant breach of diplomatic and international law,” Matin said, adding that Iran’s drone and ballistic missile attack had only targeted Israeli military sites.

“Iranian forces didn’t target any populated sites so as to prevent human casualties, nor did it attack government buildings and centres. It was a legitimate defence operation that was conducted in a way that gave considerable warning,” he added.

“Now, I can say that the mission is accomplished. And that’s it. That’s what we have announced very publicly, that that mission is concluded.”

Tehran had been forced to reinstate deterrence in the wake of the consulate strike, Matin said, adding that the response had displayed “military capabilities, missiles, and drones more powerful than what all the international community expected from Iran.

“Nobody can, at the moment, imagine that Iran is Iran of the Iran-Iraq war. Iran is now a regional superpower.”