Gender and evolution

Anjali Jhangiani
Thursday, 27 September 2018

Fadi Zaghmout started voicing his opinions as a blogger. Before he knew it, he became a mouthpiece for Arab women through his books Aroos Amman (The Bride of Amman), Heaven on Earth and Laila and the Lamp, that touched upon themes like abuse, rape, pedophilia, domestic violence, sexuality and independence. A gender activist, Fadi Zaghmout will be participating in the sixth edition of Pune International Literary Festival where he will be talking about issues that women face in the Middle East, sharing ideas on how to bridge the gender gap, and more.

Fadi Zaghmout started voicing his opinions as a blogger. Before he knew it, he became a mouthpiece for Arab women through his books Aroos Amman (The Bride of Amman), Heaven on Earth and Laila and the Lamp, that touched upon themes like abuse, rape, pedophilia, domestic violence, sexuality and independence. A gender activist, Fadi Zaghmout will be participating in the sixth edition of Pune International Literary Festival where he will be talking about issues that women face in the Middle East, sharing ideas on how to bridge the gender gap, and more. But first, we caught up with the author for a quick Q&A. 

People have different perceptions about gender equality in society. How do you look at it?
The gender divide is irrational as people of same gender have wide differences in characteristics, behaviour and needs — equality for all is needed regardless of gender or other characteristics that distinguish between an individual and another. 
 
Women in different parts of the world have different struggles. What are the battles that Jordanian women are fighting currently?
Recently women in Jordan were able to push the government to reform and readdress the article 508 in law that allow rapists to avoid criminal prosecution by marrying their victims. They have also been successful in changing honour crimes laws that reduce the penalty if a man kills or attacks a female relative when she commits adultery. They have also been fighting for more women inclusion in political life and also for granting Jordanian women the right to pass on their citizenship to their children. Not to mention the continuous fight against sexual harassment that is widely spread in the country.   

Since you’re a man, has a woman ever misunderstood you or criticised you for “mansplaining”?
Never so far! (laughs). On the contrary, I am so happy to say that many women message me to thank me to voice out their emotions and highlight their struggles. Many of whom usually say that they didn’t believe the writer is a man and that I successfully express women’s emotion in a deep and real manner. 

Homosexuality was recently decriminalised in India. While the educated section of society were rejoicing about it on social media, there is still a lot of latent homophobia. What are your thoughts on this situation?
First I would like to congratulate India for this huge step. I understand that cultural change needs time and lots of efforts, inherited homophobia will not vanish overnight. With more education and awareness, societies grow more mature and tolerant. Law changes is a very important step to remove injustices and protect people’s sexual and body rights. 

Did you anticipate the controversies when you came out with your books? How were you prepared to handle it?
I expected some controversy yes, but didn’t actually know that the book will be that big and will reach these many people. I wanted people to listen to the message in the book and was so happy to see it touching so many hearts. Some were angry, but others were deeply touched and felt empowered, and some others who were angry when the book first came out, changed course and have become more tolerant and accepting now. 

A lot of women thanked you for voicing their struggles. What are some of the most touching feedbacks you’ve got for your work?
I love these letters or feedback from women who feel that the book empowered them in a way or another. An example is this part of a review from Goodreads. A beautiful lady wrote saying, “Each time I feel down, I return to this book. It gives me strength to proceed in my own dreams.” She continue to say, “Aroos Amman  will always be my constitution”. Such comments make me really happy. 

‘The pen is mightier than the sword’ is a popular adage. Using your words as armour to fight for equal rights, how much do you think this saying is true?
It is so true. The pen is way mightier than the sword because it shapes minds and cultures that transcend lives. It exposes injustices and helps our societies grow and correct their course. We had a mono discourse which was patriarchal and masculine in the past period before the internet emerged, now we have more freedom to raise our voices and provide an alternative one. 

What will you be talking about at PILF? What sessions are you looking forward to? 
I will be on three sessions. One is about family dynamics across cultures, the second is about evolution of human rights and the third is about voice and truth in the age of mistrust. I think all of these sessions are equally important and connected, as our activism works towards better human rights, equality is tied to our understanding of family and evolution in different cultures and how mistrust adds obstacles in our advancements towards more tolerance and inclusion.

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