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We need youth leadership to carve out a better future

Baalbek, Lebanon. Photo: Miral Omari

This blog by a 19-year-old Lebanese girl living in Baalbek, Lebanon is part of a series of blogs written by adolescents involved in the Gender and Adolescence: Global Evidence (GAGE) participatory research groups in the Middle East-North Africa region. Young people aged 15-19 from diverse nationalities and geographic backgrounds have been engaging in participatory research activities, including participatory photography, peer-to-peer research and diary writing since early 2019.

On International Women’s Day, this blog focuses on adolescent voices and efforts by girls in shaping a more equal future where they have effective and full participation and decision-making in public life as envisaged by Sustainable Development Goal 5 which calls for “women’s full and effective participation and equal opportunities for leadership” (Target 5.5).

Miral Omari’s* story as told to Sally Youssef

Miral has been studying foreign languages and journalism at the Lebanese Public University and she is in her second year of college. Miral is active in her community and believes that Lebanon needs to harness the efforts of its youth population to overcome the different crises it now faces.

My country is fragmented, scattered, on the verge of collapse. It is ruled by sectarian political parties who use slogans and speak in the name of God, while stealing our dreams and hopes of living in a country free of corruption, fanaticism, hatred and war. At the end of 2019, I participated in demonstrations against the sectarian parties. My participation was not easy as my family objected, because like most Lebanese, they support a sectarian party. Sometimes I argue with my family who refuse to accept that my views are different from theirs and those of my community. Sometimes they influence me, and I am torn between the views I was raised with and what makes sense to me. Often my logic prevails, because I am able to see the situation of my community and my country and how everyone bears responsibility. But I will not give up because I love my country, and I do not want to be forced to leave it and live as a stranger steeped in nostalgia elsewhere.

I try to help improve and serve my community and my country in different ways. I participate and volunteer in many initiatives with local and international associations. For example, I participated in the Gender and Adolescence: Global Evidence (GAGE) programme, which contributed greatly to my intellectual growth and understandings of my experiences. It helped guide me on ways to deal with people who have different opinions and encouraged me to think critically. I started to think about the causes behind the problems of adolescents and our challenges, and what can be done to overcome them. I became aware that I was not alone and that there are girls and boys like me who are striving to make change, which made me dream of a better future for us. My participation is not limited to advocacy through GAGE, as I am also aware that my community needs a lot of help and support. Today, my country faces many crises. We’re living in the midst of a social and economic collapse and a pandemic, which is increasing poverty and hunger. Recently, I started volunteering with an international association to provide food aid and cleaning supplies to families who have been impoverished by these crises to help improve the conditions of my community.

Sometimes, I feel that we’ve lost all our dreams and that we do not have a future in Lebanon. I often sink into despair when I think about the corruption of the authorities and the ignorance of youth and society. I think about joining my relatives in exile overseas. However, I do not succumb to hopelessness and I always remember the words of my emigrant uncle ‘I left our homeland when I was left with no room for me to fulfill my dreams’. I will fight for our dreams in our homeland and reject our forced displacement from it. I dream that my country does not reject me. I dream that my family and society respect my differences and my intellectual freedom. I dream that young people who are blinded by sectarian political parties hear me, and understand that those destroying our country are destroying them as well.

To young people I say, be open to different point of views and respect people’s differences. Move away from simply accepting what the clerics and parties say. Take ownership over your own thinking and rationalize your own logic. Engage in community actions that allow you to help others, expose yourself to different religions, nationalities, and opinions to help you understand that we are all facing the same situation. Join me in my efforts, and be a force for change not destruction!

* Name is a pseudonym chosen by the blog author