Fe-Male | Lebanon

Alia Awada | Feminist Activist | Co-Director at Fe-Male

Fe-Male is a feminist collective founded in 2011 by women who were between the ages of 23 and 27. In 2013, Fe-Male was officially registered as a national non-governmental organization (NGO) in Lebanon. Alia describes how the founding of the organization by a team of all women was intentional:

“We consider that women do not have a space to make decisions. That’s why all of our staff are women and girls to make sure they have a space to express themselves.”

Before becoming an NGO, the founders of Fe-Male were active for two years as a volunteer collective producing a radio program called “Sharika wa Laken” (or Your [female] partner, but…) on the Beirut based radio station Sawt El Shaeb FM. The radio program evolved into a digital feminist platform. The collective created the radio show and website as advocacy spaces to talk about women’s rights in Lebanon.

The name of the organization, Fe-Male, is derived from the fact that they believe that society cannot prosper without women (or females). The naming emphasizes the “FE” syllable to show that males and females share power, and women should always be there to participate in society along with men equally. The vision of Fe-Male is to grow the public space for feminists in Lebanon and achieve gender equality. Fe-Male does this work by building the capacity of women and girls in Lebanon to be able to use media tools to advocate for their human rights.

Over the last five years, Fe-Male trained more than 250 frontline reporters, from national and international television channels, on how to produce gender-sensitive media coverage. The training focused on providing journalists skills in reporting gender-related topics, but also how to include a perspective on gender even when their assignments did not focus on the topic. Alia says such training “became one of their priorities” and Fe-Male even has created a toolkit on gender-sensitive media reporting in Arabic (Toolkit).

Furthermore, Fe-Male tried and succeeded in bringing the old feminists’ generation together with the young feminists’ generation in joint activities, like the march on International Women’s Day held on March 8th, 2017, that was organized for the first time in Lebanon through such a collaboration. 

Fe-Male has also succeeded in creating young feminists clubs (for boys and girls) in areas outside of Beirut, such as Tripoli in north Lebanon and Nabatieh in south Lebanon, that help to spread knowledge about media and gender issues in their communities. Alia observes that Fe-Male’s most recent significant achievement is the fact that many of their members took up leading roles on the front lines of the protests that erupted in Lebanon on October 17, 2019. Their members and other demonstrators were calling for rights for Lebanese citizens and women’s rights.

“We do not want only to build the culture of rights, but also the culture of citizenship. We want this country to look at us [women] as equals to men legally, socially, and economically.”

Another recent successful campaign was the reactive response Fe-Male led after misogynistic comments made on TV by a Lebanese comedian, Wissam Saad, also known as Abou Talal. During his TV program, he presented commentary that criticized young women using TikTok to post videos of themselves dancing and he used a derogatory slur to describe the acts of these “dirty” women. He also suggested that women behaving like this in public spaces like TikTok are “inviting” rapists. Fe-Male’s campaign went viral on social media, succeeding in getting the AlJadeed TV station that aired the program to withdraw the archived video within 24 hours and issue an official public apology during the primetime newscast. Details about the campaign are available here.

The initiative started with two people. By now, it has grown into a collective having a board of directors, staff, members, and volunteers. As an NGO, Fe-Male’s general assembly of members elects the board, and the board appoints the organization’s co-directors. The co-directors lead the campaigning and advocacy work and are also responsible for the fundraising. 

Fe-Male facilitates a collaborative environment where no solo decision is taken. The co-directors manage daily work with staff, volunteers, and consultants. The Fe-Male team follows the rule of “learning by practice,” where all members are expected to learn while doing and know that the team is always ready to assist when needed. The team also works to make each member feel empowered and supported to express herself. Alia describes a work ethic that prioritizes solidarity between members:

“At Fe-Male, we believe that solidarity between women should not only be applied at work but at homes and in the streets. Our working environment was created to ensure solidarity to each other through understanding and believing in the skills and the power of women, they will be able to give more and practice this power.” 

Fe-Male is made up of more than 100 volunteers, 60 members, and a small staff of six qualified team members (all women) in addition to a vast number of external consultants. The general assembly, the board, and the two co-directors work by a 5-year plan and organizational strategies.

The policies were the toughest thing they had to develop. Since most of the staff come from media backgrounds, the team had to increase their knowledge to create the code of conduct and other internal policies. They read and researched to develop their policies, which was challenging because there is a lack of literature about this in Arabic or from similar organizations in Lebanon and the MENA region. They relied on their donors and sister organizations for mentoring and found resources from different cultures then adapted it to the Lebanese culture.

Fe-Male’s funding comes from international feminist donors like Global Fund for Women and Frida. Alia observes that the most frustrating aspect of international funding is the approach of funders towards NGOs in the MENA. She suggests that most international funders working in the region underestimate the power of budgeting for new media platforms (to cover costs related to production and ads).

“We are always trying to use some of the money for pushing the content online “The content that does not need a push we do not spend a lot of money on, while the content that does not receive enough interaction, we try to push it through [paid digital] promotion.” 

However, Alia notes that new media production is not a budget priority for international funders. She believes this needs to change:

“Donors need to recognize the importance of the digital media campaigning for the rights of citizens across the globe and they need to start funding such initiatives that work on digital media.”

She feels that donors are not following the trends and thus not keeping up with the changing needs of NGOs in the region. 

Their online activities and high engagement rate with social media users led to Facebook offering them promotional funding and free training about cybersecurity and digital media. Internal learning is continuously facilitated by Fe-Male team members, who teach each other while doing so that learning is collective and based on their collaborative experiences. Fe-Male also organizes smaller training sessions focused on a specific task. Then they send the trained members to do that task, and during the work, they conduct a peer review to refine the outcomes.

Moreover, Fe-Male invests in their members’ knowledge by sending them to trainings from sister organizations and civil society centers. The team never declines an educational opportunity and members continuously read and research to stay up to date. Furthermore, they conduct monthly meetings to share knowledge about news and issues to stay current and reactive. Up until COVID-19, trainings were always on-site, then they started with online training after lockdown. 

If it is a campaign Fe-Male initiates, they produce the multimedia content and then decide on the platform based on the target audience. If it is a reactive campaign, the production and platform are different. For the “Sharika wa Laken” platform, the content produced for the website is not the same that is used on social media platforms. Even when it comes to social media platforms, they do not cross-post the same content. When it comes to the target audience, the medium is vital. For instance, when an issue is related to laws and the target audience is policymakers, they use traditional media (such as TV talk shows). On the other hand, if it is a reactive campaign and they want to affect public opinion, they use digital media to reach the Lebanese population. In recent years, political figures in Lebanon have taken up social media, especially Twitter, so Fe-Male shifted their strategy to tweeting at them directly. 

Fe-Male’s approach aims to design each production to meet the campaign objectives, address current trends, and consider the audience. Alia adds that such an approach helps Fe-Male serve their community and stakeholders best by giving them the kind of media content they like to deliver the campaign message. Their media strategy is always shifting to accommodate their campaign needs.

When it comes to social media and community engagement management, Fe-Male spreads out their communication tasks to keep their accounts active all the time and they have a process for replies. Community engagement management for an NGO like Fe-Male is not an easy task, their social media channels need to be monitored and moderated around the clock especially when there is an active campaign or ad. This is why all the team members take shifts in moderating and replying to comments and mentions on different social media channels. To make that process smooth they divide the platforms and hours between each other and they keep a Q&A sheet, which they always update on how and what to reply. Additionally, fact-checking is required before (re)posting or sharing any information. 

During the initial lockdown due to COVID-19 in Lebanon, Fe-Male contacted the Internal Security Forces (between February and March 2020) to check on the cyber-security of women and girls. They were informed that the cyber-crimes increased in general by 184% during the first months of the pandemic with hundreds of cyber-violence cases being reported each month by women and girls in Lebanon (Campaign Link). The challenge was that there was no public data or research to be used, so they had to collect the data themselves. They also wanted to simultaneously raise awareness and provide women and girls with cyber-security tools to protect themselves. 

The campaign message proclaimed that women and girls have the right to participate equally on digital platforms and to do so safely. The data Fe-Male collected showed that young women and girls aged 12 to 26 were affected in the majority of cyber-violence cases, with 68% of all cases reported by women and girls. Based on this target audience, they did research and found that the best platforms to reach young women and girls are TikTok and Instagram (so Fe-Male produced a 40-second dance video), and Facebook to reach older women (so they did a 1-minute promo video). 

The content production and platform was different to effectively reach different audiences facing the same problem. Fe-Male also used a media strategy to create a buzz without contacting the media. To do this, they collaborated with influencers to use their hashtag (#الشاشة_ما_بتحمي #ScreensDoNotProtect) on the same day. As a result, the campaign started trending, and afterwards the media contacted them to be on talk shows. They have seen a change in the behavior of some women and girls, as there are now those who reported to them when they are victims of cybercrime. Last year, they received two reports of cyber crimes against women and girls, but after the campaign, Fe-Male now gets over 20 messages per day (more info).

The cultural aspect of Lebanese society, which differs from one area to another, has always been Fe-Male’s main hurdle. Alia feels that although its 2020, harmful and outdated gender norms remain. For example, during the cyber-security campaign, the negative public reaction included questions like: “Why do women take and send such pictures in the first place?” Alia sees such a reaction as reproducing an ideology of blaming the victim. Fe-Male’s response rejected this blame and asserted that the problem starts with perpetrators who invade the online privacy of women and girls. Fe-Male added that in some cases the perpetrator is a former partner, such as an ex-husband, and not a random stranger.

Fe-Male prioritizes responding to social media discussions about their campaigns, especially to challenge the circulation of misogynistic comments. However, such discussions are usually exhausting and emotionally draining for the Fe-Male team because they refuse to leave such mentions and comments unanswered. Another related constraint concerns Fe-Male’s efforts to encourage survivors of cyber-violence to speak out and report assaults because women and girls fear the reaction of their families and communities. 

Alia has been working with national and international civil society organizations (ABAAD, ILO, Oxfam, etc.) for 15 years. After completing an MA in Journalism, she started as a freelance reporter in Assafir newspaper, a proofreader and content monitor at Elaph news website, and as an editor at a civil society news website called “Lebanon Knowledge Development Gateway” as well as other publications. Then she shifted to activism focusing on campaigning, media, and advocacy. 

Today, Alia’s activism addresses human rights and specifically gender-related issues. As a young activist, she observed that the news about citizens’ rights in Lebanon rarely addressed women’s rights or did so in a shallow way. Alia also noticed that media (traditional and new) can provide the perfect vessel for gender and human rights activism to gain exposure, influence public opinion, and induce change:

“New media is important not only to get your words out there but also for the communities to learn from each other.”

Based on these experiences, she decided to use that power to shed light on gender and feminism in Lebanon.

Fe-Male Social Media Links


Sharika Wa Laken Social Media Links


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