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New online database focuses on sexuality in MENA region.

Summary: The Arab Foundation for Freedoms and Equality and the local organization ABD launched Monday a new initiative.

BEIRUT: The Arab Foundation for Freedoms and Equality and the local organization ABD launched Monday a new initiative, the Gender and Sexuality Resource Center, an online portal focused on centralizing resources related to gender and sexuality in the Middle East and North Africa. "The target audience is academics and activists mostly," said Georges Azzi, the executive director of the Arab Foundation for Freedoms and Equality.

"The idea is basically to provide activists with all the information and knowledge they need to do the work that they do," Azzi added.

The GSRC database will be comprised of works in academic journals, books, policies and laws, training manuals and other resources.

The AFFE and ABD share the hope that collecting and disseminating this information will help increase tolerance and understanding toward issues related to sexuality and sexual identity in the region.

The center's main concern, said Charlotte Karam, who sits on the AFFE's board, was creating a repository for "indigenous knowledge" on the subjects of gender and sexuality.

"We have great thinkers, scholars, researchers -- conservative and liberal -- who were born and bred in our villages, our towns, our cities, and these writings are escaping us," Karam said in her remarks at the launch. "A lack of sharing such knowledge carries the risk of stifling strategic growth."

The center will focus heavily on research and writing in Arabic. Instead of deferring to foreign experts who rhapsodize about issues of sexuality and gender in the Arab world, organizers said, it is important to promote local voices to engender organic change.

Through content analysis, the GSRC will first focus on sifting through published material to determine exactly which issues have been researched in the Arab world. "Documentation of what we know and what we have is our first step," Karam explained.

Further down the road the center hopes to expand its operations. "We want to turn toward knowledge generation," Karam said, "[by] giving out grants, connecting researchers with funders, hooking researchers together."

Still, Karam said, fostering discussion on these topics is not always easy. "I think that there is still a general taboo around sexuality," he said, adding that he hoped initiatives like the GSRC could help change that.

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Publication:The Daily Star (Beirut, Lebanon)
Date:Oct 8, 2013
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