Combating sexual harassment and gender discrimination in Lebanon: debates and policies
Gender-based violence is a violation of basic human rights and is predominant in Middle Eastern countries (Sadiqi and Ennaji, 2011). According to the World Health Organization (WHO), sexual violence defines an array of acts, from verbal harassment, social pressure, intimidation, physical force, rape within marriage/relationship or a stranger, unwanted sexual advancements, and rape of children. Sexual harassment is an act of unwelcome sexual offense by demanding for a sexual benefit which causes submissiveness to the other (UNHCR, 2005).
In the Lebanese society according to Evelyn Accad, males are raised on the idea that they are men because of their power and dominance in their area, and that men are the leaders, the chiefs, and the heroes. This idea was implemented in a wrong way by Lebanese people. Men use the ways they want to achieve these positions, even by immoral acts like lying and violence (Evelyn Accad, 2000, 11). Weapons can be sexual too and this happens in the relationship with women (Evelyn Accad, 2000, 11). For example, the sexual relationship is not built on love and tender, but only on reproduction. The writer describes the Lebanese society as three parts components: preservation of girls’ virginity/honor of the family, control over women to increase in male prestige, and overestimation of male’s power (Evelyn Accad, 2000, 11).
According to the Unequal and Unprotected: Women’s Rights under Lebanon’s Religious Personal Status Laws, women face greater barriers than men when it comes to ending a marriage among all religions. Out of the largest religious legally recognized group, 15 have separate personal status codes all of which contain discriminatory measures against women. All religious groups allow girls under the age of 18 to marry, while for men, the marriageable age is 18 among most religious groups. Although it is no longer expected of young girls to marry, inter-religious marriage is still a matter of debate, and Muslim women do not have the right to marry non-Muslim men unless they convert (OECD, n.d.). However, personal status laws do not help women start with divorce procedures and collect their financial and maternity rights after divorce from their previous spouses. Actually, the law does not protect children’s rights either; i.e. judicial decisions don’t necessarily consider the best interest of children’s well-being (Human Rights Watch, 2015). Moreover, in families, the husband is assigned as the head of the family and children are assigned to the religious sect of their father, making him after divorce retain legal custody of the children and authority, even if the mother has physical custody (OECD, n.d.).
Currently, there are no legal sanctions against sexual harassment in Lebanon. However, women essentially gave reason and excuse to their domestic violence. They blamed it on the patriarchal ‘norms’ and stereotypes imposed by the culture. The cultural norms dictate that a man is ‘supposed to’ be dominant and exercise his power to control women and the women must accept this, to be socially correct, for lack of a better word (Usta et al., 2008, p.74). According to a research organized by ABAAD: “one out of four women in Lebanon is subject to one of the many kinds of sexual assaults; and 13 women on average report monthly to the police sexual assaults.” (ABAAD, 2017)
The predominance of sexual harassment in Lebanon is linked to many factors such as society and culture, and the traditional gender roles in Lebanon, by which male superiority appropriates women’s rights over their bodies as theirs. “According to the ISF, at least 13 women have reported sexual assaults every month since the start of 2017.” (BlogBaladi, 2017)
Lebanese Law does not counteract the effects of Arab and Lebanese cultures which typically revolve around the patriarchy. Therefore, women in Lebanon are often subjected to copious amounts of psychological and physical abuse by their husbands/partners, in addition to (but not as heavily) social and economic abuse. Women blame the patriarchal ‘norms’ and stereotypes that the culture imposed for their domestic violence. The cultural norms dictate that a man is ‘supposed to’ be dominant and exercise his power to control women who must accept this, to be socially correct, for lack of a better word (Usta et al., 2008, p.74).
Women also said, in a KAFA study and survey called the FGD, that they felt as though their options were limited, especially in terms of a lack of income. Also, the weight is certainly heavier when one has children. Additionally, they were at an incredible disadvantage when it came to abuse because of the stigma that exists regarding divorce (Usta et al., 2008, p.74-75). ABAAD, a local NGO: www.abaadmeena.org , started a campaign titled “A White Dress Doesn’t cover the Rape” to raise awareness and repeal the Article 522 of the Lebanese Penal Code. This legal provision allowed rapists to avoid prosecution if they married their victims. The campaign was successful, and the Lebanese Parliament repealed this discriminatory provision. According to AL Nahar Newspaper in March 2017, the Council of Ministers adopted in their meeting the draft law that the Ministry of State for Women’s Affairs submitted, which provides for penalties for the crime of sexual harassment and will be referred to the House of Representatives.
The main message behind this short article is to trigger the sense of humanity to spread all kind of awareness toward sexual harassment with the involvement of men and women, not only in Lebanon but worldwide. The legal framework is a major contributing factor in all of this, there is no law against sexual harassment in Lebanon (Hankir, 2008). However, with the help of local NGOs such as KAFA and ABAAD, they are fighting in order to obtain gender equality. A form of awareness is a sexual harassment tracker. The online platform was launched in Beirut to empower victims to report such crimes, and to raise awareness on the severity and frequency of sexual harassment in the city (Najib, 2016, par.2). Through sexual harassment awareness, women will understand that they have full rights over their bodies, and nobody else. Men will also learn that women’s bodies are not objects, they do not belong to them, and that a woman’s consent means everything. Another form of awareness a campaign launched called Mesh Basita, or “It’s Not Ok”, made for the calling out for sexual harassment not to be eliminated but punished on. The campaign started from the American University of Beirut with the help of the office of Women’s Ministry of Affairs in Lebanon. The main goal working through the ministry has forced the parliament to force laws against sexual harassment a woman might face during her daily life. Maybe one day Lebanon will reach a point where gender equality is highly valued, but the change will occur slowly.
ABAAD (n.d.), www.abaadmeena.org
AL Nahar Newspaper Website. Retrieved from: https://www.annahar.com/article/550775-إقرار-مشروع-قانون-معاقبة-التحرش-الجنسي-هدية-للمرأة-في-عيدها Hanjir, Z. (2008). “The Reality of Harassment”. NOW. Now.mmedia.me.
Alarming Statistics That Show The Reality Of Sexual Violence In Lebanon. (n.d.). Retrieved from: http://blogbaladi.com/alarming-statistics-that-show-the-reality-of-sexual-violence-in-lebanon/
KAFA (n.d.), ABAAD Website: www.abaadmeena.org
Lebanon: Laws Discriminate Against Women. (2015, June 23). Retrieved from https://www.hrw.org/news/2015/01/19/lebanon-laws-discriminate-against-women .
OECD. (n.d.). Social Institutions and Gender Index. Retrieved from: https://www.genderindex.org/wp-content/uploads/files/datasheets/LB.pdf
Peace Direct. (November, 2017). ABAAD Dimensions. Retrieved from: https://www.peaceinsight.org/conflicts/lebanon/peacebuilding-organisations/abaad/
Sadiqi, F. and Ennaji, M. (2011). “Conceptualising gender and violence in the Middle East”. Gender and Violence in the Middle East. London: Routledge. Pp. 1-9.
UNHCR (April, 2005). “UNHCR’s Policy on Harassment, Sexual Harassment, and Abuse of Authority.” Retrieved from: http://www.un.org/womenwatch/osagi/UN_system_policies/(UNHCR)policy_on_harassment.pdf
Usta, J.A., Mahfoud, Z.R., Abi Chahine, G., and Anani, G.A. (2008). Child Sexual Abuse: The Lebanese Situation. KAFA Violence & Exploitation, the Ministry of Social Affairs, and Save the Children Sweden.
World Health Organization (n.d.) Understanding and Addressing Violence Against Women, Retrieved from: http://www.who.intl/gender/violence/gov/en/index.html