The Lebanese Center for Human Rights (CLDH) is a local non-profit, non-partisan Lebanese human rights organization in Beirut that was established by the Franco-Lebanese Movement SOLIDA (Support for Lebanese Detained Arbitrarily) in 2006. SOLIDA has been active since 1996 in the struggle against arbitrary detention, enforced disappearance and the impunity of those perpetrating gross human violations.

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April 14, 2014

The Daily Star - Sidani urges women to fight with a smile, April 14, 2014

Rayane Abou Jaoude

Roula Ajouz Sidani’s joie-de-vivre is difficult to miss. Her eyes brim with optimism and hope as she relays her achievements to The Daily Star, stressing that women have to fight for what they want, and hard.

“No one is going to open the door for women,” Sidani says. “You cling to it with your teeth, and you open the door for yourself. Set your priorities straight and fight positively.”

“It doesn’t come easy – don’t think anything comes easy.”

The 47-year-old, clad in a simple black shirt and a black-and-white scarf, has certainly been fighting for a long time.

In 1998, Sidani was elected as a member of the Beirut Municipal Council and registered what she says was the highest number of votes, which was 48,301. She was re-elected in 2004 and is currently running for Parliament with the Future Movement.

“In 1998, people didn’t know Roula Ajouz, but they knew Wafic Ajouz, and they knew what Wafic Ajouz had done for this country,” Sidani says, referring to her late father, a high-ranking employee at Middle East Airlines who she repeatedly mentions with fondness.

On top of her municipal work, Sidani is also a board member of the Al-Makassed Islamic Philanthropic Association, a cause she clearly holds dear, and a member of the Future Movement’s Political Bureau. Her full-time job, however, is as general manager and publisher of Cedar Wings, MEA’s in-flight magazine.

“This is a continuation of my life’s story because MEA is the company that my father had the honor to be among the first to create with [late Prime Minister] Saeb Salam,” she says.

As Sidani explains the important role she believes Lebanon’s national airline played during the 15-year Civil War and continues to play, it is evident that she has inherited her father’s dedication to and love for it. Her way of expressing this attachment is through her work on the magazine, abundant copies of which can be found in her office along with pictures of her two young sons, Omar and Ali.

“When you see the magazine ... you see the Lebanon that you really love, a Lebanon you can be proud of,” she adds with a wide smile. “This is a magazine that reflects all that we love about the country.”

Asked whether she faced any particular challenges as a woman, Sidani, who drives around Beirut on a Harley-Davidson motorcycle, shrugs and says, “If I did, I didn’t see them.”

“Life goes on, you’re a bulldozer, you have no choice,” she says in a steely tone. “You cry sometimes at night, fine. When you wake up in the morning, you need to have spirit.”

During her second term on the Beirut Municipal Council, which began in 2004, she was the only woman out of 24 members. According to her, she was never treated differently for it.

“The man is a great value to the country and to life, but the woman is the added value,” Sidani says. “The woman is not here to replace him. ... Nobody is here to replace anyone. I am always with whoever the best [person] is and whoever is able to serve in the right place.”

Sidani recognizes the progress made by women in Lebanon and stresses that they needed to keep at it.

“They are 52 percent of the votes in Lebanon. It’s not allowed for us not to scream out loud,” she says, adding that the prevalence of domestic and verbal abuse aimed at women in the country was “not acceptable.”

Yet she acknowledges that women have to work much harder to have a high-flying career, primarily because they have to balance their time at home and at work. For her, her family is just as important as her job.

“I can never forget I am a woman, or a mother, or a wife,” she says. “Fix your home first and make sure you can do it, and [then] strive outside, and that’s not easy, because we are in an Arab world ... and the existence of the patriarchal society is true.”

Trying to maintain that balance has taken a heavy toll, however.

“It’s not perfect,” she admits. “I miss me [time], big time. I miss reading a lot. I don’t fall asleep, I [pass out] because of fatigue. That’s a price you pay, and if you can’t do it, don’t do it.”

She puts a large part of her determined spirit down to her country and cheerfully recalls memories from her times studying journalism at the Lebanese American University while the Civil War was raging around her.

“Lebanon is the story of humanity and the story of resilience,” Sidani says. “If we ever lose that optimistic spirit, we lose absolutely everything because it kept us going. The day, the minute, the second we lose our will to build, we become nothing.”

“You either succumb to the dirty streets, to gunfire, to filth, to war, to insanity, or you fight it, and I chose to fight it the only way I could.”

It is that very resilience that has inspired her to work so hard and achieve as much as she has, she says, and she is quick to point out that she has never “been fed with a golden spoon.”

For younger women who are still starting out, Sidani has a few words of wisdom:

“Read a lot,” she says. “If you don’t give reading half an hour a day, you reach nothing.”

She also urges other women to empower themselves, smile often and love always.

“Once they are well-informed, and they have the power of the sincere smile, they [will] get there.”

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