Yasmeen Mjalli started #NotYourHabibti before #MeToo to shine a light on sexual harassment in the Palestinian Territories. As the regional conflict between Israel and Palestine is mainly in the news, other social issues in the region are often put on the back burner, leaving many disadvantaged without a voice.
Some believe they need to resolve the conflict between Israel and Palestine before confronting the other social issues. The fact of the matter is that any social and political revolution is not complete without the inclusion of all people, including social issues that are often overlooked. Yasmeen Mjalli has taken up the cause of women’s rights in the Arab world, and we should all take note.
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Here’s what you need to know about Yasmeen Mjalli and #NotYourHabibti:
- “In Palestine, we all know the symbol of the typewriter,” the 21-year-old activist, Yasmeen Mjalli, says explaining her choice of accessory — a gift to her, from a friend. “It’s what [the Israelis] used to give permissions so that we could enter and exit the country.”
- She’s gathering women’s stories of sexual harassment and carefully typing them out on her antiquated machine.
- It’s part of an interactive project she’s calling #NotYourHabibti, a play on the Arabic word for “sweetheart,” a term that, all too often, is used in a denigrating way.
- Mjalli invites women to break the taboos surrounding sexual harassment in the Palestinian territories by sharing their experiences with her; she types up what they say, keeping their identities private. Later, she posts their anecdotes on social media to make the women feel heard, and less alone.
“For me, typing each woman’s story is a way to allow her to start moving freely, in the streets.”
- “I’m engaging with people more; women are approaching me to be a part of a supportive and safe place,” she says of her project, which she hopes to bring to university campuses, cafes and other public spaces across Ramallah. “A hashtag is done from behind a screen; you don’t get to connect with the women and feel better and uplifted.”
- Not only that, but Mjalli started #NotYourHabibti a few months before #MeToo took off, originally by painting the slogan on T-shirts and denim jackets sewn by women from across the West Bank and Gaza.
“She’s a symbol of the future hope for an equality that could exist in Palestine.” Emma Jacobs, a British student who lived in Israel for nine months.
- Other responses to #NotYourHabibti have been mixed. Some passersby ignore her; others dismiss her as a foreigner, despite her local roots. Others are intrigued by the novelty of the idea, but tell her that sexual harassment isn’t a problem here, or worse, that the women who have endured it brought it upon themselves.
- While Israeli violence against Palestinian women — activists and political prisoners are targeted, in particular — is widely discussed and documented in regional and international media, conversations surrounding sexual harassment, domestic violence and honor killings within the Palestinian territories are rare, creating the illusion that it isn’t a problem here.