Interview of Aswat
by Marie-Paule Lolo
Aswat, Palestinian Gay Women, was granted the first GO Visible Award for the outstanding work they are doing in their region. Organized for the first time in conjunction with the XXIV ILGA World Conference in Vienna in November 2008, the Award was initiated and donated by Ulrike Lunacek, Member of Parliament in Austria and Co-Spokeswoman for the European Green Party.
Marie-Paule Lolo is a French, lesbian, feminist activist. She is the co-representative of the French LGBT Commission of the Green Party. She is a psychanalyst and is working in conflict prevention for a Belgian organization. She interviewed a member of Aswat in December 2008. The latter requested to remain anonymous to preserve her safety.
Your organization won the first prize of “GO Visible Award”. What kind of project did you present for the Award?
The award aims at acknowledging the work of organizations that have taken a big step forward in LGBTQI work, who have steady and regular activities and programmes, in addition to the impact they have had on the local and global LGBTQI community. The Go Visible Award acknowledges and encourages Aswat’s work in general and not a specific project, and will certainly contribute to Aswat’s visibility and create more opportunities to gain access and recognition, locally and globally. Thanks to this recognition, Aswat is truly on its way to go visible as more and more women are becoming visible in LGBT conferences and events, though mostly on an international level, rather than local. We are, however, certainly more visible today.
Aswat wishes to thank warmly Ms. Ulrike Lunacek for her vote of confidence and hopes that she will lead a way for others to follow in acknowledging and promoting LGBT groups around the world.
Can you explain how it is to live with a double discriminated identity as a Palestinian and as an LBT woman in such a difficult political, economical and social context?
As Palestinian gay women, we are triply oppressed as Palestinian citizens of Israel – a national indigenous minority, and as women in a rather patriarchal and conservative Arab-Palestinian community, and finally, as gay women in an extremely homophobic society. Nonetheless, Aswat meets these challenges with courage and perseverance. As one of the women noted once: "Before Aswat, I was hiding in my dark closet, feeling shame and guilt for my ‘deviation’, but today, I feel proud, and have a safe place to be, to share, to learn and contribute to myself and other women". Aswat has helped many women grow and has actively encouraged and created women’s leadership; empowering gay women and giving the general public an authentic view of Palestinian gay women’s lives.
The political challenges that Palestinians face in Israel and the systematic discrimination against us as a national minority has certainly created a huge socio-economic gap, one that we try to address through our activism as feminists, as gays and as human beings. Discriminations in all facets of life, in budget allocations, in education and housing, resulted in creating a disadvantaged, marginalized, alienated and somehow neglected minority. Therefore, Aswat sees the national struggle as part of our struggle for equality, as human beings, as women and as gays as being interrelated.
Your organization is working with a feminist Israeli organization. Do you think that women are more capable to work towards building peace in your region and more broadly in the world?
Absolutely! Aswat works closely with Palestinian and Jewish feminist organizations and has recently taken an active part in planning the 16th Feminist Conference in Israel, which, for the first time, took place in Nazareth, one of the biggest Arab localities in the country. Aswat was visible and received lavish praise from participating organizations, both Arab and Jewish. Cooperating with Jewish feminist organizations is a strategy we believe in – and not merely a goal. Perhaps at time, we feel that our “bubble” of cooperation does not spread behind the borders of our activism, but, evidently, it does. Women are creating a change and advocate equality and justice for all; and I strongly believe that women are actually, though slowly, building the grounds for a genuine global involvement in the peace process. Women are turning every stone, maximizing their involvement and seizing opportunities to take action, not only to advocate but to create a real change.
If you wanted one of your wishes to come true, which one would it be?
Equality for all, no less. We want more and more gay women to feel safe. We want to empower them to deal with their own fears, and then with homophobia in their societies. We want them to live their lives to the fullest, seize their full potential. We want Arab women to be able to survive the conservative, male dominant society that oppresses any expression of self, of sexuality. We want to raise our voice, so other women would know we exist, that we are there to support them. And raise our voice to the general public, society at large, to educate them about LGBT issues and rights. We want equal access and recognition for all gay women. Aswat’s programmes and activities come to fulfill this vision of justice and equality, and together, we can make a change.
Aswat, which means voices in Arabic, is a dynamic group of Palestinian gay women who joined forces to create a safe space for Palestinian gay women in the Palestinian communities of Israel, the Gaza Strip and the West Bank. Established in 2003, Aswat provides a framework that allows Palestinian gay women opportunities to voice their feelings and opinions, share experiences and articulate their needs into action. It also provides innovative services, training and empowerment courses, advocacy and media outreach to Palestinian gay women and the general public. In doing so, Aswat attempts to generate an in-depth understanding, placing women’s diversity at the centre of the analysis. It is inclusive, participatory, collaborative and illuminates the experiences of those who live on the margins of society. Aswat’s programmes and activities respond to social injustices through advocating collective action and social change, because it believes in justice, equality and in creating opportunities for women to enable them to lead fulfilling lives.