Love Matters Arabic celebrates it’s fifth birthday
by Abir Sarras
Five years after launching Love Matters Arabic, the platform has grown beyond expectations. Our Facebook community is nearing one million, the website has seen 20 million session, and our YouTube channel has amassed more than 45 million views since it launched in March 2014.
The Love Matters Arabic platform is part of the global Love Matters programme, a network of platforms and social media pages in 6 languages. These platforms provide young people around the world with evidence and rights-based information on sexual health and wellbeing. The programme does not shy away from any topic related to love, sex and relationships, yet it handles these topics with high cultural sensitivity and careful consideration of the local societal restrictions and religious constraints.
It wasn’t always an easy ride. As anticipated, we faced some negative reactions at the beginning of the project, mostly accusations of corrupting young people with liberal western ideas. But these reactions were surprisingly few. Having an open and honest platform does not mean we just talk about anything and everything. The road has been bumpy, and we have made some difficult choices and learned lessons along the way, including having to push some sensitive topics under the carpet in order to reduce the risk of being blocked in our main target country, Egypt.
Trust is everything
Late one Friday afternoon, only a few weeks after the launch of the platform, I was messaged on Facebook by one of our followers. I opened the message to find that she has sent us several pictures from different angles of her own vulva! Along with the series of photos was a request asking us to check if she was still a virgin. The young lady was in distress because she was getting married and was terrified her husband to be would find out she had had sexual intercourse prior to their marriage. This was such a touching expression of trust in Love Matters Arabic and showed us that, we could reach young people seeking information directly, avoiding traditional gate keepers, and providing users with the privacy and safety they need and deserve.
Such scenarios occurred more and more, and it became obvious that the platform had managed to quickly gain the trust of the community as a truly open and non-judgmental space. Questions were pouring in, so a year after the launch we added a new service. We hired and trained 3 doctors to reply to the questions with clear and comprehensive information about all the options that might be available so people could make informed decisions about their sexual lives and health. To date, our team has answered more than 14,000 questions from users all over the Arab World.
Next to the written word, the spoken word also proved to be a hit. After Facebook, YouTube is the second biggest social media platform in the Arab world and our YouTube channel has been instrumental in reaching our target audience. The Love Matters Arabic channel features more than 100 videos with young sexual health experts addressing sensitive topics that many shy away from. The channel’s biggest hit is a video about having sex for the first time, designed for young heterosexual couples and titled in Arabic: how do you prepare together for your wedding night?
Hit songs and campaigns
While the platform with its evidence and rights-based information is central to our work, we have also created an offline presence in order to reach out and understand the needs of our community. So, how do you rally young people to express their needs on these private issues? Love Matters Arabic has turned to art and music . Over the past years we have had an exhibition of graffiti art, a stand-up comedy show, and even had famous rap and Shaabi music artists (Sadat & Y-Crew) curate a special viral song under the name Love Matters. The project has also used story-telling to campaign on various topics, including a campaign on emergency contraception featuring an animated video launched in 2018 that went viral.
So what’s next for Love Matters Arabic? The platform seems to have taken on a life of its own, its growing organically and visitors come from all parts of the Arab World. There is only so much one platform can do, but it has truly transformed the lives of many young people to feel safe and confident about who they are, their bodies, how they look, and who they choose to love. As one of our followers puts it: “Love Matters Arabic is truly a page that tries to spread sexual education, but most importantly tries to break the fear we have of our bodies, and the contempt we feel towards sex and our sexual organs. This fear is wide spread in our Arabic culture”.
Perhaps the platform’s biggest accomplishment is its ability to reach Arab youth across the region, creating a personal safe connection with each user, and addressing their needs and rights as sexual human beings who want and need to love and be loved.
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The Love Matters Arabic community has celebrated this milestone with an online campaign under the hashtag 5 years of Love Matters #خمس_سنين_والحب_ثقافة
Abir Sarras is the co-founder of Love Matters Arabic. She is currently the regional manager for North Africa at RNW Media where she manages several projects and platforms including Love Matters Arabic, Libya’s youth platform: Huna Libya, and the upcoming Masarat.net platform focussing on youth economic inclusion in the Mena region.