For many people, gender inequality is such a large, daunting, and complex problem in our society, it can seem impossible to find an entry point to make a positive difference. But not for the sixteen YES alumni who recently attended the YES Gender Parity Specialists (YESGPS) Workshop in Beirut, Lebanon. The YES alumni who attended the workshop were all “specialists” in the sense that they have a proven track record and impressive background of working in the gender field as practitioners, educators, researchers, and/or advocates. Each YESGPS participant brought their own nuanced understanding and experiences of gender (in)equalities, and had three days to engage with other YES alumni doing similar work around the world.
The opening session of YESGPS required participants to work together to discuss and define gender parity and intersectionality, which led to deep conversations on privilege and identity. These discussions were the cornerstone of a full three days of mindful, reflective, inquisitive, and at times, challenging, discussions between participants.
Since all the participants came from incredibly diverse backgrounds with unique experiences and intersecting identities, alumni arrived in Beirut prepared to present at a Mini Conference on the gender parity work they do in their respective communities as practitioners, educators, researchers, and/or advocates. All YESGPS participants became aware of the obstacles their peers overcome, while also learning successful strategies that lead to a more gender equal society. The Mini Conference presentations ranged from girls and women in STEM, to LGBTQI rights, to laws that discriminate against women, to working with women with disabilities, to reporting and raising awareness of sexual assault, among other topics.
In addition to learning from one another, YESGPS participants were fortunate to attend two keynote presentations by Lina Abou-Habib from the Women's Learning Partnership and Jumanah Zabaneh from UN Women. Both keynotes focused on societal gender roles and expectations. YESGPS participants learned about family law, masculinity and social norms, the intersection of religion and gender, and ways to slowly make changes within our systems to make changes that benefit all genders.
Almost all the YESGPS participants agreed that one of the highlights of the workshop was a site visit to a women’s shelter. The shelter provides a free, safe, and supportive temporary home for survivors of gender based violence, or women who are at risk of gender based violence. At the safe house, women have access to crisis counseling, information on legal rights, mental health support, and additional resources. YESGPS participants met with the staff of the safe house to learn about their work. One YESGPS participant said, “The site visit was genuinely the best and the most inspiring workshop activity of all, in a way that it took us from the theory to the actual gender parity dilemma. The place was cold but I could feel the warmth of the ladies who were inspiring, hospitable and who actually took the time to talk to us and tell us about the magnificent work they do with survivors.”
Throughout the workshop all YESGPS participants had opportunities to debrief, reflect, and engage in more conversations related to the formal learning sessions. On the final day, YESGPS participants gave short presentations on their future plans to continue making strides toward a society with gender parity. Future plans include a documentary or short film revealing the shared experiences of many women in Lebanon, working with young women in correction centers, developing a gender parity social media platform to share resources, doing gender talks with young girls, among dozens of other ideas.
YESGPS participants left Beirut with a deeper understanding of gender parity, a new network of YES alumni and gender professionals, and more project management tools to implement their gender projects. YESGPS was a huge success – keep an eye out for the projects run by these passionate change makers, who are truly making a difference in our societies.