Many young women of colour in the West feel stuck between the struggles they experience as women and, at the same time, the fear that their experiences will be used to endorse the racist view of non-Western societies as less developed and misogynistic. As a Syrian Belgian woman who’s passionate about women’s rights and gender equality, I stumbled upon the online platform ‘Bayneh W Baynek‘ (translation: between me and you), founded by the US born, Lebanese Rana Alamuddin. It was so relieving to read about very sensitive topics, without having the feeling that we, or our Arab culture, is being judged or hated upon.
Young women with an Arab background from all over the world are welcome to join the discussion and share their own experiences – and they get the support and love that they need. After following this platform for a few weeks, I decided to contact the founder for an interview. After all, it is grassroots organizations like these that are crucial when we want real social change, without neglecting the vulnerability of the target group. The Arab woman is often talked about, in a passive way, but never once really asked what she wants to say. This platform breaks this pattern, simply by sharing stories and experiences.
Tell us more about yourself, the mind behind the amazing and revolutionary, international platform.
I’m a Lebanese actress, TV host, writer and founder of Bayneh W Baynek, an online
platform for the multifaceted Arab woman on a mission to self-realize.
I’ve lived in nine countries, speak five languages and have worked on Hollywood hit films
and TV shows all the way to no-budget passion projects. I’d like to see myself as a
compassionate free-spirit and am always driven by a vision to make an impact on those
who want but can’t. I’m very passionate about discovering new layers and dimensions of
who I truly am and what I’m capable of, in parallel to deepening and expanding my
relationship to Divine Source. I’m a mother, a meditator, a 5 Rhythms dancer, a beginner
Djembe drummer and a hardcore fan of most things mystical and shamanic.
How did you get inspired to start this platform – and what is your main goal?
Bayneh W Baynek was born from my own personal journey of moving from Hollywood
to Saudi Arabia. Overnight, I went from being a working Hollywood actress to an at-home
wife and mother of a newborn baby in a place I couldn’t recognize myself in. I didn’t know who I was anymore. I mean literally. I would google things like “I don’t know who I am anymore” or “symptoms of bipolar disorder”. My identity crumbled, I had lost all my reference points of who I thought I was or who I thought I should be.
I’m not blaming Saudi Arabia for my experience. My time spent there was a blessing on so many levels and I wouldn’t be who I am today if it weren’t for the opportunity to live there. It was just really my own personal inner journey. I plunged into a deep depression that lasted years and it is only after I experienced firsthand that sense of despair, isolation and helplessness- that anyone who experiences depression knows all too well – that the inner calling emerged to create a platform where women could come together in a supportive space to share their most raw and honest experiences around depression, anxiety, guilt, fear, lack of self-worth, wanting to follow their intuition and their dreams, wanting to self-realize and make an impact around them.
That was the beginning of a challenging, yet defining, four years, in which I got the opportunity to experience a new dynamic of what it is to be a woman in the Arab world and what it takes to claim your power and thrive in such a new context. It is in Saudi Arabia that I had the idea of creating a platform for Arab women to come together in a safe space of sisterhood, in which we can share our true selves without stigma, judgement or shame.
I imagined a conversation series with fierce Arab women who have an inspiring journey to share. I produced the pilot, in which Oscar-nominated filmmaker Nadine Labaki and I have a raw and intimate conversation about body confidence, relationships, motherhood, intuition, ambition and spirituality. We then launched the Instagram platform which is growing organically and gaining momentum with a community of awakened millennial Arab women from all over the world that I couldn’t be more grateful to have as part of the movement.
Our vision is a large one, which will bridge all things female in the MENA region through collaborations with NGOs, to provide access to resources and support, live events, speaking engagements and workshops, online classes and programs, all the way to a lifestyle brand.
@rana_alamuddin, Picture by @maialmoataz Social media strategy: @moefassa and @lebolutions
With your platform, you started the online campaign ‘I forgive myself’. Can you tell us more about it?
Our producer and social media strategist Mohamad Bsat came up with the concept of
our #ShareYourTruth campaign, in which any and all women throughout the Arab world
can share on our platform whatever burning truth is closest to their hearts – perhaps a truth they feel ashamed, afraid or nervous to verbalize with friends or family. Many women
participated in an inspiring display of openness, courage and depth. But when I also saw
how much fear many had around speaking their minds honestly, it hit me that before we
tackled any larger theme, we first had to address the root cause of most of our emotional
and mental blockages: guilt. And that’s when I decided to launch a self-forgiveness
campaign that would allow women to express themselves in a very raw and honest way,
while still having the option of remaining completely anonymous.
Christie Bassil, our designer, came up with the concept and creative direction of having our followers literally write on their bodies what they want to forgive themselves for. It’s like an intimate act of inking yourself, committing to yourself, making a pledge to yourself. Through this campaign, young women have been forgiving themselves daily for not believing in their own worth, to hating their bodies, rejecting societal rules, having depression and anxiety, wanting to make themselves a priority, having premarital sex, not getting married or having children or getting married too young. It’s been a truly collective healing experience for everyone involved, including myself.
Your posts are often both in Arabic and English – which is unique because most of the platforms on women empowerment seem to be in English, even when they try to target Arab women. Do you get the involvement that you hoped you’d have, or do you feel like there’s still this fear to talk about these sensitive topics?
Ironically enough, I was born in the U.S. and lived half my life overseas, never studying
Arabic. I was blessed that both my parents were very literary and proud of their cultural
heritage, so they strictly spoke to us in Arabic. I grew up speaking it with ease and being
very fond of it, although I still mostly can’t read and write past the level of a teen!
When I created Bayneh W Baynek, I truly wanted it to be inclusive to all Arab women and not just a niche audience. I do like that the platform is bilingual – actually trilingual, a participant recently participated in French! As Arab women, we’re so multifaceted-both individually and collectively- whether it comes to the languages we speak, the faiths we embrace, the ambitions we have, the gifts we master or the support we’re able to give others.
I presume that you also get negative feedback or hateful messages, because of the ideas that you share on women empowerment. Do you get them? And if yes, how do you deal with it?
I have to say I’m pleasantly surprised that we’ve received hardly any unsupportive feedback so far. We do tackle sensitive subjects on a wide spectrum ranging from the relevance of virginity all the way to personal experiences of wearing a hijab. So we do expect backlash. I make it a point to personally answer to the best of my ability every message and comment we receive, because I truly care about the individuals within the collective and I believe in open dialogue.
If I receive any critical comments, I address them with appreciation and begin a conversation. Sometimes, we’re able to see eye-to-eye and each learn something new. Other times, I invite everyone involved to respectfully agree to disagree because this is what Bayneh W Baynek is also about: a safe place for freedom of expression, not yet another place to conform.
What is something you’d like to share with Muslim women from around the world?
I would encourage every woman to cultivate a daily practice of tuning to her intuition,
whether it’s through prayer, meditation or visualization. We’re all born whole, intuitive and
with a unique life purpose- but become gradually distanced from our authentic sense of
self because of societal, educational and institutional rules, expectations, guilt and shame, especially as women. In the process, we often lose track of who we really are, what we really want and what gifts we were put on this earth to share. Fear and self-doubt replace trusting our intuition and tapping into our true power. But when we cultivate our awareness and intuition on a daily basis, we come to realize these are gifts and tools from Divine Source.
We embark on a life-changing journey to develop and trust them. We gradually
understand on an experiential level-not just intellectually- that we were designed and
equipped to have a direct channel to our Source of Creation- which has all the guidance,
abundance and unconditional love we’ll ever need to self-discover, self-realize and
embody our life purpose. And I believe that to be one of the most fulfilling, humbling yet
empowering experiences to have.
The first step to solve a problem, is by naming it. The second step is to break the taboo around it – by simply discussing it. ‘Bayneh W Baynek‘ is powerful, because it gives Arab women, regardless of their personal background or religion, a voice. They get the chance to discuss sensitive topics, but more importantly, they feel heard. It is these kind of platforms that truly change societies, and I cannot applaud initiateves like these enough. An inspiring woman, a powerful platform and an empowering, and most of all safe, space.
Written by Mayada Srouji