In a three-day exhibition held in Beit Beirut, female authors and activists are attempting to highlight the important role that women have played on Lebanon’s history and society.
Beit Beirut, located in the historic Barakat House, is an appropriate location for an exhibition about the past and present of Lebanon’s women’s movement.
Presiding over the three-day exhibition “Women, power, and politics: Timelines and Milestones” are a few words from Aminah Khoury Makdisi’s 1958 book chronicling the lives of pioneering Lebanese women.
Stressing women’s contribution to society, the author expressed hopes that “there would be someone who collects their biographies to commemorate their memory for the generations to come.”
“Timelines and Milestones” was organised by Hivos and WE4L (Women Empowered for Leadership), Lebanon Support and URIKA Agency. It was funded by the Netherlands’ Funding Leadership and Opportunities for Women (FLOW). Claudine Aoune Roukos, president of the National Commission for Lebanese women, inaugurated the show.
Lebanese women activists have been working to claim a place in the public sphere – from newspapers to government and other bastions of male power since the early 1900s.
The exhibition’s timeline shows the historic issues that remain unsolved and reappear in the news cycle. In 2019, grassroots feminist groups have been focusing on economic rights, a demand that stems from activism in the 1940s.
Speaking to The Daily Star, WE4L Program coordinator Mira Bouchmouny stressed the importance of the show’s timeline. “Some may think Lebanese feminism only exists because of foreign NGO funding, but through this timeline we can see that current Lebanese feminism does not exist in a vacuum. There is a strong list of achievements.”
This exhibition fills a gap in the documentation of feminist activism. According to Bouchmouny, the amount of research needed for this project proves how neglected this field is.
“The art curators, Myra el-Mira, Janine Khawand and Sam Hrawy, spent a whole year gathering information that [had been] disseminated. Public archives, academic papers and the internet, you really had to dig to find it. In the process, the curators even found women [whose] impact we were not aware [of].”
Serena Ibrahim, a young architect visiting the exhibition, agrees how important it is to get to know these women, many of whom she’d been unaware of. She was particularly interested in the exhibition’s female public service pioneers. While the timeline extends back to the 1940s, most of its entries are from the post-2010 period.
It is this picture she chose to post on her Instagram, with the caption “something to keep in mind.”
At the same time, she regrets the brevity of the exhibition, and wished more people had the opportunity to see it. Bouchmouny says the goal of the initiative is to make it a touring exhibition that will be shown all around Lebanon, especially targeting adolescent girls.
Another aim of the project is to be dynamic, to expand its database.
People visiting the website are encouraged to collaborate with the initiative, to make contributions to existing entries or suggest new ones. The fields of action for current activism are numerous and promising. It will be intriguing to discover which individuals, groups and achievements will be added to the timeline in the next weeks and months.