My story began a few years ago In Lebanon when  I had just graduated from college and was eager to start my career. Like any job hunt I faced several rejections, no promising opportunities were in  the new future , none except one ! After passing the 3 interview stages I had a gut feeling that this was it .

I was invited for my final interview where I was sure that I would be signing a contract, however my expectations were not in the right place. “Are you willing to change your attire a bit? “asked the human resource manager during the interview ? “What about your veil, do you always wear it like this “.I started to understand where he was going and reality started to sink in: I was facing discrimination and I will never forget the feeling I had when I left that office,the feeling of  being helpless and all alone , the feeling of anger and confusion , the feeling of not  knowing why? I could not understand how by having a piece of cloth over my head I was less qualified and at a moment of such frustration, you’d think I was going to do something about it, but the truth is I didn’t. I was scared!

I continued my job search and eventually found a job,the discrimination continued, whether it be through clients avoiding me , or their facial expressions , I always felt like I didn’t fit in and still I didn’t do anything about it . I accepted the fact that I was being discriminated against because  of my veil and I thought to myself,things will never change and I will have to live with this day by day . Change was not option.

A few years after I was taking a social media workshop where I was introduced to the world of blogging. In one of the exercises we were asked to start a blog about any topic we wanted and the first thing that came to my mind was the feeling I had when I left that managers office.I was inspired , I got a piece of paper and started to write down all of the things I wanted to talk about and before I knew it I had an entire page full of ideas .

I rushed home that day and stated my own blog called “7ijabi “I wrote my first post and sent it out to the world and I insisted that I speak up even if no one was listening  . At that moment I felt liberated and free and at that moment I realized that change was an option.

My mission from starting 7ijabi  was to raise awareness about the discrimination that veiled women faced in the Lebanese society. I knew that my story was one of many , many who had chosen to remain silent and accept things as they were. I also realized that part of why we were being discriminated against was simply because the other did not really know who we were. So I started to share stories of my daily life as a veiled woman, my blog started to grow and I realized that I was no longer alone.

With more than 10,000 readers from around the world I thought I had finally succeeded in breaking stereotypes, I thought that my mission was done. However there was much more to blogging than writing stories. While writing a post asking the readers not to discriminate against veiled women, I received an email from unveiled women who had been facing discrimination from veiled women in her community. She described to me how she was one of the few women who were not veiled in her village and described how she was stereotyped as not being pious enough because she was not like them.In her email she mentioned her feelings of frustration and loneliness , the same feelings I had experienced and that is when I realized that discrimination has no favorites and most importantly I realized that I myself had been discriminating against non-veiled women.

Whenever there was a group of people in any occasion I would rush up to those who were veiled. Those who were like me . This moment of self realization opened my eyes that all this time I had been asking people not to discriminate when I myself was doing it. I decided to write a post Titled “Confessions of veiled women “where I confessed and apologized to every single person I had ever labeled or judged. After that post 7ijabi was no longer about the veil itself , it became a platform for fighting stereotypes of all kinds , and I finally understood that I was not always the victim , that sometimes I did not get the job because I was not qualified not because I was veiled.  I had been seeing my veil as a difference and I used it as a tool to feel sorry myself and I knew that there were hundreds of girls who were doing the same and all I wanted to do was to tell them be careful , don’t make the same mistake I made,don’t victimize yourselves.

Blogging has allowed me to have a voice and when you share your voice with the world you are bound to hear both positive and negative remarks and the only way we can really grow  as humans is through listening,listening to our differences,our similarities and most importantly listening to our hearts .

It has not been an easy journey and when I look back to where I started I see a frightened young woman afraid of speaking up, a young woman who for years felt helpless. In life We can either choose to live in fear or speak up for ourselves. No matter how young or small or helpless we may feel change is always an option.

Esraa Haidar

Dallas, Tx

April 2015

One response »

  1. Your post brought back a lot of memories from the past, when I first moved to the UK I did find it embrassing that people would make fun of my accent or comment on elements of my culture. Being part of an academic environment highlighted the issue even further, as I found that my fellow British colleagues would not make any effort with the international students.

    I have always been aware of the discrimination that takes place in every day life. In my country (Greece) economic immigrants are looked down upon and they are not considered to be “employment material”. It was quite weird crossing on the other side of the river, where I was the “intruder” and I was the one that had to try harder.

    I thought change was not an option. I didn’t want to adjust my cultural traits and I was ready to believe that I’d rather be discriminated against and I would have to get used to it.

    Two years ago, I realised that I had nothing to win from this situation. Discrimination will always exist… It is up to me to speak up my own mind! This is why I don’t particularly object to positive discrimination. Many people will argue that it is unethical to give more opportunities to people coming from diverse backgrounds that have been discriminated against in the past. Don’t get me wrong, I do not mean being given a job just because you might be different. Sometimes, I would not be considered for a job due to lack of experience but then how is it possible to gain it, if nobody is willing to give it to you?

    Lately, my views on discrimination in the workplace have been challenged. However, the most important thing for me is to be able to stand up and say I am different and I am not afraid to show it! People can only benefit from my different cultural values.

    I recently posted an entry on my blog about positive discrimination in the workplace. Feel free to take a look and share your thoughts with me. I find that 7ijabi is a very strong voice against discrimination and your opinion would be highly valued.

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