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Dr. Lina Abirafeh on Beauty Norms and Societal Pressures on Women to Conform

Written by: Nikoleta Morales

The Executive Director of the Arab Institute for Women, Dr. Lina Abirafeh, spoke with Cultured Focus Magazine about the impact of societal pressures on women to conform to impossible beauty standards, her work as Director of the Arab Institute for Women and empowering women to achieve their fullest potential. She is a strong feminist who has promoted gender equality and research to advance social change to improve women’s lives in the Middle East region and beyond. Dr. Abirafeh has spent over 20 years working on Gender-Based Violence prevention and response in a range of humanitarian and emergency settings. Currently, she works to promote gender equality and women’s empowerment across 22 Arab countries, and is a leading authority speaking internationally, regionally and via Ted Talks. Through our discussion with her, readers will come to understand the important challenges facing women of today around beauty standards, navigating traditionally patriarchal societies and what gives her hope there will be a better future for women.




Dr. Lina AbiRafeh is the Executive Director of the Arab Institute for Women (AiW) at the Lebanese American University, based in New York and Lebanon. She has served in this position since 2015. The Institute was established in 1973 as the first women’s institute in the Arab region – and one of the first globally.

Lina brings a strong feminist activist orientation to the Institute, promoting education and research to advance social change and policy change – and ultimately to improve the lives of women and girls in the Arab region. Prior to joining AiW, Lina spent over 20 years in development and humanitarian contexts, working with the United Nations and other international organizations in countries such as Afghanistan, Haiti, Democratic Republic of Congo, Nepal, and others. Her specific expertise is in gender-based violence prevention and response, summarized by her TEDx talk, Women Deliver PowerTalk, keynote address for Swedish International Development Agency annual meeting, and podcast interview, amongst others.

Lina completed her doctoral work from the London School of Economics and published “Gender and International Aid in Afghanistan: The Politics and Effects of Intervention” based on her research. She speaks and publishes frequently on a range of gender issues such as gender-based violence, sexual and reproductive health and rights, what’s holding Arab women back from equality, bodily integrity and autonomy, female humanitarian aid workers, women in conflict – for instance in Sudan and Yemen, and so on. Recently, Lina has been focused on the need for a feminist response to the COVID-19 pandemic and its impact on Arab women and girls.

For more on The Arab Institute for Women (AiW) at the Lebanese American University, based in New York and Lebanon, visit

Follow Dr Lina AbiRafeh on Twitter: @LinaAbiRafeh


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