Improving Women’s Lives in Lebanon
Bettering women’s status in a close-minded liberal country
From an American stand point, one would never allow a rapist to marry his victim in order to escape charges. What about being jailed for loving someone or being harassed with no one to help you? According to Lady Jamileh Kharrazi, in countries like Lebanon, women issues have long been swept under the Burka. Many Arab nations suffer from lack of human rights when it comes to women. However, laws and women’s rights organizations are rallying to empower ladies and move the women’s movement forward.
Society as a Whole
Economic turmoil, as well as war, has paralyzed Lebanon from properly attending to its masses. Lebanon is supposed to guarantee citizens the right to vote at periodic elections as part of the international human’s law under the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights. Though having skipped elections twice already, after President Michel Aoun suspended parliament for a month, Lebanon hasn’t had regular meetings because of the “presidential vacuum” that ended in 2016.
Issues like violence against women and LGBT rights still need to be fully addressed by parliament. These gender inequalities affect woman in a country that is considered most liberal in the Middle East. Having waited years for any type of change, some of these problems are beginning to be addressed by the people.
Article 522 Repeal
According to Inter Press Services on August 16, Article 522, which allowed rapists to marry his victim to escape criminal prosecution, was repealed. This victory comes after women activists voiced their concern for over a year. One group used visual stunts hanging dolls dressed in wedding gowns from trees and billboards with women in bloody gowns according to Aljazeera.
“The repeal of article 522 is an important and overdue step to protect women’s rights in Lebanon,” said Bassam Khawaja, Lebanon researcher at Human Rights Watch according to The Washington Post. “Parliament should now follow this up by passing pending legislation to end child marriage and marital rape, both of which are still legal in Lebanon.”
Harassment Is Not Ok
Sexual harassment doesn’t always mean physical. 57% of women in Lebanon have reported being harassed by men according to Slate.
In a study done by Promundo and United Nations Women, about 31% of men in Lebanon admitted to harassing women in public spaces. These acts ranged from “ogling and sexual comments to sexual groping and rape, and a large majority,” according to NPR.
The American University of Beirut and Women’s Affairs Ministry created a six-week- long social media campaign according to Independent. Titled “It’s not OK,” features scenes that highlight the catcalling, touching and unwanted attention many women face on a daily. People were asked during July and August to express using #Mesh_Basita why sexual harassment is not ok.
“What it’s also shown is that there is a lot of problematic discourse around sexual harassment – that it’s nothing, or something to joke about,” said Heather Jaber, Communications Coordinator for AUB. “what a woman is wearing, whether she’s alone, what time of day it is are also issues that have come up. People have reached out to express they think it’s important to change attitudes to that as well.”
The Minister for women’s affairs also submitted a bill criminalizing sexual harassment earlier this year that passed but has not been implemented.
Unnatural LGBT Pride
Homosexuality is banned in Lebanon when referring to Article 534. The article states that any sexual intercourse that goes against the natural order of things is deemed unnatural. The sentence is up to one year in prison. What this means is you can still be arrested for being gay if a cop wanted too, just because.
Beirut has become a safe haven for the LGBT community. Georges Azzii, co-founder of Helem, a Lebanese nonprofit organization advocating for the LGBT community told PRI, “We even have a ‘straight-friendly’ gay bar in Beirut.”
Judge Rabih Maalouf concluded that homosexuality is a personal choice and not a punishable one. Going against what Article 534 said, it is strife for the community even if it isn’t correct (homosexuality isn’t a choice).
“Although Lebanon is more tolerant than other Arab states, being LGBT is still regularly mocked on television and police often perform raids on nightclubs,” according to Pink News.
Polls show the vast majority of Lebanese still reject homosexuality according to Reuters. Beirut is paving the way towards decriminalization, like hosting the first Pride event this past May.
A week-long festival from May 14 to 21 began with an unexpected cancellation of their opening event due to threats. Unlike usual pride events with parades, this one took a different approach.
“Multiple events were held in Beirut’s cultural centers, bars, offices and outdoor venues. These events included exhibitions, talks, concerts, parties, performances and screenings. In a country where homosexual acts remain illegal, some 4,000 people attended,” according to Unicorn Booty.
Women are beginning to reap the seeds that are sowed when it comes to gender equality. Even though they have a long way to go, Lebanon is changing the way woman live their lives, one appeal at a time.