It’s been 8 months since we officially launched theAproject on November 5, 2014 at Walimat Wardeh. So what was that party about and what’s happened since?
The launch party was a fun opportunity to network with our peers in the fields of sexuality, gender, social justice, and the arts. We gathered with healthcare providers, lawyers, academics, artists, grass roots organizers, activists, government officials (2 showed up :) ), friends, and family to discuss theAproject.
After an hour of mingling and conversations with guests, we officially welcomed everyone and shared with them our new website and displayed the website’s pages, functions, and information. Lama (deputy Aproject manager) then talked about sexuality and the avenues of experimenting with sex positivity in our Lebanese and Arab context. She pointed out that although that wording might be new to us, the concept of sex positivity is not necessarily foreign (read Western): we have in our arts and histories a long and positive tradition of expressing sexuality. After her short but flowery speech, we screened our video as well as Marsa’s. Diana, manager from Marsa the sexual health clinic in Beirut, then talked about the how the video was launched with a campaign on International Womens Day in 2014 encouraging women to look after their bodies and sexual and reproductive health a message passed on by merely asking women to take a mirror and look at their vulvas (that’s pussy in scientific talk). Diana also went on to discuss services at the clinic; Marsa is a referral contact of theAproject.
Afterwards, Rola founder and Aproject manager introduced this newborn initiative and talked about why it is important that we embark on this adventure while working closely with other groups in Lebanon. Rola discussed how we view sexual and reproductive rights, as a way to celebrate sexuality and as part of the larger struggle against systemic oppressions such as racism, classism, gender discrimination, sectarianism, ageism, ableism, capitalism, war, violence, colonialism, and occupation.
In the last months since its launch, theAproject has set up a variety of workshops and trainings as well as a reading retreat:
The Sex and Society reading retreat took place in Kfardebian and was the first of many planned retreats. We were lucky to have activists, junior researchers, and writers join us for a period of 2 days and discuss readings (fiction, theory, peer-reviewed, news coverage, personal pieces) and films relating to sexuality and gender or that use the field for personal agendas. Some of the readings were lengthy and difficult but they equipped us with a theoretical framework that is essential to working and thinking of sexuality in our context and region. We hope that our future retreats will be as successful and challenging. For more about that weekend away, read this uber well written post by guest blogger Unrealisdick, here. (Also check out his writings, that boi’s got something to say)
We are nearing the end of our training for the first batch of hotline volunteers who will soon be picking up on your calls, prank calls, and missed calls (but mostly really your questions and rants)! Over a series of weekends, our trainings mostly focused on the basics of sexual and reproductive health, pleasure, violence, sexual diversities, and gender and we challenged ourselves into thinking about how to respond effectively, informatively, genuinely, carefully, and non-judgmentally (which probably isn’t a word) to our callers.
We’ve started a series of workshops with migrant and refugee women in Lebanon. Five workshops and conversations on sexual and reproductive health have taken place at the Migrant Community Center and we plan on continuing these sessions on topics that are more relevant to different migrant communities and with time expanding them into different areas of Lebanon. We also partnered with Basmeh w Zeitooneh to hold a series of discussions in Shatila camp; which brought together about 40 Syrian refugee women from the camp to openly discuss sexuality, sexual and reproductive health, gender, and have a few laughs and vent-outs on the topic. The group is divided into currently married and currently unmarried women so as to give space for discussing freely, comfortably, and without judgment. Both groups receive the same material and so in total we held 5 sessions. Six Syrian women living in the camps who are Syrian refugees, most of them with a background in nursing, have volunteered to continue giving sessions and a training of trainers has already begun. These sessions go concurrently with a sensitivity training of physicians, nurses, midwives, and other allied healthcare providers who work at a women’s health clinic in Shatila.