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Martin Armstrong

Lebanese musicians tune in to gender inequality

"In My Hands" is intended as a light-hearted approach to a challenging issue

Date of publication: 15 September, 2016

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A collaboration between the Lebanese American University and two young musicians accustomed to satirising the country's politics, lead to the creation of "In My Hand", a humorous song about inequality.
Addressing the issue of gender inequality in Lebanon is no easy task. According to the World Economic Forum's 2014 Global Gender Gap index, Lebanon ranked 135th of 142 countries surveyed.

Lebanese women are unable to pass on nationality to their children, are disadvantaged in legal disputes pertaining to family law, face an uphill struggle to receive equal pay and are chronically under-represented in domestic politics.  

Meanwhile, advocacy groups have faced staunch resistance from the country's religious institutions in their endeavours to see legal penalties for domestic violence and marital rape instituted in the country's legal courts.

Seeking to address some of these ills, the Lebanese American University's (LAU) Institute for Women's Studies in the Arab World (IWSAW) recently collaborated with Michelle and Noel Keserwany, two sisters and musicians with a track record of producing catchy songs satirising Lebanese politics and society.

The result was "In My Hand", a playful number with a slightly off-kilter Benny Hill-esque beat that is juxtaposed with the politically-charged lyrics of the song, which call for equal rights between men and women.

This juxtaposition, explains Lina Abirafeh, Director of IWSAW, was intentional.

"The song is a light-hearted approach to a challenging issue in the region and aims to address issues of equality, rights, and representation," Abirafeh said. 

"There are actually no songs in Arabic that address gender issues in this way and appeal to young people. This song sets a precedent not only for Lebanon but for the whole region."

"In My Hand" is accompanied by an animated video also produced by the Keserwany sisters, although the duo passed on vocal duties for the song to a couple of LAU undergraduate students.
Gender inequality is entrenched in Lebanon. Look at the comments of politicians ... it is inexcusable.
- Lina Abirafeh, Director of the Institute for Women's Rights in the Arab World 

The video depicts a young woman explaining to a male friend some of the gender-based discrimination she faces in Lebanon.

Issues touched upon include a lack of equality in personal status, marriage and divorce laws, with the protagonist asking, in vein, at one stage who she is meant to approach with these issues: "The government? Society? My parents? My neighbours?"

Over the course of the song - sung in Arabic but with English subtitles - the protagonist's male companion, at first dismissive of his friend's claims to gender-based discrimination, is converted to her cause.

The chorus of "In My Hand" notably calls on listeners to make decisions for themselves, and vote according to their principles - with their "own hand(s)."

"Everyone involved in the song - from the writing, to the singing, to the instrumentation - is young," told Abirafeh, speaking to The New Arab.

"This is a young Arab, truly home-grown initiative. Achieving gender equality is a global issue, and it is an acute issue in Lebanon where, for example, women are not protected by law from gender based forms of violence like marital rape," explained Abirafeh.

"Gender inequality is entrenched in Lebanon. Look at the comments of politicians... it is inexcusable," she said.

Last week Elie Marouni, a Lebanese MP, aroused controversy after a video emerged in which the politician suggested that women invited men to rape them 
in "certain circumstances". It was by no means the first time a Lebanese politician has become embroiled in a scandal over seemingly sexist conduct.

Abirafeh admitted that realising gender equality in Lebanon, and the wider Middle East, remained an uphill struggle. However, she said, this was no excuse not to advocate for it.

"How long are we going to stand by and watch history repeat itself? The song is radio-friendly but with an important message," said Abirafeh expressing an interest in organising and taking part in similar initiatives in the future. 

The IWSAW department at the Lebanese American University, according to its mission statement, focuses on advancing women's empowerment and gender equality through research, education, development programs, and outreach at both national and international levels, operating at an intersection between academia and activism.

"It is time to change and it is within our power," said Abirafeh.

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