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13 July 2017

Laila Hzaineh

By: Daoud Kuttab
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New challenges require new responses.
 
This has proven to be true in the efforts of a single woman in her personal struggle against harassment and sexual abuse that is often the norm in many parts of the Middle East.
 
Laila Hzaineh refuses to take abuse without response.
 
Last year, when Laila saw a video by Yousef Al Khatib justifying harassment against women because of how they dress, she could not take it.
 
Using her laptop camera, she recorded a video that quickly went viral, garnering over 300,000 likes on Facebook within a few days.
 
Since then, Hzaineh has taken to recording short videos in response to any public attempts to demean women or to justify harassment. Already, she has produced more than 10 videos that have all gone viral online.
 
Her style is powerful but not demeaning. She takes up her opponent’s statements and dissects them one by one, totally eviscerating them.
 
This is what happened to TV anchor Mohammad Rakan Qadah, who had posted a video attacking Jordanian women for the way they dress.
 
In one segment, Hzaineh did a little research and found a public photo of Qadah posing with a famous Lebanese singer who was dressed exactly like the women he was attacking.
 
Hzaineh’s point-by-point response was so powerful that Qadah deleted his original video — a fact that did not help him keep his job as an anchor on Josat TV station.
 
Hzaineh understands that what she has been doing is empowering other young women, although she also understands that many can’t do what she has been able to do.
 
Brought up in a modest family and having attended an UNRWA school in Jordan, Hzaineh sought and succeeded in getting into the prestigious King’s Academy in Madaba, where she honed her debate skills and improved her knowledge and narrative on women’s issues.
 
One of the videos she has posted online talks about traditions related to women in the east.
 
In it, she presents facts that discredit the ugly tradition that requires husbands to show the blood on the bed sheets from their wedding night.

She has also posted a video responding to the way many issues are justified under the common question of “would you want this for your sister?”
 
A sophomore at Swarthmore College in the United States, Hzaineh, home for the summer, understands that in today’s world, the public domain should not be left to bigots and sexists, and those who justify discrimination and harassment against women.
 
Like most young women growing up in the region, Hzaineh has her share of harassments, catcalls and sexually loaded insults. The difference has been that she has responded to these attacks in her own way.
 
She has vowed to stand up to anyone who tries to publicly justify harassment, irrespective of the method or the content.
 
While her efforts seem to have had a major impact, she still appears to be a lonely voice in the wilderness.
 
Major women’s rights organisations are still preoccupied with traditional issues and have not been able to address the current problems facing millennials and other young women growing up in the 21st century.
 
A new crop of young women will be taking leadership positions very soon.
 
The need for progressives and liberal voices to embrace these new voices is important to ensure that this effort is not kept to a particular medium (successful as it it) or a particular person.
 
Voices like those of Laila Hzaineh need to be nurtured, amplified and turned into the role models that many have been seeking for years.

* A Palestinian columnist based in Amman, Jordan. - dkuttab@ammannet.net



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