Searching for Laila’s Identity (Kolena Laila Initiative)

Date posted: December 16, 2008

In September 2008, I was honoured to receive an invitation to contribute to a woman's empowerment initiative called Kolena Laila – We Are All Laila. It was the first time I had heard of this campaign.

I got in touch with Lasto Adri* Blue, known as Eman, who is one of the leading organisers of the initiative. She explained to me that 2008 was Kolena Laila's third year and that Laila is the heroine of a novel entitled The Open Door (El Bab El Maftouh) by writer Latifa El Zayyat. Laila was chosen as a symbol for each and every Egyptian woman who is trying to mould her independent personality in an oppressive society.

This year's theme was to gather audio testimonies and stories from elderly women like mothers and grandmothers, or from women who do not use the internet. Such authentic audio testimonials gave Laila an air of vividness and were expressive; they also acted as an audio archive of the experiences of older generations of mothers and grandmothers for generations to come. However, Laila's main mission was still there – to write or record Laila's problems and issues and offer an opportunity to speak.

Eman explains further, saying that the members of Kolena Laila are not trying to propagate certain values or a specific culture; it is rather a call to criticise and revisit our own daily behaviour with a sincere desire to change and purify our attitudes in life. We want everyone to re-examine the cultural heritage of oppressive tendencies that we consciously or unconsciously exhibit upon dealing with the less empowered segment in society. Participation in Kolena Laila was and still is open and the organisers are welcoming each and every person from Egypt and the Arab world, men and women, bloggers and simple citizens who will all get the support to voice and share their experience on the internet.

Today Kolena Laila is an initiative that is fuelled by the contributions of 126 bloggers and, due to the success of Laila's Day on 19 October, Kolena Laila will be an all year event with monthly contributions. Moreover, Kolena Laila's blog has been nominated as Best Weblog in the Best of the Blogs Award (BOBs) organised by Deutsche Welle.

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