SI Leader Lab – Going back again after 11 years!


I am going back to Sweden in two weeks. This time participating as a coach in the Swedish Institute new leadership program “SI Leader Lab” which aims to connect gender equality advocates in South Asia, the MENA region and Sweden.

I can’t be more excited to be part of this after 11 years of my participation in the Young Leader Visitors Program, which started in 2008 with the aim of connecting young leaders for positive change. I was selected to be one of around 25 participants at the time from Jordan, Palestine, Syria, Lebanon, Egypt and Sweden. And that was mainly due to my writings on this blog. It was an amazing experience getting to travel to Stockholm, meeting all of those young change makers, who were leaders in their respective communities, getting trained on team building and social media, and build friendships that last for a lifetime.

The beauty of the program lied in the network it built and the connections it paved the ground to. It wasn’t limited to that year, as it continued every year since then, adding more change makers to the network. Some of which I already met and got inspired by their work, but many others whom I am yet to meet.

And this years, it even gets better. The YLVP has morphed into a program that focuses on what I am really passionate about – gender equality. It is also larger, reaching out to young gender advocates in more countries, hosting 60 participants this year from Afghanistan, Algeria, Bangladesh, Egypt, India, Iraq, Jordan, Lebanon, Libya, Morocco, Nepal, Pakistan, Palestine, Sri Lanka, Syria, Tunisia, Yemen. And this time, I am going to give back to the program, co-facilitating a public narrative workshop to help these gender advocates develop their stories.

I actually can’t wait to get to know each and every one of the participants and learn about their work and challenges they are facing. It feels like an entirely different generation, but I understand the challenge. I understand how hard it is pushing the gender agenda in this region and around the globe, and I salute any effort that is put into building and strengthening such networks.

The movement is growing in breadth and strengths, and many laws have been changed in the past few years towards equality. Yet, we are no even close. The challenges are still huge, but we will work, each from his place, to make this world a better place to live for all of us.

I am going back this year with a feeling of pride, as I look back to 2008 and know that my passion hasn’t faded out. I am going back with an arsenal of books in my history log. Books that I wrote with the intention to push social boundaries towards more openness, tolerance and acceptance. And others that are yet to come. It makes me feel that I do belong to this network, and earned my spot here.

Haya: On Netflix’s Bonding and Laila and the Lamb


Hello people!
Have you missed me? I am sure you did.
And I am talking to those who were following this blog years back
Like in 2007! (omg feels like ages ago)
Those who know that The Observer is not the only author here
And that I am the infamous “Haya” have actually contributed more engaging and exciting content to this blog.
So Observer but this is true
Whether you agree with it or not!
Yes more “exciting”!
If you don’t believe me, go back and “Google me”
Wait, don’t go and google me as you won’t find anything about me
but search this blog for my older posts.
I promise, you will enjoy reading them.

Anyway, since The Observer started blogging again two weeks ago and I have been itching
I want to blog too!
For new readers, please let me introduce myself
I am The Observer’s female alter ego
The first female voice he used in this writings
Long before those 4 “wanna be” brides in his first book
and long before that boring Janna in his second
who keeps whining and whining about how unhappy she is at a time where she is back to her youth and have all what she wishes for at her fingertips!
What the hell?! Seriously Janna? Just wake up.
If you want Kamil, just go after him and be happy! (rolling my eyes)
And yes, long before his latest dominatrix protagonist – Laila
What the fuck?! How did you get there Observer?

Don’t get me wrong guys, I am all for women empowerment
And yes, there are aspects of Laila’s character that I admire
And I did enjoy reading the book
But that intro page! OMG!
What were you thinking??!
A Jordanian woman wearing a jockstrap and fucking her boyfriend!
SERIOUSLY?
Like SERIOUSLY?
Are you NUTS? Observer?
And then you go all the way and get surprised because the book got banned in Jordan!
Duh!
Did you really expect it to pass censorship? Like really?
It is a book habibi! A printed one! Not your blog!
And you needed to get a reality check!
But hey, I admire your courage
You actually went that far into writing it!
And getting it published!
And talking (shamelessly) about it!
Bravo!
I say bravo although it is not something I would have ever agreed to
If you have consulted me
But anyway, the book is out
And it is banned in Jordan
And people are finding a hard time to find it
Happy?
Enough with berating you
As I actually understand what you were trying to do with that book
I disagree with the means but under where you are coming from
And you people, stop categorizing the book as “pornographic”
Because IT IS NOT!
Yes it has a shocking opening
And few sexual scenes
But IT IS NOT PORN
It is not more of a porn than this new mini series on Netflix called Bonding
If you read Laila and enjoyed it, then you must watch it
It builds on a similar concept
(No Observer, Hollywood is NOT stealing your ideas)
Bonding is a more of comedy series of a dominatrix sex worker with a gay assistant
Intriguing, no?
Original? Despite Observer’s opinion, I’d say yes!
Entertaining? Definitely!
And I have to admit, it feels like it originated from the same line of thinking The Observer had
As in challenging mainstream stereotypes of women’s role in bed
And that’s good – a noble cause I’d say
And while the show taps onto some “disgusting practices”
It does it in a light fun way
Far from the serious tone of Laila
And there is NO SCENE that shows Mistress May (the protagonist of the show) fucking any of her men with a dildo!
(maybe in the second season?) – I bet!
But anyway, there are two things that I want to highlight here
FIRST: I understand that The Observer introduced that scene to provide a critical read for the entire act. He does it clearly towards the end of the story. And to be honest, it is a needed thought provoking read.
SECOND: (*spoiler alter*) Bonding ends with a crime, one that Mistress May commits, and articulates that she can’t report to the police because no one would believe her. That sounds exactly like Tarek’s dilemma in Laila’s story. The same concept of how someone would react when he is doing something wrong in the eyes of the society and ends up in much worse situation. Come clean or run away?

What would you do?
Have your read Laila and the Lamb or watched Bonding?
If not, then you should.
And when you do. Come back here and let me know what you think!

Sincerely yours,
Haya






Dividing gender based on height? My next project!


I miss blogging. It has been a while since I wrote anything on my blog, and even when I did, it has been more of an announcement or photos without much of written words or ideas or opinions like I used to do back in the days.

Keeping a blogging habit has been challenging in the past few years, and I don’t think that I am ready to overcome this challenge anytime soon, but I feel the urge to write something today and happy to use this platform. And as I have been doing lately, using it as a platform to talk about my writing projects, I feel like pitching the idea of the next novel I am working on, with a working title ‘Khait Hareer’ (A silk thread).

I am not sure how well the title goes with the idea and how well it will be weaved in the storyline. I have actually finished writing 9 chapters already and working on the 10th. It is kind of exciting but challenging, more challenging than writing my previous books as I am trying to imagine a fictional world. I have done this before with ‘Heaven on Earth’, and it was challenging too, but I think it was a bit easier, because in that book I tried to imagine the future, but in the new one, I am trying to imagine a parallel society.

So here is the pitch in simple terms. I am trying to imagine a society where gender is divided based on height, not sex. I know, it might be a tough sell, as not so many people understand the concept of gender and how much it is related to sex. For me, I understand that gender is a social construct, it is a sectioning system that divides people into two categories based on their perceived sexual organs. On top of the sexual division, comes a huge burden of dividing every single human attribute in an attempt to exaggerate the sexual organs distinction and make clear divisions between two types of humans – in our world today we call them men and women.

In a nutshell, we build on a single human characteristic our main human classification. And we divide all of the other thousands of human attributes, that are irrelevant to our sexual organs between the two types of humans we created. It is the most dangerous classification of humans in our history, one that most believe is natural and has always been their in every single human society. A division that clearly over simplifies the sexual organs shape and size spectrum and ignores the power of nature in brining in a wide range of manifestation to every single human attribute.

Sex is not different than height. The sexual organs come in all shapes and sizes. And if we can hold a knife and cut human populations into two sexes based of the state of development of male/female sexual organs, hiding a big portion of human beings that fall under what we call ‘intersex’, then we can use the same knife into cutting human populations into two heights (tall and short people) and hide those of middle height.

And yes, like what we do top our sexual organs distinction or dividing other attributes between two sexes, we can do the same, and divide human attributes based on the height of a person. In my story for instance, tall people will have to be thin and weak, while short ones will be thick, stocky and strong. It is not physical attributes that I divide, but also psychic ones, same like we do men and women. I even outline a dress code, a behavior code and strict gender roles that these tall and short human beings have to adhere too.

It is a very exciting practice trying to imagine how such humans would behave under these constraints. How they build their life and how they define things! There is a lot to explore and I might fell short in bringing up all of the angles such a drastic change might mean to us. It is a challenge that I decided to take, one that I am pleased with its outcome so far.

The most challenging aspect of imagining such society, is the language to use in describing it. I am writing the story in Arabic, and for those familiar with the language, it is pretty much gendered. For Arab speakers, everything has a gender, even unanimated objects. It is either a thing is feminine when it has the ta’ at the end of the word, or is masculine when the ta’ is not there. Yes, we have queer objects, but thats not the rule of the language.

In their world, their language is gendered too, and it is gendered based on height. But inventing such a language is beyond my capacity. I can outline it, and maybe try writing few phrases, but even then, no one would understand it. So I had to come up with a twist for the book, one that I hope will give you an “aha” moment and a smile once you get to it.

Not sure if I succeeded in pitching the idea, but if you got what I was trying to say, please let me know what you think. Try to imagine that society and let me know what comes to your mind. That would help me adding to the story.

New trend of misogynic songs is a reaction to social change


A new genre of arab music appeared recently where male singers remind women how they are suppose to behave with their men; from Mohammed Iskander’s song that asks women not to work and stay homes, to “Si Al Sayyed” song of Tamer Hosni where he claims that as a man he is a superior being and that his wife shouldn’t argue or object him, and now a new release by Rami Sabri with a title “Al Ragel” (The Man) and words asking women to be obedient in order to please their men and be good!

This only popped up in the past few years, where men seem to feel they have the right to be vocal about women behaviour, stating what seems to be a social criticism and disapproval on how modern women are claiming their independence and equal status.

The notion of men being responsible of women is widely spread. And it is not just men who claim this responsibility but also women from all walks of life who rushes to remind their men that they are responsible of them! Even those who are modern and lead a somehow a liberal life. I remember few years back when I blogged about something with some daring sexual content, a man stepped up, he was angry because women might read it! This sense of responsibility, or this sense to guard women and make decisions on their behalf would only help in increasing the gender divide and keeping women in a state of immature adults that constantly need guidance and protection.

It shouldn’t surprise us to see men, beside popular singers, popping up in videos on social media to tell women what to wear and how to behave in public. This sense of superiority is disgusting.

We need a social shift in regards of the perception of women, men should learn to see them as equal partners who are very much capable of making their own decisions and protecting themselves, women also need to step up and stop depending on men and holding them responsible of their well being. Women are full fledged adults, thats how they should be seen, how they should be branded, and how they should be treated if we want a modern mature society.

“The Bride of Amman” is out for pre-orders


I can’t believe that this is finally happening. The English translation of “Aroos Amman” is finally ready and up for pre-orders. It is already out there on Amazon.com (paperback)! and a publishing date is set on 21th July. I am so happy about the translation and so thankful for Ruth Ahmedzai Kemp who has done a great job in brining my written words into English. I am also very thankful for my publisher (signal8press) for the great work put into ensuring best quality of the English production. It was a long process but I enjoyed working with both of them and witnessed them shaping what I thought to be a good book even better.

When I first started blogging in 2006, I wanted to communicate issues of sexual and body rights that were not addressed by traditional media at the time. I could see how our cultural heritage and obsession in regulating sexuality is making an already tough life due to economical conditions even tougher. I wanted to open missed debates around these issues in hope of change. Few years down the road, I was able to collect my thoughts into a full story, a novel that came out in January 2012. At the time, I didn’t anticipate this success of Aroos Amman, and didn’t anticipate the huge amount I received. People seem to be fed up with the old doctrine that limits their body and sexual freedoms. They are happy to see someone bringing it up right front and are ready to fight for it themselves.

Today with the book coming out to English, I am hoping for a wider reach that could trigger even bigger change.

Thank you all for your love and support.

I dedicate this book to Arab young men and women: those who are struggling to conform, those who are fighting for autonomy over their own bodies, and those advocating for sexual rights.

The-Bride-of-Amman-Flyer

The silent majority are no longer silent: Dr. Dala’een case


I have been observing the growth of a strong online network of voices in Jordan that champions individual freedoms and human rights. This is a positive indicator that shows a u-turn in public opinion and a stronger passion from what we used to call as “silent majority”. This “silent majority”, with the help of Facebook and social media,  seems to seize being silent anymore, they now stand firm against oppressing traditional voices that has always used the agency of religion and local traditions to hold us back.

We had a good win yesterday when Dr. Dala’een, an ex parliament member and opposition leader was pushed to issue a statement denying the misogynist comments he posted on his Facebook page a week ago attacking the new appointed Minister of Telecommunication, Majd Shawikha. On his page last week he posted a photo for her (most probably taken from her Facebook account) in a night dressing gown. He added a comment saying that in the past such profane scenes had a place in pornographic magazines for perverts to look at, but today these women are appointed to rule against us! He got a few supporter to his post and many likes, but then hours later, the tide change, and angry people started flocking to his page, attacking him for his sleazy comment, and standing up for the minister. A day later, someone started an online petition on change.org, a call for the public attorney to take actions against Dr. Dala’een. The petition gathered 2276 supporter so far. It has triggered some newspaper columnist to address the issue and stand up for Dr. Dala’een. It may also be what prompt him to issue a statement yesterday and claim that it wasn’t him who posted that on Facebook, but a hacker that took over his account.

Whether he is lying or not about the hacker is not the point, we could be nice and give him the benefit of the doubt and believe his story. The point is that Jordanians are forming an organic coalition online that will no longer stand silent for misogyny or discriminative discourse.

Few months ago, the same Jordanians stood up for Kharabeesh, a video content website, for posting a homophobic video for an immature standup comedian calling for burning gay people. The reaction was strong, fast, and organised. People showered Kharabeesh with emails and FB comments and messages, forcing them to issue and apology and delete the video carrying the hate speech from their youtube channel.

In the same line, Jordanians stood up before to both Amjad Qorsha, a religious leader, for his offensive posts against christians. And also Abdul Hadi Raji Al Majali, a popular columnist, for his hate speech against Iraqis in Jordan. Both of them seemed to be tamed these days after witnessing the hard reactions.

One could consider Dr. Dala’een retreat as a win for women and women rights. I see it more of a public statement and endorsement for individual freedoms and human rights at large. With all of the negative aspects that social media brings, this one is a positive welcomed social change that brings hope for a better future.

Happy women’s day!

My Kali Interview, Celebrity of the week and Alef book club


Photo shoot My Kali Magazine

Photo shoot My Kali Magazine

It feels good to see the buzz of Arous Amman is still going through the country after more than two years of its debut. On thursday, I was hosted by Lama Zakharia for her radio show “Celebrity of the Week” on Beat FM. The interview was great, went super smooth with Lama being smart, spontaneous and professional as her audience know her. I am a big fan of her myself since I saw her performing last year in the Christmas’s musical of Dozan Awtar. I have also posted a while ago a video for her fighting sexual harassment by singing. She has an amazing voice and great talent. Watch out for her next projects. My interview will be aired next Thursday.

My interview with my kali magazine is published today after  much anticipation. These guys are really talented. We are blessed to have such artistic styled magazine in Jordan. The write-up is really good from the mutli-talented Mike Derderian. Mike is another one to admire, he is an artist who produces amazing illustrations, he is a brilliant writer and a great radio show host as well.  Along with the interview, my kali ran a stylised photo shoot for me. The photographs was taken by the wonderful Hiba Juda, make up by Amer Atta, hair by Ahmad Al Sa’ady, the making of video by Ala’a Abu Qasheh, and the cover/promo design by Atef Daglees. I feel so blessed to get to know all of these talented people. I also would like to dedicate a special thank you to Kali himself for putting the efforts into sustaining this magazine.

I like the smart headline of the interview “Here Comes the Groom!” in reference to me, the one behind the brides in Arous Amman.  And from the interview, I specially like these few lines:

Of course, don’t just take my word for it! It is a brilliant social commentary on an Arabian society filled with mothers, daughters and sisters; working women; married women; divorced women; women pursuing academia; sexually active women; and forlorn spinsters dreaming of the perfect Arab catch. Of course it also sheds light on the misogynistic Arab man; the oppressive father; the married man; the cheating husband; and the self-righteous cousin, who is looking for an excuse to burst the bubble of any of the over-achieving females in his tribe. The main controversy surrounding Aroos Amman most probably erupted from within the pages of the chapter in which a man thinks aloud after making love; making love to another man. I have to admit it was a shocking instance to read in a book written by an Arab Jordanian writer; almost as shocking as the rape scene in Quentin Tarantino’s Pulp Fiction, back in 1994.

I also had a very nice discussion around Arous Amman with Alef book club at the Good Bookshop. The discussion was complimented with a homosexuality debate. Before the debate started I had the chance to give a short presentation about gender and sexuality.  The issue was discussed openly from social, scientific and religious perspective. The event was organised very well and the crowd were respectful and polite. I was pretty much impressed by those youth (around 40 from both genders) discussing such matter openly and logically with full respect to each other opinion. At one point there was a veiled girl arguing against homosexuality talking closely to an openly gay man. Both were addressing their points of view genuinely with no sense of hatred towards each other. When the crowd were asked if they are with giving homosexuals their rights, most of them raised their hands in agreement! That’s something one doesn’t expect to happen in Jordan where a recent stat shows that 97% that society shouldn’t accept homosexuality! My Kali videoed the whole event, they should be posting it soon. I would also like to seize the chance and thank Tarek Abdo and Sanad Nowar for running this book club and organisation this event. That is courageous of them to tackle such issue.

Through Arous Amman I got to know about many book clubs in Jordan. I am happy to see these book clubs growing everywhere. I have to admit, Alef has just became one of my favourites. I wish them all the best.

One last good news, we are almost run out of copies of the 2nd edition of Arous Amman and will be working on a new print.