Journeys into HRE: Maria Qossayer

“A lot of my friends got into activism by seeing what can be accomplished when you contribute to a cause”

Inspired by activists from across the globe learning their rights and spreading a global culture of human rights, the Journeys into HRE series is a window into the stories of the human rights defenders that have taken part in Amnesty’s human rights education initiatives. The series sheds light on the transformative power of HRE and the actions these activists go on to take.

Maria Qossayer is a Human Rights Education activist in Lebanon.

How has Human Rights Education and the workshops or training you’ve taken encouraged you to take action?

The workshop I took with Amnesty's Human Rights Academy put me on the right track in my activism. It taught me how to be efficient by coming up with a structured and organized plan of action and committing to it to get to my end goal.

My teammates and I are currently working on changing the discourse among the student body towards migrant workers in Lebanon. We are taking action against the kafala system that is in place and hoping to have it abolished. The workshop showed me how easy taking action can be if we set the right plan. It gave us the necessary push to work on our own project.

What has been the most difficult moment of activism and what helped you overcome it?

I believe that being an activist in a country that violates human rights on daily basis is a difficult decision that every single one of us has made. We see oppression happening all around us towards women, the LGBTQIA+ community, migrant workers, refugees. However, it becomes very difficult for us to fight these causes and raise awareness because our freedom of speech has been taken away from us. Personally, the most rewarding moments is being acknowledged by none-activists who encounter you at a protest and say “there are people who care about human rights, there’s hope”.

What has been the most rewarding moment for you during your time of activism?

Despite the many setbacks we’ve encountered, and we are still encountering on a daily basis, we cannot deny the snowball effect that all our works has led to. I have attended the Women’s March every year, an event that holds strong joy and meaning to me. One of my most rewarding moments has been seeing over time at these protests trans women raising their flags with no fear.

A fond and memorable moment I experienced was the time I took a lead role in a forum theatre play about sexual harassment. The play was performed in a closed community where, through interaction with the crowd, we were able to send the message that it’s never a woman’s fault to be assaulted. It is important to remember that in order to make change on a bigger scale, one needs to start by having an impact on their surroundings. I am proud that I was able to take part in that, even if for now it’s limited to my own community.

What has been a frustrating moment in your activism? How do you get past it?

I participated in three election campaigns with the civil society, two municipality elections and one parliamentary, all of which we lost. I have been truly disappointed after each one, since the same politicians have been in power for years, our economical state is going downhill and the justice system is corrupt. Nonetheless, the same people get re-elected over and over again.

The difficult part is getting back up after every campaign that I’ve put hard work, time and dedication into. I am still confident that one day the right people will finally lead the country. But I am aware that it’s a long process and we need to all work towards getting there. Seeing activists who have been fighting for the same causes year after year and looking back at the accomplishments they have completed has given me great inspiration. Sometimes, these accomplishments are as simple as getting the word out there, but I still think it is a very important part of the job that really awakens more people about the causes.

How has your activism contributed to your community?

My activism has affected my surroundings significantly. A lot of my friends got into the activist scene by seeing what can be accomplished when you contribute to a cause. I like to encourage people to be more proactive by showing them the different types of activism, like raising awareness, volunteering, donating, protesting… I find it my duty to educate people around me on topics by pointing out injustices and unfairness. We are changing society one person at a time.

If every person on the globe knows what they are entitled to, what rights they have, and starts demanding them, the world will be a better place and we will no longer face oppression.

What is something you wish you could change with your activism?

Many people still don’t know that most Lebanese laws have been set and unchanged since the French mandate. Many still don’t know how the vagueness in our laws gives room for misuse and abuses. They still haven’t realized that the Kafala system we have is deeply and shamefully racist and rooted in slavery. People aren’t aware of the circumstances non-Lebanese people's must endure in Lebanon. Most importantly, so many people wish to change these unfortunate realities we still live in, but don’t know how to.

I want to change that!