The Pandemic Inside the Pandemic – How We Move Forward for Women in the Arab Region

We are in the middle of a second pandemic, a hidden pandemic. Like COVID-19, this pandemic is dire, global, and ongoing. Violence against women is the pandemic resulting from the pandemic. For many women, “stay at home” is a message that brings great risk. The tendency to “other” instances of gender-based violence was never logical, especially now. COVID-19 is a global pandemic, meaning that women everywhere are affected, some worse than others. Many women who are experiencing the worst of the COVID-19 crisis are located in the Arab world.

In the Arab region, women already experience much violence in the status quo. The prevalence of gender-based violence in the Arab world is at a high 37%, the most common forms of violence being emotional abuse, physical violence, and denial of resources. Nearly 4 out of 5 women experience emotional abuse, and more than half are subjected to physical violence and denial of resources. More than one fifth of women experience family violence in Yemen, Morocco, Egypt, Sudan, and Algeria, although it is largely underreported.

Worse, women often cannot escape because of social norms and a lack of legal protection. One reason women cannot escape violence is that women fear judgement for leaving their husbands because societies in the Arab world largely do not tolerate women living alone. One third of people in North Africa believe that women providing for families financially is not acceptable which means that women are often not able to make their own money to provide for themselves or for their families, and they are often reliant on a partner for financial support. Another reason that women often cannot escape violence is the fear of leaving their children with an abusive father or family member. Many domestic violence shelters do not allow children, and now, during the COVID-19 pandemic, there is an even more limited capacity at shelters. As of 2019, only 6 Arab countries have laws that protect against violence against women. However, these laws are not truly effective according to human rights watch.

Seeking services and support in the form of shelter and safety from a partner is difficult under normal circumstances and even more difficult in times of insecurity, including natural disasters, war, or disease. Women in the Arab world are already vulnerable to violence, and any crisis, especially the COVID-19 pandemic, worsens the situation drastically.

For the past 18 months, the restrictions due to the COVID-19 crisis have negatively impacted women’s lives. Early statistics in a range of countries show that lockdown has increased reports of intimate partner violence. And reported cases will always underestimate reality.

The pandemic has caused an increase in domestic violence, fewer legal resources and support for women, and reduced access to health and humanitarian services. Since the beginning of lockdown, women have also experienced decreased independence, exacerbated gendered access to technology, and an increase in unpaid and domestic work. Finally, women are disproportionately more vulnerable to exploitation and disease, especially women refugees and migrant workers.

For many women and girls, the message to “stay at home” is risky and being quarantined safely is a luxury. During the first month of lockdown, reported cases of violence against women rose by 100% in Lebanon, and reported domestic violence cases rose by 33% in Jordan. 62% of Syrian refugees and Jordanian women also said felt an increased risk of physical or psychological violence.

Lockdown and curfew have forced women to spend more time with abusive partners. 

Travel restrictions have prevented men from leaving the house for work, and women are not able to leave the house to communicate with others, making it easier for abusers to isolate them from friends and loved ones. Abusers may also restrict women’s access to news or other sources of information, preventing them from knowing about or accessing vital services. 

Increased financial stress may also cause men to take out the pressure on women. Women who were already experiencing violence before lockdown are the most vulnerable, as they experienced a 73% increased rate of violence during lockdown. However, even women who did not experience violence before lockdown have experienced a 12% rate of violence.

Not only has violence increased but ways to escape and condemn violence have decreased. Financial resources for women are now going toward combating the coronavirus. Police and justice systems have also deprioritized domestic violence to enforce lockdown and health measures, causing 57% of women to feel less safe in their communities and 44% of women to feel less safe in their homes.

In Lebanon, sexual harassment and blackmail has increased by a shocking 184%. Also, female genital cutting in Somalia rose by 31% during the first months of lockdown

Female genital cutting has increased because the economic downturn has caused cutters to search for more business. Men would go door to door asking to perform genital cutting on household girls.

Health, police, justice, and social services programs have been negatively impacted. During lockdown, courts were unable to receive new cases, and procedures for legal redress, custody, and alimony cases were put on hold. There has also been an increase in informal or traditional justice mechanisms, which includes community mediation or dispute resolution through family members or traditional leaders. These methods often end up returning women to the cycle of violence.

Not only have legal services been impacted but humanitarian services as well. Over 62.5 million people in the Arab region are in need of humanitarian assistance right now. Women’s access to reproductive health care and assistance for survivors have been interrupted. This is because, like legal resources, health systems and social services have been diverted to coronavirus response. In some cases, women’s shelters, safe spaces, and other sites have been converted to COVID-19 response centers. Restrictions on movement during lockdown have also made it difficult for women to meet pregnancy, labor, and postpartum needs.

Women are also disproportionately more vulnerable to exploitation and disease. While unpaid work for women has increased, paid work has decreased. Women have been engaging in insecure labor due to financial insecurity, causing them to be prone to trade sex for food rent, or supplies. A large proportion of women in the Arab world work in manufacturing and service industries, which also happened to be two of the most negatively impacted industries during the pandemic. Many women have lost their jobs and have been disproportionately affected by the economic downturn.

In quarantine centers, officials have been taking advantage of their new power by sexually and financially exploiting women. Quarantine spaces are also characterized by poor lighting, over-crowding, and lack of sex-segregated hygiene, all of which puts women at risk for violence.

Furthermore, over 74 million people in the Arab world still lack access to handwashing facilities. Because women are mainly responsible for collecting water, this means that women have to congregate at public sources to collect water, increasing their risk of exposure to the virus. This issue is especially dire for women refugees in Iraq, Palestine, and Lebanon whose only access to sanitation is in camps where water shortages are common.

A feminist, gender-informed response is the only way forward

Women in the Arab world have suffered disproportionately from the pandemic. We must not only repair the harm that has been inflicted on women but change the deep inequalities that led to such disproportionate suffering in the first place. We need to hold governments accountable and develop a feminist response to the virus.

Response to violence against women must be integrated into COVID-19 relief policies. COVID-19 and violence against women go hand-in-hand. Any crisis results in an increase in violence against women, so any legislation regarding COVID-19 must also address women’s issues. Women frontline responders, women leaders, women-led organizations, and youth rights groups should all be part of the design and implementation of COVID relief measures.

It is important to adapt stay-at-home policies to women’s needs and ensure that violence against women prevention is designated essential during any crisis. National and sub-national legislation is needed to ensure the continuity of GBV response services during quarantine, including implementing policies to ensure that a budget is always available for emergency response to violence.

Because many women are trapped at home, it has been hard to call for help without drawing attention. Technology-based solutions are important in adopting more inconspicuous help-signaling methods for women. Smartphone apps should include panic buttons that link directly to the location of support services and should also provide a confidential chat option or remote psychological counseling for support. Technology is also essential for secure data and evidence collection. Regular data collection on violence against women trends will help guide accurate prosecution, emergency response, and evidence-based policy that prioritizes women’s needs and reduces adverse effects in the future.

It is important to ensure that women and girls can continue distance-learning during the pandemic and future contexts of insecurity. Also, because women are largely responsible for keeping their families healthy and managing resources, information on proper pandemic response should be circulated in relevant languages, with a focus on reaching women and children.

Implementing alternative housing options and shelters that allow children will help women feel safer and more confident in escaping an abusive situation. Shelters should be prepared to accept women and their children. Domestic violence shelters should also increase their preparedness for crises by incorporating protocols and measures to protect women from pandemics.

It is also important that social organizations and governments organize campaigns directed at bystander engagement and awareness. This can be implemented by distributing posters in commercial and public spaces such as grocery stores, pharmacies, and elevators. Television, radio, internet, and social media are also helpful ways to distribute effective information about helplines and call on bystanders to recognize and speak out against domestic violence.

Arab governments should implement legal protections for female health workers to protect them from increased exposure to the virus as well as vulnerability to sexual harassment and violence. Social protection measures, including health insurance, unemployment benefits, emergency financial aid, and tax exemption measures, should be expanded to ensure support for women fleeing violence.

COVID-19 demands a swift and concerted global response to contain the virus while also protecting the most vulnerable — placing women’s safety and women’s rights at the heart of the response. For the majority of women, their challenges do not end when the crisis is resolved. For women and girls, the crisis is just beginning.

A World After Covid-19: Charting a Path for Gender Justice in the Arab Region

There was a recent, critical, event that can be useful in creating a path forward for gender equity and justice in a post-COVID world: Accelerating Gender Justice in the Arab States region: a pathway to achieving the 2030 Agenda post-COVID.

Fadia Kiwan spoke about the context of the economic crisis in Lebanon where women: were the first to be fired since men are considered the “providers of the household,” have suffered under the double burden of working from home and supporting the family and the children, and have been facing increases in violence.

WE NEED: to look at the labor laws and amend them to protect women and provide them with facilities, as well as close the gap between unequal work for men and women at home; to strengthen women’s public affairs roles, where women have weak power; support by women’s NGOs, and gender mainstreaming implementation. The contribution of women in the Agenda of 2030, should focus on social change and gender mainstreaming. We also need to engage men in gender mainstreaming and public policies.

Fatema Barkan spoke on the several challenges in Morocco as the suffering and crisis is ongoing. There have been some steps to support families and women through creating a committee to take quick decisions regarding this support. The decisions involved the private sector because one sector only should not take the fall of the results of COVID-19. It was important to support people in the informal sectors since most of these workers are women. Support cards were provided for people with a focus on women. Social media campaigns focused on supporting women in finding shelters if needed and especially those who suffered from violence. During the lockdown, we were able to develop a national plan that already existed. We developed it and were able to reach a larger number of women: 199,000 women benefited from the support programs.

Shamsa Saleh spoke on the status of the United Arab Emirates. She regards the UAE as one of the best success cases in managing the pandemic. For example, the Minister of Education managed to support women who have children attending online school by sending them paid leave from their work to support their children. Gender equality is extremely important and is included in the long-term plan of the UAE for the next 50 years. They are looking at alternative working ways, especially remote work, to make the pandemic an opportunity. In regards to political participation, there is a 50% quota for women in parliament. All companies and banks are obliged to treat both women and men equally as well. There is a new protection law: a law to protect women and girls and all family members without discrimination. There are nurseries in companies exceeding 50 employees. These are the types of efforts being made.

The UN Women Regional Director Arab States, Susanne Mikhail Eldhagen, shared preliminary research from a UN Women and partners study on Access to Justice Mechanisms for SGBV Cases of Syrian Refugee Women and at-risk population in Lebanon.

Some Findings:

There is a high prevalence of gender-based violence against Syrian Refugee Women in Lebanon, which increased during Covid-19 and the economic crisis. Women are afraid to appeal to state justice services out of fear of arrest or abuse. Even if they decide to come forward, there are limited legal protections, services, and information available.

Syrian refugee women confront social, legal, and structural barriers to the formal justice system, often turning to informal justice mechanisms. Patriarchal socio-cultural expectations expect women to endure abuse and avoid formal justice mechanism, especially in instances of family violence. Lack of legal residency, economic fragility, lack of information about rights, and dependence on perpetrators exacerbate these life threatening issues.

Male-dominated and patriarchal justice structures control women’s choices. Men make up the majority of police and judges. Male leaders with decision making power in refugee communities are men, particularly among Sheikh and Shawish communities.


-Provide proper accountability and supervision of informal justice actors, such as the sheikhs, religious judges. 

-Prioritize funding for sustainable long-term economic empowerment programming targeting refugee survivors of SGBV.

-Increase women’s representation in the justice and the legal system at the national and decentralized level (in line with WPS1325)

-Advocate for more permissive policies on legal stay for refugees, including faster and more affordable residency approval procedures. 

-Scale-up programming that engages men and boys, particularly community and religious leaders to prevent SGBV and change harmful behaviors and attitudes. 

– More female lawyers, which results in more laws focused on gender equality

The panelists gave suggestions on improvements still needed and how to move forward.

Some of which included:

– More follow-up on the work the countries are doing. For example, the database capacities of the hotlines the countries are added to should be improved. 

– Civil society and private sector need to be partners in policymaking. A culture of self-criticism needs to be a pillar in the government’s work in the Arab region. 

– Key objective: help governments achieve the sustainable development goals. 

– Help for governments to achieve Principal SDG 5, and also 4 and 16

– Codifying the international standards for justice and equality before the law

– Reviewing laws with a gender justice approach, looking at states with strong gender justice.

– Allow sexual and reproductive laws to be on the table.

Gender justice is multidimensional. No one left behind is a key principle

COVID has been both a disruptor and accelerator across all industries but has been decelerator for women’s rights, especially in the MENA region. Consequences of the pandemic have been more difficult for the MENA region and we need to address gender justice during the recovery from this pandemic. Women’s participation in the labor force has lowered, women are more susceptible to contracting COVID, and lockdowns have increased violence against women across the board. While representation and awareness are important, action is key.

How to Bring Women into Foreign Affairs & Retain Them

The discussion around the need for women to be involved in foreign affairs and foreign policy has been around as long as the institutions themselves. It has become an even more urgent crucial lens to use when we look at the economic crises facing nations around the world because of the pandemic. It brings an important question into center view: With the impact the world has been undergoing, will nations be able to lift themselves back up and truly create change and opportunity for women?

A recent panel discussion, “Gender and Geopolitics: The Role of Women in Foreign Affairs” included Eugenia Podesta (Senior Director of Economic Empowerment and Entrepreneurship at Vital Voices Global Partnership), Rachel Vogelstein (Douglas Dillon Senior Fellow and Director of the Women and Foreign Policy Program at the Council on Foreign Relations), and Jenna Ben-Yehuda (President and CEO of the Truman National Security Project and the Truman Center for National Policy), and tackled the different elements of change needed to advance women’s involvement in both American foreign policy and global policy. It is not just important to create the frameworks and make the promises about including women in foreign policy; it is now critical that we demand implementation. 

We start off with Jenna Ben-Yehuda explaining why she takes issue with the common question: Why is gender equality important?

It puts the onus on women to defend equity. How could we possibly afford, in such a complex and interwoven world with so many simultaneous and complex issues, to exclude half of the world’s voices? It’s no longer defensible – it is imperative that women are at the table. There should be nothing about us without us. 

We see legal barriers to women’s economic participation – over 100 countries have such laws on the books. Structural barriers exist – girls are less likely to have access to education compared to boys, child marriage truncates girls’ ability to provide for themselves and their families, boys education being prioritized over girls is often a culturally entrenched belief. As greatly emphasized during the panel discussion, it is a necessity to recognize the current economic impact of COVID-19 and use what is staring us in the face as an opportunity to create new changes – both structural and otherwise – as we rebuild our economies. Though, this opportunity is not a given, despite the many conversations and the amount of organizing around these issues.  

What are some of the issues being brought to light about work environments and the care economy during Covid19 and the need for structural changes that would benefit women? How can we retain women in these industries?

Sometimes, like in the State Department, it’s not that a pipeline of talent doesn’t exist, but rather that the pipe leaks. Retention is an issue. There are barriers that need our attention, ones that if fixed would have drastic positive impacts for women in their work environment. For example, there needs to be child care services at work. We need to listen, first and foremost to the needs of our employees.. For example, if these flexible, telecommute strategies are working, then we need to keep them. Moving forward, organizations have to at least be able to discuss flexibility options, but not without caregiving to back it up. We need to be human centered in our solutions and changes. 

Women are working in vulnerable industries (hospitality, education, food service, retail) and women make less in every country in the world where there is data available, as compared to men. Women comprise only 39% of the labor force but account for 54% of job losses in the pandemic. The care economy runs on the work of unpaid women and these roles have increased with closures of schools and care facilities, and in the context of lockdowns. It is not a given that these issues will be dealt with, even though they are being discussed. 

Caregiving and education structures need to be treated like critical infrastructure. In our government structure, we have about 20 critical infrastructure categories. Hospitals and nuclear power plants are in there but schools are not. The need for budget strategies and other structural strategies become clear in this instance. Education and caregiving are the unsung critical infrastructures of our society and they are being underserviced.  

How can we center women of color in particular when it comes to getting people working in foreign affairs industries?

Transparency and accountability is key. You can’t just toss out a net, you have to really make an effort and do engaged outreach. Reach out to HBCUs. Employers can do a lot to change the perceptions as well: posting salary ranges, not requiring the disclosing of previous salaries – which can reinforce wage gaps. If you have a position and your application pool is not diverse, then you have to start over because you’ve done something wrong. The notion that you ‘just didn’t get anyone’ is lazy and doesn’t cut it. Employers can’t just say Black Lives Matter, they have to show how they are changing internal policies and making structural changes.

We need to think more about targeting and benchmarks. We need concrete data and structural benchmarks. Quotas are not typically viewed favorably in the US, though interestingly enough it is happy to export the use of quotas internationally and in their development work. 

We also know that in peacekeeping, a diverse workforce creates stronger outcomes. Rachel Vogelstein did research recently at CFR around peacekeeping operations. There were claims that they couldn’t ‘find qualified people’ to deploy. Yet, what they found in their research was that women were being trained, but they were not being deployed. And what does that say?

The foreign affairs field and its industries both appear to be, and are, exclusive. What are we doing to bridge the gaps and foster interest and education in these topics? There is a lack of understanding of the possibilities. It feels unreachable to people. We have to be clear about what the pathways are, and we have to be more intentional about creating more access and opportunities for others. 

Awakening is often the outcome of crisis. People have awoken to the challenges and that can set us up to make the changes we need to make moving forward. We need to make room for new structures and new innovations. Collaboration, cooperation, and flexibility should be at the center of our work moving forward.

Where Women Stand in Lebanon – Post Explosion & In an Ongoing Pandemic

Even before the current crises originating from the explosion and the pandemic, Lebanon was not doing well in terms of women’s rights and equality. In 2020, the country ranked 145th out of a total of 153 countries in overall gender disparities and 12th out of 16 Arab countries on the World Economic Forum’s Global Gender Gap Index. Lebanon ranked 136th out of 153 countries in economic participation and opportunity as well as 149th out of 153 countries in political empowerment. Lebanon consistently ranked low in female participation. 

Women struggle in the workforce due to outdated stereotypes and misogynist cultures that question women’s intellect and competency. They are the first to be fired and the last to be rehired. Women often don’t join the formal economy as a result of discrimination and instead create their own informal economy by making and selling their own items. Historically, women will do whatever it takes to care for their children. Due to Covid-19 and the explosion, and the insecurity in their aftermath, many children are out of school and at home during the day leaving women to struggle to take care of their children, the house, and their professional duties. Schools gave women a chance to leave the house and do their work and now women must stay home either to help the children with online school or stay with them if their school was canceled.

In Lebanese political structures, women are severely under-represented and those that are in the system have become increasingly frustrated with the rampant corruption and sectarian power plays that have debilitated Lebanon for decades. The last government had 30% female representation with 6 women as ministers, yet they were unaware of what women needed. Recently, they refused to include sanitary pads as a subsidized product on a list of imports. What may seem like a small example is actually an indicator of a perpetuation and increase of what people call “period poverty,” a small pillar of a wide foundation built to keep women in insecurity.

As the Covid-19 pandemic progressed, many women found themselves caring for the sick at home or in the hospitals, making them more exposed to the virus. The nursing sector in Lebanon consists of 79.52% female from the Order of Nurses. These nurses face trauma from the blast. As the economy has worsened, nurses are paid less and expected to work longer hours. This gendered economic immobility prevents some young girls from gaining access to mental health resources as they have no access to an income. Between mid-March and June of 2020, over 300 calls were made to the National Emotional Support and Suicide Prevention Helpline, 50% of which were women and 16% of whom were actively contemplating suicide. Many women report feeling socially isolated and are experiencing major stress in regards to trauma, loss, family discord, relationship problems, and financial difficulties. 

During times of crisis, girls are the first to be pulled out of school and the last to return. Many girls are expected to do additional labor at home and in poorer households, girls are denied education altogether. With Covid-19 and school being canceled, children have lost a year of education and social interaction. We don’t know how the long-term effects of social isolation will impact young people, but we can anticipate that the effects will have long term ramifications and will require explicit attention. 

Violence against women increases during times of insecurity, and the pandemic is no exception. The numbers of calls received by the NGO hotlines in March 2020 was double that recorded in the same period of 2019. KAFA, which means ‘Enough’ in Arabic, reports that the number of calls that received has increased by 4.5 times between March and June of 2020 from 299 to 1371 calls. New calls increased three-fold from 75 to 236 between that time period. ABAAD, meaning dimensions in Arabic, is a Resource Centre for Gender Equality that found that domestic violence cases were up 20% since March 2020. The pandemic resulted in exacerbating pre-existing cases of intimate partner violence as well as creating new cases. For women and girls, being quarantined safely is a luxury.

LGBTQ populations, female migrant domestic workers, refugees, and other groups were already vulnerable before the pandemic. When Lebanon got rid of the US Dollar, they prevented female migrant domestic workers from sending money to their families. They also cannot leave the house as their employer’s fear that they might get Covid and, with their employers at home, they are expected to work all day. Many domestic workers are abused sexually, physically, physiologically, and economically although it has also increased drastically due to the stress from the deteriorating economic climate and health risks. Due to the financial crisis, many employers have not paid their domestic workers or have left them on the streets outside the embassy as the employers refuse to pay their repatriation fees. The Embrace and the Internal Security Forces noted that during the first six months of 2020, 15% of suicides were committed by female foreign domestic workers as compared to 17% in all of 2019.

Discrimination against refugees has been rising as the narrative of refugees “taking Lebanese jobs” has been on the rise. Many refugees do not have a choice but to keep working in order to support their families. The UNHCR was able to provide emergency cash support to nearly 200,000 additional refugees in Egypt, Iraq, Jordan, Lebanon and Turkey who previously did not receive financial aid yet this is still not enough to keep the increasing refugee families from living well below the poverty line. ILO surveys found that the workforce has faced major layoffs with nearly 60% of respondents reporting that they had been permanently or temporarily laid-off; the majority of respondents were refugees. They are also blamed for spreading the virus as they were unable to stay home and unable to self-isolate for a majority of the pandemic. LGBTQ populations are forced to live in situations where their identities are negated or denied without the support of their communities and other outlets.

When the crises are over, the risks will not end for women. Life will be different in Lebanon going forward as the economy, politics, health, and infrastructure will all have been impacted. We need to be productive in mitigating risks for women and in making sure they are an active part of the recovery in leadership and decision-making roles. Our job is to ensure that women’s rights organizations and feminist activist have the tools and resources they need to advocate and act on behalf of women and girls. If women are once again left out of leadership roles in the response to the pandemic, the patriarchal consolidation of power in these areas will have devastating effects on women’s rights, equality, and autonomy. Women in Lebanon are an under-utilized asset. They are an economic force, and they are the country’s social safety net. Women are the ones who know who is in need, what they need, and how to get it to them. Centering women in the response will enable the country to recover better and to better withstand future shock. A Lebanon with women in the lead is better for everyone.

Women Entrepreneurs in MENA & COVID’s Impact

A summary in part of Victoria Fibig’s article for the Wilson Center

Women entrepreneurs in the Middle East and North Africa have created strong business models and communities, but COVID has posed a significant challenge to many businesswomen in the region. This is highlighted by Victoria Fibig in her recent article for the Wilson Center discussing the effects that COVID-19 has had on women entrepreneurs in the region.  Though the COVID crisis is far from over and many women’s businesses have been severely harmed by the pandemic, the overall situation for female entrepreneurs in MENA appears relatively hopeful, as women have adapted their business models to survive the pandemic and lead the transformation of entrepreneurship in the region.

The first portion of Fibig’s article lays out the challenges many women are facing as a result of the pandemic. The worst consequences of economic and social fallout affect women, and COVID could easily set back many efforts to advance women’s rights.  In the Middle East and North Africa, approximately 700,000 women lost their jobs, the employment gap widened, and significant blows have been dealt to the future of female economic empowerment.  Fibig goes on to detail the experiences of a few specific women from countries throughout the MENA region, highlighting the diversity in women’s experiences of the pandemic and the widespread resilience of women entrepreneurs when faced with the daunting challenges COVID presents.

Fibig highlights the stories of Deema, Sireen, Randi, Ranoo, Hayfa, and Christina, female entrepreneurs from Egypt, Israel, Iraq, Tunisia, and the UAE, illustrating how each woman’s life and business was affected by the pandemic.  These women’s businesses range from online retail platforms to apps for locating construction jobs to marketing and communications firms.  Some, such as Ranoo’s app, have fared well during the pandemic, as many construction workers have registered in the app’s database since jobs are difficult to come by since the pandemic began.  Others, such as Hayfa’s communications firm and coworking space, have suffered as she is inhibited from traveling and conducting social interactions as she usually would to grow her business.  

In closing out her article, Fibig recommends that policies be created that address the current state of business operations under COVID and promote the digitization of business as well as remove the structural barriers that women in business face because of their gender. Fibig mentions that most states in the MENA region have not made efforts to support female entrepreneurs, and women do not feel as if their countries have their backs.  The business registration process is particularly difficult in the region, as there are many hidden fees, copyright issues, and currently few laws relating to the registration of online businesses. Fibig’s article does a skillful job of highlighting the structural and COVID-related constraints that women entrepreneurs face in the Middle East and North Africa, with the accounts of individual women’s experiences with their businesses during the pandemic providing faces for the information the article presents and showing readers the tangible negative effects of the pandemic operating together with ineffective state support. As Fibig presents, women entrepreneurs in the MENA region are highly dedicated and resourceful in their pursuits, but they need state support as they combat the unequal weight placed on them by the pandemic and systemic barriers to their entrepreneurial pursuits. We need to continue to call for a feminist response to the pandemic – now and in its wake where women are likely to feel its impact for decades.

Vote Trump Out of Office Today. Women’s Lives Depend On It.

This piece is based on the conversation from an event on October 30th, hosted by Women in Dev: ‘Can Bad Leadership Incite Good Change?’ and specifically, commentary and analysis given by Lina AbiRafeh, the Director of the Arab Institute for Women.

Has the Trump Administration incited more momentum in the fight for women’s health, equality and empowerment than it has had a negative impact? 

First and foremost, regardless of present leadership, there was always (and there will always be) a feminist movement fighting to ensure the rights of women and girls to their bodies and lives. The momentum as a response to Trump’s election was the recognition of a pushback against women’s autonomy and even bare minimum respect for women. The negative impact of the Trump administration on women’s rights is deep, devastating and will take years to undo. His rise to power represented an overall disregard for the protection of women, further normalizing the elevation of predatory men to positions of power. His actions to pack the courts and his recent Supreme Court pick has reversed decades of progress, ensuring that feminist movements will have to fight to maintain the rights of the status quo, leaving less space to push for further progress. So if his presidency did cause some momentum, his misogynistic policies certainly outweigh.

Has the defunding of international reproductive and sexual healthcare by the Trump Administration actually given power and control back to community-centric women’s rights and reproductive health organisations? 

In short, ABSOLUTELY NOT. The Global Gag Rule puts the lives of women and girls in direct risk, leaving them without necessary health services. Even before Trump reinstated the GGR, essential SRHR services were significantly underfunded. And now, community organizations have had to scale back their services further, to breaking points, as a direct result of this administration. 

Was the spotlight put onto women’s reproductive freedoms thanks to these controversial measures actually just what women’s health and rights movements needed in order to gain recognition, support, and – in the case of SheDecides – existence? 

NO. This is NOT “just what we needed.” We’ve been fighting for our rights for years – we did not need a colossal setback at this stage. Ideally SheDecides – created in response to the reinstatement and expansion of the GGR – would not exist. Donors have been investing a lower share of their overall health funding into SRHR since 2012. SheDecides raised over $450 million as a part of a pledging conference in 2017 that was given directly to NGOS, grassroots organizations, and UN agencies. And yet, it’s a drop in the ocean compared to the roughly $12 billion deficit caused by the GGR. 

Using the Global Gag Rule as an example, could it be argued that the Trump Administration has aided in the transition of funding practices to the local level?

In no way has the Trump Administration aided the transition of funding practices to the local level. The US is the world’s largest donor to health programmes and the $12 billion cuts have disrupted the local level partnerships. 

Some examples of these life-threatening disruptions:

  • Marie Stopes International Senegal lost approximately 45% of its budget. This meant that outreach services reached 20% fewer clients for family planning, they provided at least 30% fewer cervical cancer screenings and offered nearly 30% fewer treatments for sexually transmitted infections. 
  • Despite the recognition of the right to abortion by the government of Nepal, the Gag Rule is limiting organizations’ ability to provide communities with information about their rights. 
  • In Zimbabwe the GGR forced Population Services Zimbabwe to scale back its outreach by 50 %, closing 600 local health facilities, leaving half of its 150,000 beneficiaries without family planning and other SRHR services.

Could it be argued that some of the changes were beneficial to women in developing countries?

This policy is making health services less accessible, especially for already marginalized and underserved populations. We know that it affects comprehensive abortion care, post-abortion care, and contraceptive services. We also need to understand that other integrated SRHR services are impacted, such as HIV/AIDS testing and treatment, antenatal care, screening for cervical cancer, breast cancer, prostate cancer, and support for survivors of GBV.

Research by the Kaiser Family Foundation found that this policy has impacted women and girls in 64 countries and has restricted access to abortion services and information in 37 countries where abortion is legal beyond the limited exceptions permitted under the gag rule. The evidence is clear – restricting access to abortion does not stop abortions – it only drives them underground and makes them unsafe.

How has Covid-19 also complicated efforts to ensure access to sexual and reproductive health rights?

The COVID-19 pandemic is disproportionately affecting women and girls and exacerbating existing inequalities and discrimination in a number of ways, including adverse effects on SRHR, making existing gender inequalities worse.

Further projections from the UNFPA:

  • 47 million women in 114 low- and middle-income countries may not be able to access modern contraceptives and 7 million unintended pregnancies are expected to occur if the lockdown carries on for 6 months and there are major disruptions to health services. For every 3 months the lockdown continues, up to an additional 2 million women may be unable to use modern contraceptives.
  • 31 million additional cases of GBV can be expected to occur if the lockdown continues for at least 6 months. 
  • For every 3 months the lockdown continues, an additional 15 million extra cases of GBV are expected.
  • Due to the disruption of programmes to prevent FGM in response to COVID-19, 2 million female genital mutilation cases may occur over the next decade that could have been averted.
  • COVID-19 will disrupt efforts to end child marriage, potentially resulting in an additional 13 million child marriages taking place between 2020 and 2030 that could otherwise have been averted.   

On this election day, it is imperative that we think about the women all around the world who are directly affected by the administration that occupies the White House. For those who can vote in this election, may you vote with the lives of women on your hearts. Vote knowing that the ripple effects of this election roll across the entire planet. Let’s vote this misogynist out of the White House.

Wording is a matter of life and death: Women’s bodily autonomy at threat

Since the beginning of the pandemic, and for years, women’s rights organizations have never ceased to stress on the importance of sexual and reproductive rights. Women’s rights organization are circulating an open letter to UN Secretary General Guterres to ensure these rights are guaranteed in the UN Humanitarian Response Plan guidance on COVID-19, threatened by USAID’s stance.

Link to the petition:

In his letter to UN Secretary General Guterres, USAID acting administrator John Barsa requests the repeal of the provision on “sexual and reproductive health services” calling the UN’s Global Humanitarian Response Plan to “remain focused on addressing the most urgent, concrete needs that are arising out of the pandemic.” He negates the essential character of abortion and more widely “sexual and reproductive health services”.

Erasing this wording will have significant impact to the bodily autonomy of millions of women which has already been obstructed in the past three months. As SheDecides notes: “Measures put in place to slow the spread of the virus mean essential services, such as sexual health clinics, abortion providers, and domestic violence services are inaccessible, restricting access to essential services, contraceptives and information, limiting her right to decide about her body, life and future”.

This erasure not only translates the taboo around women’s sexual and reproductive rights, but once again shows how the right to bodily autonomy is always threatened and used for political purposes. Women’s bodies should not be tokens used for political negotiations as it has been the case for years.

What does it mean for populations in the Arab Region?

According to UNFPA, the region hosts some of the world’s worst humanitarian crises. Prior to the COVID-19 pandemic, more than 62.5 million people were in need of humanitarian assistance, including 15.5 million women of reproductive age of whom an estimated 1.5 million are pregnant. In total, the region counts an estimated 8 million pregnant women and 107 million women of reproductive age. Now is not the time to let them down!

Worldwide, as the signatories of the letter stress it, “UNFPA estimates that 47 million women in 114 low- and middle-income countries will be unable to use modern contraceptives if the average lockdown, or COVID-19-related disruption, continues for six months with major disruptions to services. These interruptions in access to services are anticipated to result in as many as seven million unintended pregnancies, further increasing the need for abortion services and quality maternity care. Furthermore, even the least severe models indicate a reduction in essential interventions could result in thousands of additional maternal and child deaths.”

Wording is a matter of life and death.

Key Messaging: Protecting Her Right to Decide During Covid-19

Useful resources: protecting her right to decide during covid-19:

Women and the economy in times of pandemic in the Arab Region

On Thursday, May 14th, the Arab Institute for Women hosted a webinar, “Covid-19 and Women in the Arab Region.” The talk included Mary Kawar, the director of Tiraz, and Former Jordanian Minister of Planning and International Cooperation and former director at the International Labour Organization, Stephanie Chaban, Regional Advisor on Gender equality for The United Nations Economic and Social Commission for Western Asia, and Lina Abirafeh Executive Director of the Arab Institute for Women at the Lebanese American University. Two main topics were discussed thoroughly during the panel and Q & A: Gender-based violence and women’s economic participation.  

Mary Kawar set the economic sphere at the core of the issue that should be tackled regarding the pandemic. She began her talk with a mapping of the economic situation in the region and its pre-existing vulnerabilities. The region is characterized by a low female economic participation in the formal labour market, an average of 18.9% in Arab states compare to the global average of 48,5%. Even with increasing rates of education across the region, women’s talent and skills remain largely untapped on the labour market. Moreover, their access to education is hindered by discriminatory laws and socio-cultural gender norms. This is coupled with the rampant economic and social crisis: low economic growth, limited job creation in a landscape of mostly small and medium enterprises. The region is home to a large informal economy characterized by high incidence of poverty and severe decent work deficits. Often there is no contract, the worker is then vulnerable having no protection and no legal recourse.

Kawar explains that there are three main schools of thought regarding the informal economy, which have particular impact on the ground. First, the dualists who consider the informal economy as a separate marginal economy not directly linked to the formal economy, providing income or a safety net for the poor (ILO 1972). Second, the structuralists according to whom the informal economy is subordinated to the formal economy. In order to reduce costs, privileged capitalists seek to subordinate petty producers and traders (Castells and Portes 1989). And lastly, the legalists who view informal work arrangements as a rational response by micro-entrepreneurs to over-regulation by government bureaucracies (de Soto).

The massive number of workers mostly migrant or stateless left outside formal labour laws which leaves them with little or no protection against dire working conditions and compresses the overall wages. Even if both men and women are affected, there are discrepancies in the value given to their work. Women’s position in the labour market, be it formal or informal, is hindered on multiple aspects: their mobility, their involvement in childcare, family attitude and so on.

Despite women not being a homogenous group as ethnicity, legal status, class, education impact their reality, they share a common ground in the region: they are over represented in fragile/informal jobs . In times of economic hardship women are experiencing salary cuts, holds in their salaries, and are paid below minimum wage. Women face less security, less formal work, and less access to health insurance – all exacerbated during a pandemic.

To illustrate her words, Kawar provides the example of Jordan’s plan to assist people during the pandemic. Social assistance was decided upon for March and April. But nonetheless, discriminated against of women in its distribution: Only the head of household on the presentation of a certificate can apply to receive the funds. It makes it difficult for female-headed household to obtain the aid, as most women work in informal jobs which provides no certificate. This kind of gender-blind policy prevents women from getting access to necessary and could act to further entrench women into a cycle of economic disempowerment.

Kawar considers the digitalisation of economy as a positive outlook regarding gender equality. With one in three start-ups created or led by women, the Middle East ranks higher than the Silicon Valley. The tech industry being relatively new, it does not have the history of being a male-dominated field as much as other sectors: work is not based on networking but on what one delivers.

However, Chaban draws the attention to the gender gap in digitalisation: the internet user gender gap in the Arab Region rose from 19,2% in 2013 to 24,4% in 2019 owing to the rapid growth in the number of male internet users. In many cases households do not have access to computers and if they do, men and boys are often prioritised in the use. Slow and decrepit connection hinders the internet use. Moreover, although internet is relatively new, it reflects socio-cultural gender norms: far from being immune to gender-based violence, cyber-harassment is a powerful tool of control and silencing of women presence online. 

To get back to the pandemic, Kawar notes that women are left aside from decision-making:

In Jordan, female ministers have disappeared, men are in the forefront. The response has taken a strong male face, while women are overrepresented in the sectors essential to the handling of the crisis.

Due to the gender-blind response to the pandemic in the region, women are penalized both during and after the lockdown, when it comes to “restarting the economy”. Women are up in arms because the economy may be opening but schools are not. They will struggle to return to work if their children are not being cared for. “In Arab countries we are so behind in the care economy” deplores Kawar. There is a need to give it status that reflects it essential role for society.

“While the government response to Covid-19 has been gender blind, women’s organizations have been far from silent”.

As testified by Stephanie Chaban, in times of conflict, civil society leaders take the lead in terms of response. Grassroots women’s organisations are the first “to respond and mitigate conflict”, as they have access to information that bigger organisations do not.  

Considering the bigger picture, Arab countries need economic diversification. The approach to economic growth has been big investments and multimillion-dollar projects. In a region where middle to small enterprises predominate, a shift in practice is needed by keeping in mind the importance of local production. The urban-rural divide must be addressed, to avoid improving only the lives of a few. In the region, the lack of inclusive policies is bridged by NGOs which is far from being sustainable as it depends on donor investments which overall does not prioritize people’s needs and realities.

Refugee populations face extensive challenges: men and women highly represented in informal work deal with loss of income or job destruction. A recent report by ILO on the impact of COVID on Syrian refugees in Jordan found that 47% of respondents lost their income or were subject to job destruction. Women in the sample turned out to be less affected than men, as most of them worked in manufacturing jobs that are part of the formal economy. However, they have more household responsibility and express serious concern about their safety at home.

The COVID-19 pandemic has highlighted the need for in-depth structural change when it comes to women’s economic participation:

Firstly, especially in times of crisis it is vital to hold the women’s rights as a priority.  

Governmental responses should see the need for a social security mechanism that can act as a more permanent assistance option: developing a universal healthcare that does not depend on one’s position in the labour market as well as pension, unemployment insurance, health insurance, security in case of work accident.

For Kawar, it is time to consider the informal sector as a pillar of the current economic system. We cannot afford to leave such proportions of society in financial uncertainty when the formal economy benefits from this divide.

Valuing the care economy is a necessity, women still bear the burden of reproductive care work with little or no retribution.

This pandemic has highlighted pre-existing inequalities which shows that there is need for a holistic response that considers populations that fall through the cracks. For example, with remote schooling, the lack of access to technology has direct consequences on children’s access to education. Government must address those needs with alternative ways of communication: radio, telephone, television, computer etc.

Chaban insists on the necessity of gender-segregated data in policy making to understand and provide according to the gender socio-economic impact: “what does not get counted does not count”.

Such data will demonstrate that there is a need for real funding as urged by Lina Abirafeh unlike the current crumbs. Feminist inputs must be heard, for the response to the pandemic and beyond, as the emergency is not going to end with the pandemic.

Gender-Based Violence & Covid-19: Women in the Arab Region

On Thursday, May 14th, the Arab Institute for Women hosted a webinar, “Covid-19 and Women in the Arab Region.” The talk included Mary Kawar, the director of Tiraz, and Former Jordanian Minister of Planning and International Cooperation and former director at the International Labour Organization, Stephanie Chaban, Regional Advisor on Gender equality for The United Nations Economic and Social Commission for Western Asia, and Lina Abirafeh Executive Director of the Arab Institute for Women at the Lebanese American University. The following is a summary of one of the biggest issues discussed during the panel and Q&A: gender-based violence.

Let’s start with the hard facts: violence against women happens everywhere, all the time. In contexts of crisis, this is magnified because emergencies amplify all our pre-existing vulnerabilities – and even create NEW forms of violence. Then, the aftermath of these crises also brings violence – gender-based violence (GBV) does not end when the crisis ends. There is increased global awareness – but that isn’t necessarily leading to action. Cases remain underreported – less than 40% are actually reported. Funding remains scant. Our constant rediscovery of gbv has become exhausting – our mechanisms are weak, territorial, and only spring up in crisis. Efforts against VAW have to become a part of our daily lives, whether we are in a crisis or not. 

What’s unique about this pandemic? 

Firstly – it’s global. What’s happening to women is no longer about “other women, over there” – it’s about all women, everywhere. Women are the world’s caretakers and they risk increased exposure to infection both in their personal and professional capacities.

Domestic Violence 

“Social distancing” (physical distancing) has had a negative impact on women – particularly those already living in situations of violence. ‘Stay at home’ orders assume that home is safe – and we know it is not – although it should be! Why is it that we all face the same job loss, economic difficulties, disruption of routines, social isolation, stress, etc. and yet women have the additional risk of experiencing violence – supposedly at the hands of those who love them?! I have seen this in every single emergency I’ve worked in.

Those already in situations of intimate partner violence are more trapped than ever. Abusers deny women any social interaction with family and friends, including online interactions and therefore access to lifesaving information. New cases are emerging where they didn’t exist before. They cannot seek safety or support – if and where it exists. The police and justice systems de-prioritize GBV during the pandemic, leading to impunity. This is especially relevant in the Arab region where the majority of countries do not criminalize forms of violence against women. 

In Iraq, there are (unsurprising) alarming reports of a rise in intimate partner violence cases perpetrated across the country, especially with increased household tensions. The Anti-Domestic Violence Law in Iraq is not yet endorsed. 

In Palestine, restrictions on movements and services prevent women and girls from accessing essential services, including health, protection, security and justice. The Palestinian Working Women Society alone reported more than 510 calls to GBV hotlines in the span of less than two weeks – including suicide attempts. In terms of responding to the pandemic, Palestinian women’s voices are mostly unheard.

In Libya, women report being afraid to leave their homes – even to health facilities – unless accompanied by a male family member. Essential GBV services are already limited. 46% of respondents of a UN Women survey feared domestic violence would increase during the lockdown.

In Lebanon, online sexual harassment has increased by 180% during the lockdown. Fe-male has launched a new campaign to bring awareness to this issue. Calls to GBV hotlines have doubled in this period. Kafa reports dramatic increases in calls and incidents – listing many of the incidents in their reports. Other than physical abuse, callers report a wide range of emotional and economic abuse, threats of physical and financial abuse, constant surveillance, numerous emotional blackmail methods, and a threat of taking away their children. Female migrant domestic workers in Lebanon are even more vulnerable. Many of them are not getting paid (due to the current economic crises in Lebanon) or being left on the streets with no food or shelter. There have been multiple suicide attempts, and also increased physical and sexual violence as they remain trapped in the homes of their employers. Despite these challenges, Lebanese fear hunger more than the virus, and economic challenges will amplify violence against women for a long time to come.

Economic Burdens, Lack of Resources & Sexual Exploitation

COVID-19 has forced 743 million girls out of school in 185 countries, and it will only exacerbate gender gaps. Closed schools means missed education and missed opportunities – and the chance they never actually go back. Girls face sexual exploitation, unintended pregnancy, increased forced marriage – with parents “offloading” their girls as an additional economic burden. Even increased FGM has been documented. UNFPA estimates that this may result in 2 million additional cases of FGM, and 13 million additional cases of child marriage.

In Syria, female headed households are being further impoverished, with limited access to livelihoods and food security. The majority of those internally displaced in Syria are women. The loss of homes, property, basic services – especially health care – has magnified violence against women. Syria’s ongoing war and fragmentation impede a response to the pandemic and further stretch already scant resources and services.

For Syrian refugees in Lebanon, for instance, reporting on GBV has decreased. This does not mean that there is a decrease in violence but because of their specific lack of access and inability to report, compounded with resentment by host communities that refugees are further stretching their limited resources. This will be further challenged as resources dwindle and Lebanon continues to spiral downward. 

In Yemen, more than 48,000 women could die from complications of pregnancy and childbirth due to severe funding shortages and the possible closure of reproductive health facilities, amidst rising risks posed by COVID-19.

We’re also seeing increases in sexual exploitation and abuse because of economic insecurities, shortages, new dependencies. Sex for food, sex for rent, sex for supplies – all of these things are taking place, even in “quarantine centers”, security checkpoints, health facilities – places where women should be safe. Armed forces, police, officials all are taking advantage of their new power. In quarantine spaces or makeshift health facilities inadequate lighting, over-crowding, and the lack of sex-segregated water, sanitation and hygiene facilities can all increase the risk of violence for women. We saw this during the Ebola epidemic – and we continue to see it now. 

Here you can see UNESCWA’s tracking of stimulus packages and how each country is going about prioritizing its funding. It won’t be enough without targeted attention to women and girls.

For Arab countries and beyond, there are lessons we could learn from the Ebola response in West Africa in 2013-2015. It is undisputed that epidemics leave women and girls especially vulnerable to violence. We saw this during AND AFTER the Ebola outbreak. Women’s groups must be involved in the development and delivery of services, and must actively lead the response. All protective services for women must be classified as lifesaving and essential: hotlines, safe spaces, sexual and reproductive health services, referral pathways, etc. are necessary all the time, and even more important in crisis. 

Requirements & Demands

We will not use the language of “recommendations” because there is no need for polite language. Let’s make our demands CLEAR. 

  1. Everyone – donors, policymakers, implementers, even the private sector – needs to prioritize GBV prevention, response, and risk mitigation. Response services, case management, temporary shelter, urgent medical care, clinical medical care – everything.
  2. Women must continue to have access to sexual and reproductive health care as a continued essential service. There should be no trade off to Covid funding when it comes to keeping women safe.
  3. The Minimum Initial Service Package (MISP) for Sexual and Reproductive Health (SRH) in crisis settings must be implemented. 
  4. Considerations about technological access need to be made. We can learn from other countries and contexts in finding innovative ways to adapt apps etc. for online reporting – some places are using hand signals on video calls to signal distress and tell us they are unsafe. 
  5. Initiatives like cash assistance for survivors and economic empowerment necessary – as both prevention and response. 
  6. We have said this before: all of this needs funding. We need exclusive support for women and girls in all funding appeals. Appeals that are actually met, with funding sent directly to women on the frontlines.
  7. We also need political will beyond rhetoric. 
  8. We need women at all levels of leadership and decision-making for this response and beyond.

We say it in every crisis: this work is lifesaving. We do not need to prove that GBV exists and is happening and has increased – we know this from every crisis. The emergency does not end when the pandemic ends. There is no ‘normal’ to which we will be returning. Can our COVID-19 response actually be more meaningful for women than other responses have been?! I would like to believe so, but present evidence points to the contrary. 

Open Closets, Closed Doors

By Ayyad El Masri

The performance of being myself has suddenly absorbed a new layer of oppression.  A lethal threat has made its way through my corporeal reality. On any other day, I am reminded of my queerness through my interactions with the world; the receptionist who frowns at my eyeliner, the cab driver who shrugs at my “non-masculine” temperament, my colleagues who compliment my earrings, and my belly that shrinks to hit my spine whenever anyone walks by as to hide its curvature… The performativity that comes with being who I am had become paramount in the ontology of being myself. 

Weeks into living in the confines of temporary housing in the midst of Beirut, the feeling of unity under one common fear is well-founded. There is a visceral unity among different people with diverse narratives. The feeling of ostracism, however, is still there. From behind the blinds of privilege that my fellowship had offered me, I am still hearing the stories of queer people who have no spaces of their own. Those who had taken the streets on the 17th of October to revolt, and basked in the glory of being heard, are now voiceless shadows under the justification that their oppression is less important now that this fear unites us. In the most typically conservative manner, everyone is forced into trusting the narrative that we are now all equal in the face of a global pandemic. Our facades are no longer our instantaneous form of identification. Now that the aesthetic performance of queerness is no longer an indication of queerness – what is? 

I am reminded of my queerness by knowing that it took a national lockdown for some queer people’s parents to finally call them and offer shelter. I am reminded of my queerness by the realization that loneliness has been systematically programed into the experience of being queer. Natural kinship failed to free itself from its gender expression prejudice. I am reminded of my queerness when I see a lifeless Beirut and I remember those who have called us deviant sinners. The ones who wouldn’t recognize the city without us. Most of all, I remember my queerness when I realize that the significance of who I am is now intensified by a specific form of loneliness that comes with the struggle of being queer at atime when fear is universal but love is conditional. 

As queer people, we stand on the intersection of economic, social, religious, political and familial disadvantages. The short ends of these sticks have always been the prized location of queer individuals; those who chose not to live in a world of dichotomies and binaries matched with privileges and advantages. The freedom of queer individuals is jeopardized because the intersection on which we stand does not have a safety-net option. As such, the longevity of a queer person’s well-being, in many cases, relies on impermanent forms of support that one yields from the shaky nature of their surroundings. With virtually no opportunity to harbor stable forms of sustenance, we fall into the entrapments of vicious cycles of mental health challenges and trauma. Adding a viral invasion, forced isolation and, what might as well be, eternal damnation to the mix – the stakes grow higher and the act of being one’s self transcends from being a form of rebellion to being a form of survival.

Claiming a room of one’s own is an impossible goal for many. The spaces that were once ours are now risk-ridden. Thus, answering the question of queering the quarantine remains a matter of collective effort. This is the time to ask ourselves how we can push the queer conversation to the forefront of social discourse at a time when people with money and heteronormative convictions steer the debate. This is the time to look back at the time we chose to come out because we believed in the validity of our identities. We stepped out of the closet to seize a world that sees us – now what about those closed doors?