Le­banon, let’s talk

Tack­ling sex­ual vi­o­lence re­quires a shift in men­tal­ity

Executive Magazine - - Contents -

When Re­becca Dykes was sex­u­ally as­saulted and trag­i­cally mur­dered by an Uber driver in De­cem­ber 2017, much of the pub­lic di­rected its anger against the driv­ing ser­vice, drag­ging down its com­peti­tor, Ca­reem, with it. But blam­ing Uber drives the dis­course away from the real is­sue: Sex­ual ha­rass­ment and vi­o­lence are big­ger than any form of trans­porta­tion, and they’re not ex­clu­sive to the pub­lic realm. In De­cem­ber and Jan­uary, at least 10 other women were mur­dered in Le­banon— mostly by their part­ners—ac­cord­ing to news re­ports. The con­ver­sa­tion we need to have is about the safety of women in both pub­lic and pri­vate spa­ces.

The prob­lem ex­tends across bor­ders, classes, re­li­gions, eth­nic­i­ties, and in­dus­tries. The World Health Or­ga­ni­za­tion es­ti­mates that about 1 in 3 women world­wide have ex­pe­ri­enced phys­i­cal or sex­ual vi­o­lence in their life­time, and of­ten both. Then there is the re­cent Hol­ly­wood can of worms that opened with ac­cu­sa­tions of sex­ual ha­rass­ment lev­eled against pro­ducer Har­vey We­in­stein, an in­dus­try ti­tan, and ex­ploded into the #MeToo and #Time­sUp move­ments. What­ever the man­i­fes­ta­tion, the root of the prob­lem is the pa­tri­archy. How do you change a sys­tem that is en­trenched in our so­ci­eties? A bet­ter ques­tion is: Can you stand idle and not even try?

While Le­banon may seem lib­eral from the out­side, it is shock­ingly be­hind when it comes to the im­ple­men­ta­tion of women’s rights. In re­cent years, Le­banon has taken small steps for­ward thanks to ef­forts by women’s rights or­ga­ni­za­tions like KAFA, Abaad, and oth­ers. A law crim­i­nal­iz­ing do­mes­tic vi­o­lence (Law 293) was passed in 2014, and the so-called rape law (Ar­ti­cle 522 of the crim­i­nal code), which al­lowed rapists to es­cape pros­e­cu­tion by mar­ry­ing their vic­tim, was re­pealed in 2017. But the changes and their im­ple­men­ta­tion have drawn crit­i­cism. A protest on Jan­uary 27 called for amend­ments to Law 293 that would strengthen pro­tec­tions for abused women and en­force penal­ties on per­pe­tra­tors. Fur­ther leg­is­la­tion is still needed, to out­law child mar­riage and mar­i­tal rape, both of which re­main le­gal in Le­banon., but a bill is said to be in mo­tion to ad­dress the for­mer.

END­ING HA­RASS­MENT

Le­banon’s crim­i­nal code de­fines vi­o­lent crimes against women, such as rape, acts of in­de­cency, or statu­tory rape, but the crim­i­nal code does not de­fine sex­ual ha­rass­ment, let alone crim­i­nal­ize it: There are no clear penal­ties against per­pe­tra­tors or pro­tec­tions for sur­vivors. Only last year did Jean Ogas­apian, the Minister for Women’s Af­fairs, present a bill to crim­i­nal­ize sex­ual ha­rass­ment. It was ap­proved by the cab­i­net, but has not yet been passed in the Par­lia­ment. Ac­tivists point out that this draft law isn’t per­fect—it de­fines sex­ual ha­rass­ment as an ac­tion that “com­pro­mises the honor and dig­nity of the vic­tim,”—but it is atleast a start. Last sum­mer, the Amer­i­can Univer­sity of Beirut’s Knowl­edge Is Power, or KIP, project on gen­der and sex­u­al­ity, in part­ner­ship with the Of­fice of the Minister of State for Women’s Af­fairs, launched a cam­paign to high­light that sex­ual ha­rass­ment should not be nor­mal­ized.

The na­tional cam­paign aimed to raise both aware­ness of sex­ual ha­rass­ment and that it is not okay, us­ing #MeshB­a­sita to

Anec­do­tal ev­i­dence high­light that the lack of leg­is­la­tion on sex­ual ha­rass­ment push for le­gal re­form. Sex­ual ha­rass­ment hap­pens of­ten in Le­banon, but there is no na­tional data to mea­sure the ex­tent of the prob­lem. Like so many is­sues in Le­banon with­out a le­gal frame­work in place, civil so­ci­ety has stepped in: Abaad and KAFA are doc­u­ment­ing the num­ber of sex­ual ha­rass­ment cases in Le­banon, cit­ing In­ter­nal Se­cu­rity Forces numbers that say 229 cases were re­ported be­tween Jan­uary 2016 and Au­gust 2017. In re­al­ity, ex­perts sus­pect the numbers are far greater. Le­banon un­doubt­edly needs a sex­ual ha­rass­ment law, but we also need to raise aware­ness about the preva­lence of abuse, and in­crease pre­ven­tive mea­sures, from na­tional cam­paigns to grass­roots so­lu­tions. More shel­ters and net­works of com­mu­nity cen­ters would help ed­u­cate women and men about why sex­ual ha­rass­ment is a prob­lem and how to re­port it, and shift re­ac­tions from vic­tim-blam­ing to in­ves­ti­gat­ing the per­pe­tra­tor. Lo­cal com­mu­nity sup­port could also make re­port­ing vi­o­lence and rehabilitation eas­ier for sur­vivors.

With elec­tions around the cor­ner, it is up to can­di­dates and ex­ist­ing lead­ers to rec­og­nize the prob­lem and pro­pose so­lu­tions on mul­ti­ple lev­els. Sus­tain­able change takes time and re­quires ad­just­ing men­tal­i­ties, not just laws and lo­cal mech­a­nism. We need to start by chang­ing how men look at women, through gen­der-sen­si­tive ed­u­ca­tion in schools, sem­i­nars that use real-life ex­am­ples from Le­banon to shed light on sex­ual ha­rass­ment, and me­dia and ad­ver­tis­ing that is more con­scious of the mes­sages they endorse. We need to have more con­ver­sa­tions about these top­ics, to cre­ate safe spa­ces for women to talk and be lis­tened to, and to break through out­dated taboos. We need more women in Par­lia­ment, and a fe­male minister of women’s af­fairs. How can we progress as a nation if we fail to treat half our cit­i­zens as equals?

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