Partner with us! Women in Middle East

Partner with us! this was the closing statement of Rafif Jouejati in an engaged, passionate debate at the Thalia Theatre on Sunday morning. Jouejati is spokeswoman of the Syrian opposition movement and very worried about the current situation in Syria, where more than 4 million people are internally displaced and many more threatened to loose their homes.

The start of the movement in Syria was a demand for reforms, as in other Arab countries. Women were then serving as equal partners in the revolution, Rafif Jouejati said, building women networks and exercising their rights. But by now the situation has become much more radicalised, and it is difficult to say how the west could help. But nevertheless she said that she still believed in the build-up of democratic structures (she worked in the opposition project “The Day After”), but probably democracy will not be attained immediately. Her moving appeal to the west: Partner with us! Don’t teach us, that’s not what we need,  you can even learn from us.

Syria was one of the topics of the Sunday morning discussion panel. The Thalia theatre and the “Verein zur Förderung des Israel Museum in Jerusalem e.V.” (the friends of the Israel museum in Jerusalem, a Hamburg association), had invited prominent women to discuss the political situation in Middle East, and especially the impact on women and the challenges in recent developments.

Gihan Abou Zeid, civil rights activist from Egypt, gave valuable insights into the situation of women in Egypt after the revolution. The freedom once gained will not be taken away from the women in Egypt, she declared.

Dr. Henan Ashrawi, former leader of the Palestine delegation in the peace process, impressed the audience with clear statements and striking personality: It is not right, she said, to fight against oppression and at the same time oppress women and women’s rights. Both she and Prof. Oz-Salzberger discussed the Israel-Palestinian situation very openly.

Alice Schwarzer, the well-known German feminist publisher, and Claudia Roth, party leader of “Die Grünen”, reflected how western women groups and politics can possibly support women in the Middle East countries in their fight for freedom and democracy.

After the introduction into the topic of the day by Joachim Lux, the director of the Thalia Theater, Sonja Lahnstein-Kandel, the president of the “Friends of the Israel Museum”, guided through the discussion with great aplomb.

She organized the debate into three crucial questions: What are the participants personal experiences in the recent revolutions and upheavals? What are the realistic chances for the development of democratic structures? Will women in the region be able to reach their goals? And how can we in the west help to strengthen democratic forces? And finally: Are women better peacemakers? (The last question by the way was dismissed very quickly by an unanimous “no”).

 The audience (full house at the Thalia theatre) was partaking in the discussion and applauding  frequently. Clearly, the two hours discussion was appreciated. Each of the participants could have filled an evening of her own, and the discussion on the panel was lively full of insights and profound arguments and featuring great mutual respect.

For the spectators, the use of the audio set to follow the simultaneous translation was obviously a novelty and took some explaining, but soon everybody managed the dual channel device to listen to the statements in German or English, as needed.