SID NL and Humanity House BREAD & BRAINS with Elisabeth van der Steenhoven

Many stereotypes exist on the role of women in the Arab world. Little do we know about the major role they have played in revolutionary movements and nowadays in resisting ISIS. We know even less of the support they get from many Arab men, who are on the forefront of the fight for equal rights. According to Elisabeth van der Steenhoven it is time that the West stops pointing their hypocrite finger towards the Arab world.

Elisabeth van der Steenhoven, 
director of WO=MEN, was very
 devoted during this lunch
 lecture to the discussion on the 
role of women in resisting ISIS.
 The theatrical Genève room of
 Humanity House was filled 
with a diverse group of people
 from governmental and non-
governmental bodies, Western
 and non-Western cultures as 
well as mothers and students who came together for a tasty organic lunch and an inspiring lecture.

Strong Women & Stereotyping
Elisabeth van der Steenhoven started off with a small quiz in which she asked the audience to identify what they saw on some photos. She showed pictures of a 19-year-old girl and her female friends who localized Gaddafi’s troops in Libya for NATO and fought them with self-constructed bombs. By showing these pictures Elisabeth tried to make us aware of the many stereotypes that exist on the Arab world. There is a strong narrative on Arab women being weak, oppressed and silenced, with men as the oppressors. Of course this is happening, but it’s not the only story to tell. Besides in the West the fight for equality isn’t over either. There are very strong women who are turning the tide in the Arab world. Which, according to Van der Steenhoven, is not surprising at all since this is part of a historical continuum – for example during the fight against the colonial oppression, the women kicked the colonialists out of their countries.

ISIS & Social Media
Women have been at the forefront of revolutions, like the Arab Spring, and play a crucial part in resisting ISIS now by organising in grassroots organisations, setting up demonstrations and most importantly spreading messages through social media. Elisabeth 
emphasized that the fight 
against ISIS is somewhat different compared to the revolutions that happened in Libya, Egypt and Yemen. This is because you do not know exactly who you’re fighting, since they’re not always in uniform. They also receive less support from the West than in previous battles. Arguably, explicit support would actually make these women more vulnerable since they will quickly get framed as imperialist, Western or CIA friends. To avoid this, the women send out a very strong message: “We are not friends with the CIA, not muppets of the West, nor do we support Mubarak or ISIS. We are our own independent thinkers.” By saying this, women try to break out of the false dichotomy that you are either a Muslim or pro USA.

Facebook plays a major role in resisting ISIS, because it’s an effective way of covertly communicating. In their messages women cite from the Quran, saying that killing is deeply un-Islamic. They use Facebook to organise demonstrations or meetings too. Finally there are more risky operations, where women collect weapons or steal the guns from ISIS at night.

Western Hypocrisy
Elisabeth concluded by saying “We, in the West, can learn so much from the involvement and great participation of men and boys in the Arab world.” There is a lot of energy and involvement of men in fighting for equal rights for women and girls in the Arab world. It is a huge misunderstanding to think that the majority of women are getting oppressed. “The Netherlands can learn from their example”, she argued, “because we lack male participation in the
struggle for equal rights”.
 This passionate plea of
 Elisabeth van der
 Steenhoven led to many
 interesting questions and
 comments during the
 subsequent Q&A and people went home after a delicious lunch with plenty of food for thought.


Arabische vrouwen in verzet tegen IS

Lunchlezing - 

Moedige vrouwen speelden een belangrijke rol tijdens de golf van opstanden in de Arabische Lente. Momenteel verzetten deze vrouwen zich tegen de opkomst van ISIS en hun gewelddadig extremisme. Vrouwenorganisaties werken grensoverschrijdend, bestrijden extremisme en roepen op tot duurzame vrede. Dit alles in een omgeving van toenemende onderdrukking. Steeds vaker worden vrouwen in Noord-Afrika en het Midden-Oosten geconfronteerd met geweld en discriminatie. Hoe zorgen wij ervoor dat hun krachtige verhalen niet verloren gaan?

Over de spreker

Elisabeth van der Steenhoven zal spreken over activisme in de Arabische Regio en het belang van de deelname van vrouwen in vredes- en overgangsprocessen. Van der Steenhoven is directeur van WO=MEN Dutch Gender Platform, een netwerk van ontwikkelings- en vrouwenrechten organisaties, ondernemers, academici, militairen, activisten, kennisinstellingen en individuen die zich inzetten voor gelijke rechten van mannen en vrouwen wereldwijd.

Extra: bezoek gratis de tentoonstelling Stories of Change
Voorafgaand of na afloop van deze lunchlezing word je van harte uitgenodigd de tijdelijke tentoonstelling Stories of Change – Beyond the ‘Arab Spring’ te bezichtigen. Als bezoeker van Bread & Brains #25 mag je deze tentoonstelling gratis bezoeken.

Dit is een onderdeel van dossier