BEIRUT: Hundreds of protesters gathered in Beirut’s streets Sunday for the annual International Women’s Day march, uniting under the slogan “For a just economy, we will march.”
The march - replete with signs and banners calling for equal rights and improved living conditions - began under Fouad Chehab’s Bridge and ended at Mina al-Hosn.
“Economic inequalities and the capitalist system affect us all on many layers, based on race, citizenship, gender, sexuality and our access to services, and our ability to be independent in our choices and take care of our bodies,” Sarah Kaddoura, one of the march’s organizers and a sexuality hotline coordinator at the A Project, an organization that aims to reaffirm autonomy in mental health and sexuality, told The Daily Star.
“[Economics] is like an umbrella for so many causes like accessible health care, education, housing for women who need shelter,” said Nur Farhat, another organizer and the president of the gender and sexuality club at the American University of Beirut.
Although the march focused on economic justice, it was organized by groups that advocate for a wide array of other intersectional feminist causes, including the the Alliance of Migrant Domestic Workers, Marsa Sexual Health Center, the Anti-Racism Movement and AUB’s gender and sexuality club.
Such a diverse array of interests enabled the march’s organizers to build on the work done by their predecessor, the Lebanese Feminist bloc, and be more radical in their demands, Kaddoura said.
“We have sex work, trans issues and LGBTQ issues, the rights for queer people to exist ... more causes that we might have compromised on in the past,” she said.
One demonstrator, Elias, who identifies as queer, said, “As a queer person, I feel like living in this country I don’t have rights. I’m one of many marginalized groups who suffer under the system. I can’t live comfortably here, I can’t come out to my mother, I can’t live the life I want.”
Another prominent group of activists at the march comprised those calling for the abolishment of the kafala sponsorship system.
Widespread in the Arab world, the kafala system ties workers to their employers, who are charged with their visa status, and has been widely criticized by human rights groups for facilitating exploitation and abuse.
“We want to raise our voice on this day ... for all the women who are migrant workers in Lebanon who are living here illegally and getting paid less than they deserve, who also sometimes are raped and as a result get pregnant and these children are [considered] illegitimate here and can’t go to school,” said Haregwa Mulugeta, a domestic worker with the Migrant Community Center.
After about an hour of marching, another group of demonstrators joined the march to call for Lebanese women to be given the right pass down their nationality to their children, which Lebanese men alone are currently able to do.
“We are asking for all responsible - ministers, MPs - to let us give our kids our citizenship. MPs and ministers raised this demand before the elections. But once the government was formed, we were let down. They are making promises but aren’t implementing them,” said Achwak Mansour, an activist with the Citizenship Is a Right for Me and My Family campaign. A Lebanese citizen, she has three children who have been prevented from obtaining citizenship because of Lebanon’s nationality law - including a 23-year-old daughter who was born, raised and educated in the country.
Though women took charge of organizing the march and spearheading its chants, a large number of the men turned out for the demonstration as well.
“We need to show that the feminist movement isn’t exclusively for women,” said Riad, a male demonstrator at the march.
Riad’s friend, Ali, added: “The patriarchy doesn’t just impose its dominance on women, of course.
“Men are privileged in our society, but there are also rules that are imposed on men that might make them reject who they are or what their nature is. Men are also victims of the patriarchy.”
After snaking through areas of the city dominated by malls, banks and start-ups, the marchers ended up in an open space by the sea at the beginning of Beirut’s Corniche.
This, Farhat said, was intentional, symbolic of the spaces the demonstration hopes to create - where people in Lebanon may exist freely and equally.