Feminist café in Lebanon raises women’s rights issues

The feminist cafe in Beirut, “Nasawiya”, does not charge for the food and drink it offers, but visitors are expected to donate money in return. (Reuters)

A feminist collective in Beirut has opened a cafe where it hopes the city’s residents can come together to discuss women’s rights issues.

The cafe, called “Nasawiya,” Arabic for feminist, is one of several projects by the collective whose campaigns aim to raise awareness on issues facing women in Lebanon, such as sexual harassment in the work place, discrimination against female foreign domestic workers, marital rape and domestic violence.

“We started about two years and a half ago. We are a collective of many people, around 250 persons now, and the membership is open to everyone who is interested to join us. We work on all different types of changes”, said Farah Salka, the coordinator at Nasawiya.

”We launched the campaign ‘Adventures of Salwa’, against sexual harassment. And we are now working on a law that criminalizes sexual harassment in working places,” added Salka, listing some of Nasawiya’s initiatives.

The cafe, located in the Mar Mikhael area in Beirut, resembles a large living room with shelves of books and slouchy couches.

The cafe does not charge for the food and drink it offers but visitors are expected to donate money in return.

A recent initiative at the cafe has made it even more popular and is helping foreign women domestic workers in the country to make additional money.

Women from Africa and East Asia who work in Lebanon come every Saturday night to the cafe to cook their ethnic dishes for visitors. The initiative is called Libumu which means ‘‘belly’’ in Congolese dialect.

“We started an event about two months ago, and once we did it everyone got excited about it. It’s called ‘Libumu’, We invite foreign workers from Nepal, Sri Lanka, Ethiopia to the cafe every Saturday night to cook original dishes from their countries”, said Marilyn Zakhour, a web technology consultant and new member of Nasawiya.

Twenty-five-year-old Edith Kitoki is a Lebanese-born activist of Congolese origin who helps Nasawiya contact foreign female workers.

“We want those women to show us their talents, and the best way to do that is by cooking. So every Saturday they cook their cuisine, and all the profit from the Libumu event goes to them”, said Kitoki of the group’s effort to make the foreign workers feel welcomed and valued in Lebanon.

Nasawiya was founded in early 2010 and is one of the few self-funded collectives in Lebanon. It says its aim is to ‘‘challenge all forms of gender oppression in Lebanon and the Arab World.’’

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