Images by HammamRadio

Images by HammamRadio

What started as a coping mechanism turned out to be a powerful driving-force for thousands of womxn, non-binary, trans, and queer folk. While the world was going through lockdown, we decided to create a space to provide us, and the community we belong to, with hope, love, music and joy. It ended up giving us way more than that. The times are surreal, and it is surreal talking about them with strangers—who are not really strangers—freely and openly online. We were urged on by those who were brave enough to “hack” the radio experience and were driven by our own need for a platform that welcomes our voices and the voices of those who inspire us.
The “Hammam” in “HammamRadio”, comes from Mediterrean, Levantine, and Persian cultures, where hammams represent a safe space for self-care for women (and also men*, separately). They are a place for sharing stories and secrets, an alcove removed from societal scrutiny. This radio station was our attempt to take this mystique everywhere—an act of striptease, in which every participant chooses to perform however they like.
We decided that this space is for womxn, trans people, and queer folk only—not because feminists hate men… #notallmen—but because traditional media doesn’t make enough space for members of our communities. Since the majority of air and screen time still goes to white, cisgendered men, we joined the swell of womxn, non-binary, trans and queer folk using alternative and social media to organize, educate, and craft some space to disrupt mainstream narratives. If we were a kitsch radio station from the 70s we would be called Feminist Love FM. Radio was a natural extension of the spaces we were occupying, some of us here in Berlin, others in Geneva and Palestine. We scaled up our model and invited everyone to join in. They did.
The radio started in uncertain times, but we were sure of one thing: now more than ever, womxn’s voices matter, now more than ever we need a space that is inclusive, welcoming, honest and accessible to everyone who needs it. As Arab womxn, we are no strangers to crisis and we have developed coping mechanisms to weather even the hardest of storms. At their heart are community ties and a profound sense of solidarity built from the common experience of oppression. To us, solidarity is political love, and political love is a form of love too often overlooked in our romance-obsessed world. It is profoundly healing. Through HammamRadio, we connected more with other womxn, their stories and lived experiences. We learned how to process grief collectively and how to share emotions with each other. We told each other our own stories of violence and trauma. Collectively, we tried to heal.
The Beirut Explosion of August 4th was one of the points where HammamRadio’s community gathered together and rallied round, trying to make space for all the feelings felt by so many of us at that traumatic moment. Not only did Hammam provide a safe space to express sadness, anger, disbelief and grief, but the community also set up a fundraiser to support organizations working with marginalized populations in the aftermath of the blast.
As feminist activists, we have always been proccupied with the myriad ways in which patriarchy disrupts and impacts our lives and bodies. We have fought, in the Middle East and in Europe, against the intersecting, mutually-sustaining systems of oppression that further marginalize us and our communities. We discovered through HammamRadio that we don’t have to do it alone or only in our small, private circles. Though we had lost all kinds of faith in the institutions around us, we managed to build a space of mutual trust. This space we created was free from judgement—a space where we could breathe, collectively strategize, offer alternative discourses and narratives pertaining to our rights and existence, and envisage the world for which we are fighting. We discovered that our stories, when shared with our communities, made us feel less lonely.
We believe that HammamRadio, and other similar platforms that are seeing the light in the Arab world, are able to reshape the approach of feminist movements. When we look at what is happening in Syria, Egypt, Lebanon and other countries, we see more and more the presence of feminist discourse in mainstream public spheres. Even amid the chaos, womxn and queer folk are regaining control and ownership of their bodies and stories. The bravery of using personal experience as a starting point for storytelling constitutes a powerful tool for political activism. In spite of all the risks inherent in daring to be yourself in the wholeness of your truth, in spite of domestic and global backlash against the progress made on women’s rights, sexual orientation and gender identity issues, new online spaces are being created and occupied by womxn, trans people, and queer folk. Our struggles intersect, our fights are transnational. We are harnessing our collective power to dismantle structures of oppression, discrimination and privilege and profoundly transform our societies.
Hammam was created as a radio of courage. We want to give a platform to our brave feminist and queer comrades who have been running these fights on oppressive streets. We want to hold a mirror up to our beauty—to the beauty of our struggle—to solidarity and joy. We do it with conversation, poetry and music.
HammamRadio is also an archive collecting our oral histories. This has never been done before. It is a new taste of freedom that the airwaves give you—semi-protective gear with superpowers for facing your past or your present and sharing it out loud with others. By recording the episodes, we have pushed presenters to think about the extent of the freedom they want to enjoy. Amazingly, no one has self-censored.
HammamRadio is proud to be part of wider movements—feminist movements in countries and regions across the world, queer movements, racial justice movements—in real life and also online. It gives us great pride and joy to be embedded in this online community of activist comrades, such as those over at Marsa¹,Mauj² and Radio Alhara³, who also use social media to educate and organise. Each of these initiatives strengthen the others, widening and broadening the space for alternative discourse and analysis.
HammamRadio is a community that rejoices in difference and nurtures unshakable bonds between its members. Above all, it is a space that promotes solidarity and courage. It is a space where emotions are valued, where kindness and softness are treasured as acts of rebellion against a world that celebrates toxic masculinity, conceives of strength as harshness, and praises rationality at the expense of affect. Hammam has given us the courage to exist as we are and the courage to live our truth, safe in the knowledge that we are standing in solidarity with one another, surrounded by the love of our chosen family.

To have created a place where womxn can raise their voices and share their thoughts, tears and laughter is a gift and a privilege beyond measure.
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