Posts tagged Lebanon
It’s been many years we’ve been talking about the draft law to protect women from family violence. It’s a very simple law really. It enables women to call the police for help if they are abused at home. And it enables them to seek shelter and protection with their kids. It basically says that women can leave their homes with the support of the state.
It also overrides the current law, Article 503 that makes it legal for husbands to rape their wives.
At least one woman is killed every month by a family member. That’s last year’s count. This year alone, there’s been 4 murders. Out of the 2250 women who reported family violence to the police in 2009, almost half said they feel a direct threat to their lives.
The fact is, this law can save lives. An intervention can save a life. A phone call can save a life. Violence unstopped escalates into murder. At the heart of any feminist struggle is violence against women and this law is a crucial step towards ending violence against women. We’re not expecting it to do miracles, of course. But our battle isn’t just about this law. It’s with the patriarchy of our Parliament and Government who have proved again and again that they do not give a damn about women in Lebanon.
We’ve tried protests and sit-ins and vigils and social media campaigns and meetings with MPs and billboards and awareness-raising and flyers and workshops and panels. We even tried interactive theater and flash mobs and dances. And still they tell us to wait.
On February 24, Kafa organized a demo that marched to Nabih Berri’s house demanding that he put the law on the agenda of the parliamentary discussions. He replied on February 25 with: “It is not possible in these circumstances to hold a session while the country is drowning in the elections law.”
And so, we have decided – some friends and I – that we are no longer putting up with this bullshit. Tonight we announce to the MPs that if the law to protect women from family violence is not put on the agenda for the next parliamentary session and if it is not voted on fully without mutilations, we are going on an open hunger strike in front of parliament. If they don’t mind women dying, we’ll give them starving women at their doorstep.
This is our final battle and we are going to win it. Brace yourselves.
Activist spaces where friendships mix with relationships mix with causes are indeed the most difficult spaces to talk about violence. Violence happens everywhere, there is no simple formula to erase it. It’s how we respond to it that matters, how we admit fault, and how we commit to protecting each other personally and politically. What @amarshabby has defiantly started in speaking out publicly about the sexual harassment and violence she faced in Helem, the Lebanese LGBT NGO, is nothing short of revolutionary. It has transformed the way I think about violence and support and accountability. And I have realized the grave mistakes I have made in the past year and before. In our work to bring about change, one could only wish for the gift of being taught such a humbling lesson.
Today, many months into this, Amar and others are STILL being attacked and shamed and called liars and “sluts” and attention-seekers online and offline. Zero acknowledgement of the harassment or the bullying that followed was made by Helem. I was late to offer my support for fear that my involvement would be manipulated by people into what they now call the “same old war.” But after realizing with shock the amount of pain and trauma that is being inflicted on women to punish them for speaking out, well fuck my silence and fuck yours. Ask, read, be aware, learn, and care about what’s happening. Your support is important and I trust you’ll know how best to express it – from a simple message to @amarshabby to a public statement. No lame attempts at finding a bandage are acceptable. Only radical transformation. Speak the truth though your voice may tremble.
So the current Church-sponsored electoral reform plan proposed in the name of the “Orthodox Gathering” (which most Christian leaders have abandoned) suggests that citizens vote only for MPs of their own sect. That means Maronites vote only for Maronites, Shiites vote only for Shiites, etc.
Amidst the struggle for secularism and civil laws, it seems the trend for further “purifying” of political sectarianism in Lebanon is still going strong.
Anyway, Al Balad ran a fantastic story about a very similar law that was proposed in Lebanon in 1922. 1922! That’s even before the formation of the modern state in 1943, back when it was Loubnan Al Kabeer. This is remarkable in its own way but one response to it – even back in 1922 – is worthy of its own story.
Michel Zakkour, a journalist who later became an MP and a Minister of Interior, published a piece in his then newspaper “Al Maarad” proposing a sarcastic alternative to what he saw as an outrageous, sectarian electoral law. His idea – which he named as equally preposterous to the idea of people voting only for people from their own confession – was to do the exact opposite. Everybody can vote for said MP except citizens of his own confession. That (messed up, says Zakkour, but wise) system would create a Parliament where loyalty to the entire nation would perhaps overcome sectarian isolation.
وعلى سبيل الاستطراد وذكر النظير بمناسبة نظيره اقول انه انا ايضاً خطرت في بالي طريقة انتخاب عرجاء عوجاء مثل طريقة هؤلاء الطائفيين ولكنها لا تخلو من حكمة، وهي ان نحرم كل واحدة من الطوائف من الاشتراك في انتخاب النائب الذي ينتمي اليها، اي ان ندع للمسلمين وللموارنة وللروم الكاثوليك ولليهود وسائر الاقليات في بيروت ان ينتخبوا وحدهم دون الروم الارثوذكس النائب البيروتي الارثوذكسي، وان ندع لكل هذه الطوائف دون المسلمين ان ينتخبوا النائب البيروتي المسلم، وهكذا في انتخاب سائر النواب في بيروت وفي سواها من المناطق الانتخابية.
ان هذه الطريقة العرجاء العوجاء تنشئ لنا مجلساً تتغلب فيه الصفة الوطنية على الصفة الطائفية بل مجلساً يحبّب إلينا التجرد من الاستقلال الطائفي في ما هو مشترك بين اللبنانيين جميعاً.
Brilliant, no? Funny guy this Zakkour – from 1922. I wonder which Lebanese leader today would have the guts to ridicule the Orthodox Gathering’s electoral law proposal like he did.
Nobody talks about Sabra and Shatila in my family. We all know, though, that some of us fought for Hobeika during the civil, for Geagea and Bashir and Aoun – all in the same family. There was no logic to the Lebanese civil war, nothing I can trace that shows any loyalty or creed anyone followed that didn’t change and change back. It was a time of chaos and desperation and a vengeance chain of massacres that led to war that led to more massacres that led to more war. Anybody who tries to make sense of it is trying in vain. What remains to be made is redemption for the crimes, the murders, the kidnappings, and the total sell-out of the Lebanese and the Palestinian people. Redemption can only be made through acknowledgement and apology.
Many have called for efforts to commemorate the civil war so that generations would remember how sectarianism kills hundreds of thousands of people. That never happened – and how could it with the same militia men and their militia parties in parliamentary seats today? It is an offense that nobody has apologized. There was no one side to blame, and, therefore, everybody is to blame. And everybody must apologize. It is the first step towards accountability. It entails acknowledgement. Doesn’t make up for it – the least all these parties could do is dissolve themselves. But it’s the first step.
This weekend is the commemoration of the Sabra and Shatila massacre that happened on September 16, 1982. Thousands of men, women, and children were lined up and killed under an Israeli-lit sky and a Christian-led killing machine. It is no different than the Tal el Zaatar massacre where women running away had their babies snatched from them so the soldiers could kill the male babies, the “future fighters.” They bashed the babies’ heads against the wall in front of their mothers. It is no different than the Damour massacre or the Ehden massacre or Black Saturday or the Karantina massacre or the Hama massacre.
Decades after the war, we must still hold political parties responsible. We must hold ourselves responsible. We all come from families that took part in the war. We all come from families that suffered the loss of sons and daughters during the war. We are all responsible. Even those of us who weren’t yet alive during these crimes. We carry the legacy of the crimes committed in our names still – the unspoken burden of history. We must all apologize.
I start with myself. I apologize for the crimes of Sabra and Shatila committed in the name of Christians in 1982. I apologize to the thousands of Palestinians who lost their souls in the most heinous of crimes. I apologize to the families who saw their loved ones slaughtered in front of their eyes. I apologize to all the women who were raped repeatedly for days on end. I apologize to their children – now probably my age – for the wounds they bear. I apologize with all my heart. I’m sorry.
For years now, the Civil Campaign for Electoral Reform has been lobbying for proportional elections, a 30% women’s quota, lowering the voting age to 18, allowing diaspora voting in Lebanese embassies, and a list of other reforms. With time ticking for the 2013 elections scheduled for next May (although many speculate it will be postponed depending on the uprising in Syria), the Lebanese government met today and passed a proposed law to Parliament, which includes proportional representation based on a Lebanon of 13 districts. Since nothing in Lebanon is decided outside of the March 8 / 14 deadlock, it is clear that the current March 8 government would push for proportional representation not because it is more fair but because it would benefit the Free Patriotic Movement, Hezbollah, and other members of the coalition who had greater numbers of votes in the 2009 elections. Zako has a full study of 2009 election results on a proportional scheme here. Odds are that the March 14 bloc will turn down the proposal in Parliament and the country will go to another majority representation in the 2013 elections.
Women’s Political Participation
But now we look at the issue of women’s quota, which was discussed as part of the proposal in government today. I haven’t cared for gender quotas much in Lebanon since we all know the same MP seats are going to be filled with the same corrupt sectarian politicians – men or women. We used to focus our discussions at Nasawiya on the question of: do we want women in Parliament just for representation, so girls can have role models? Or do we not care about women as long as they replicate the same sectarian models? Given that this is a false dilemma, many of us opted for wanting strong, feminist, secularist women in Parliament who can hopefully be elected in a non-confessional system. Of course, this was all theory for me until I actually started meeting women MPs and working on the Take Back Parliament campaign. It was then that I realized that there is really no women’s engagement in politics in Lebanon. None. The issue is not about female MPs or ministers alone – the issue is that there weren’t any women I could name that were political analysts, heads of news desks, editors of political pages in newspapers, bloggers, journalists, anything. Since the days of the civil war in the 70s, women were completely alienated from Lebanese politics – much to their credit, some would say, for who would want to be associated with such a bloody war – and have not been able to get back into the arena since the 90s. And if women are not at the table, you can be sure that their issues are not at the agenda.
This is a structural issue – one that will take years to fix – and the solutions must come at many levels. Electoral quotas are one of these solutions, temporary of course, that could get more women into the political sphere. There is no guarantee that women’s issues will then make it into political agendas (we cite Gilberte Zouein’s shameful stance on family violence as an example). But, frankly, no women on the table at all is an absolute guarantee that women’s issues won’t be on the agenda. So whether or not you agree to a quota, take a look at the disgusting way in which the issue was discussed in government to give you an understanding of just how isolated women are from politics and how shamefully their demand for political representation is treated.
The Discussion on Women’s Quota
In 2011, Cabinet chose zero women ministers and here was Michel Aoun’s chauvinistic reply to why. Basically he said women lack the experience for public service. All women, apparently. His same government now treated women’s quota in the following way.
Firstly, the discussion of percentage happened in the most random of ways, with one minister suggesting 5-7%, another minister upping him to 15-17%, and the majority agreeing that they must take the average of 10%. As if they were discussing what to order for lunch. It shows you just how little concern they pay to the issue of no women in politics as a fundamentally unimportant crisis. Nobody seems to notice that half of the country is not concerned with the way the country is run. Perhaps they know this is to their advantage as sectarian war lords.
And then, during the discussion, MP Nicolas Fattoush (Zahle, March 14) dares to utter the most hypocritical argument against women’s quota by referring to Article 7 of the Lebanese Constitution that states that all Lebanese are equal before the law. Mon Dieu. The nerve of this guy. All Lebanese are equal before the law? Where the hell was that argument when women demanded equal citizenship rights or equal marital laws or equal labor laws or equal anything?
WTF. There is no equality before the law, Mr. Fattoush, we live as gendered citizens – the structures of patriarchy and misogyny (perpetuated by our very government) prevent women from access to protection and to equal treatment everywhere from the home to public spaces to police stations to courts of law. This is a perfect example of empty concepts of equality at the disposal and service of those in power.
When asked about women’s quota, Michel Aoun, the same guy who said women lack experience in the political sphere insulted the question with: “Lebanese culture is misogynistic and doesn’t want to see women in positions of power. You, as women, must create strong women’s movements to impose your opinion. You must refuse all gifts! I personally refuse to give you this gift, you must go out and fight for it!”
WTF again. Ya3ni, I don’t know what to say to that, Mr. Aoun. You think supporting women’s political participation is a gift that women should fight for? And you, a man on top of that pyramid of power won’t do anything to support it, like say, I dunno, instate a women’s quota? The women’s movement has been banging its head against the FPM-majority committee for the protection of women from family violence — these are the same MPs who have claimed that gender-based violence is being handled fine by religious courts and that the state shouldn’t interfere when in fact, at least one woman is dying every month as a direct result of family violence. How hypocritical these statements are and how insulting to all women in Lebanon and all women’s movements.
No Country for Women
The misogyny of these politicians has to be brought to a stop. Every phrase they utter about women is insulting. I hear stories about this every day – even from women MPs and journalists. The other day at the Family Violence press conference, Samir el Jisr had the nerve to tell a woman journalist that she didn’t understand what rape was. He then went on to give her the legal definition of rape. This is the epitome of insult. A man telling a woman what rape is. This corrupt political landscape needs to change on so many levels and one of these is to get large percentages of women from the women’s movement into Parliament, Government, and municipalities. The final format of the proposed law seems to have included a gender quota of “at least one person from every gender in the nomination lists.” That means there must be one woman nominee in every list (the proportional system mandates closed election lists). What a wonderful gift, Lebanon. I’m sure women feel more motivated to work hard for their basic human rights now.
I have a proposal for you as a follow up to this post I wrote 2 months ago about taking back the Lebanese Parliament. I have been trying to find traction and excitement for this project but I can’t manage to convince people around me. Everyone says nobody will be on board and that it’s a failed idea. So I decided to put it online and ask for your feedback (whoever you are). Let me know how you feel about it. Be honest cos I might be wrong. But I can’t help thinking that if we can find a few hundred people who can believe in this, perhaps we can achieve the impossible.
It is clear that we, the people, need to take back Parliament from the claws of the zo3ama, millionaires, and warlords. It is clear that all political parties in Lebanon are too sectarian and corrupt to change anything. We are stuck. We can dream of a revolution in the streets. Or we can dream of a revolution at the voting ballots.
The Lebanese Parliament should not exist so that the rich feudal lords can become richer and enforce their control over people. It exists to legislate laws that protect the people, ensure equality, and develop our economy and culture. Clearly, it has been doing none of that for decades now.
We must take it back.
Despite the corruption and inefficiency of the electoral system, we can still create a third option. Despite the sectarian division of the districts and the confessional quota of the seats, we can still run with an agenda to change this. Let’s elect new, qualified, inspiring people to Parliament. Let’s create a national coalition of top-notch candidates who support a platform of secularism, civil laws and socio-economic justice. Let’s vote for independent candidates who have fresh new ideas and commitments. Let’s support the new talents who usually have no chance: the women, the youth, the workers, the ones who have never had a relative in Parliament. Let’s hold our representatives accountable. Let’s revolutionize the system. Let’s run a low-budget, eco-friendly, grassroots campaign that will astonish generations. A coalition where everyone has a critical voice – and nobody is a blind follower. Let’s remember forever that summer we took back Parliament – against all odds, when nobody believed it was possible.
Makes you a little nervous, doesn’t it? Could it really happen? No. Surely, it is impossible. Or is it? Maybe? If we work hard enough? No… what is this naïve unrealistic dream, I obviously don’t know shit about politics. But wait. Can we gather enough heart and intelligence to face the billions of dollars in bribes? Can we break that barrier of fear and intimidation? Can we make our people believe in their power again?
I’m just like you – uncertain. But the mere thought of engaging in a real battle for Parliament in 2013 (instead of getting depressed) makes my heart dance. So I decided to put up this post and ask my fellow Lebanese: are we ready? What do you think? Can we find a few hundred Lebanese who can commit to a new 2013 elections campaign?
To you, the answer.
P.S. I will not publish your info online anywhere ever. But I will email you to have coffee.
Two remarkable images struck me this week. The first is the new batch of women in the Lebanese police force and the second is the half-women cabinet of France’s new Prime Minister. Of course, activists will say: “yes, but..” about either of these – but I am taking a minute the celebrate the pure awesomeness of breaking the stereotype that women can’t do [insert whatever] and that the social order will crumble if they did. Kickass!
Lebanon’s Tough New Policewomen – how beautiful they are.
17 Women in the French Cabinet of 34 – how beautiful they are.
This feeling has been creeping up inside me for some weeks now. It used to be a dream and then it became an idea and now it’s a lot more powerful than that. Now it’s become a feeling.
I have a feeling that our time has come. We, the people on the margins. The angry, disenfranchised people who pay too much for bread and fuel and rent and water and parking. We, the kids who grew up in the 80s. We, who are unamused by boring media and mindless entertainment. We, who’ve been struggling for years trying to create small, important projects that go nowhere and achieve nothing. Civil marriage. Women’s rights. Green spaces. Anti-corruption. Renewable energy. Equal pay. Migrant rights. Bicycle lanes. Refugee rights. Public schools. Public universities. Social security. Protect our beaches. Protect our workers. Protect our Internet. Protect love. Save our animals. Save our forests. Save our heritage. End torture. End the civil war. Build a public transportation system that works already!
How much longer are we supposed to fight – alone and secluded – for what is right? How much longer do we bang our heads against a Parliament that doesn’t give a damn? Over 300 laws they have in their drawers and they waste their time – time that we pay for with our sweat and hard work – to quarrel over issues that don’t even concern us. Better yet, they create issues and convince us that they are protecting us from each other. Who protects us from the daily struggle it takes to live in this country that millions of us have abandoned because it get more and more unbearable every day?
I have a feeling that thousands of you agree that enough is enough. And what’s different this time is that I have a feeling thousands of you want to do something about it. What better thing to do than take back Parliament? Why do we have to fight against a lazy, inefficient, dysfunctional Parliament that will never give us our basic socio-economic rights? Our basic human dignity? Why does Parliament have to be ruled by war lords and billionaires and dynasties of the same families replicating the same incompetent sectarian crooks that feed on the hatred of their own people?
We can imagine a better quality of life for ourselves and our children and our brothers and sisters. We can find it in our hearts to translate this (sometimes inexplicable) love for Lebanon into a revolution that gives victory to the poor and the wronged. We can rise above $100 bribes and family loyalties and herd mentality to put our votes where our hearts really are. We can find and vote for MPs that are young and secular and progressive and hard-working and feminist and independent and intelligent. We can take back Parliament – the highest legislative authority in the country – and set it back on its original mission: to organize the lives of its people in the best possible and most egalitarian way. We can convince everybody around us. We are the majority and there is not a single person suffering today from unemployment or poverty or stolen rights or that huge, enormous feeling of helplessness and depression that will not want to hold on to the dream that change is possible.
I have a feeling that our time has come.
And what else does one do with feelings but run?
This is a translation of Farfahinne’s post: مشروع قانون حماية المرأة من العنف الأسري بعد التسريبات: تشويه ما بعده تشويه
Violence against women happens in two complimentary spheres. In the first, a number of cultural, political, and economic values and laws create an environment of violence in the public sphere. And in the second, violence is perpetuated privately within the family. They compliment and complete each other. For instance, laws and policies that discriminate against women economically stem from an attitude that places women in a traditional role within the family as house workers and not bread winners. And thus a woman is deprived of her right to insure her children with social security unless her husband is handicapped or deceased.
Families in Lebanon are engulfed in a shroud of holiness. What happens within their structures – even when violent – remains within a family. Like my neighbor who thought it a curse that his wife only bore 3 girls and would beat them for the stupidest reasons and drag them by the hair down the stairs. Their cries for help would fill the neighborhood for years until they grew up and found an escape, each in her own way. The neighborhood adapted to these cries, got used to them and eventually got bored with them. To many, they became a repetitive symphony that provided immunity from any attacks of conscience for ignoring the painful cries.
In Lebanon, women’s organizations have struggled for years to release violence against women from the captives of the private sphere, to find mechanisms to protect women. The law to Protect Women from Family Violence, presented to the government by Kafa, was the culmination of years of this hard work. It was formulated after years of listening to thousands of complaints from women who were beaten and raped by their spouses and fathers. It was put together based on research from hundreds of counseling and legal support cases. The proposed law is particularly for women because it saw that Lebanon’s penal and personal status laws awarded men with many privileges and that there should be a law that protects women in order to tend to the grave imbalance between women and men in family structures. It aimed to fight gender-based violence, to fight the violence that happens against women for the sole reason of them being women.
And so the law was supported by dozens of women’s and civil society organizations and presented to the government. It was then passed on – with little resistance – to Parliament, which then designated a side committee to study the law and then pass it on to a vote in Parliament. The law has been with the committee for 6 months although their deadline was 3 weeks.
Today, we have word that the committee has two weeks to finish its study and that it has already made terrible amendments that will actually take us hundreds of steps backwards.
The entire ethos of the law has been changed from one to protect women to one to protect all the members of the family from violence. It has, therefore, become entirely void of the gender dimension – despite all the studies and research and testimonies that prove that the problem of violence within families is a gender-based problem.
Some forms of violence have been deleted entirely in Article 3 – most importantly marital rape – which, in this maimed version, is not considered a form of family violence.
The procedure of reporting violence has been changed to prevent anybody from initiating a complaint via reporting it (which means that I cannot call up the police and report my three friends being beaten up by their father).
And perhaps the most dangerous of these alterations is the addition of Article 26 which gives priority and superiority of judgment to the personal status (i.e. religious sectarian) courts in case of any clash between the two laws. With this article, religious courts have the prerogative to judge if the act is considered violent and, therefore, if it should be criminalized or not. This article also discriminates among women in the implementation of the protection law because it will change according to religious denomination. And it’s considered a blow to the Child Protection law which has come under attack recently with demands to return matters of violence against children to sectarian courts as well.
And so, a law like this, in its distorted version, no longer achieves its intended result which was the protection of women from family violence and the open admission from the State that violence against women is a crime punishable by law, which would help fight the dominant cultural social values that justify violence against women.
The struggle is clear today between forces that are working with all their might against civil society to impose religious courts as the fundamental reference for family matters and forces trying to place the Lebanese State in front of its civil duties to protect women form violence.
Women’s organizations and namely Kafa have proven to be patient and persistent. Today, the law faces the grave danger of being born dead or maimed (at best). Women’s organizations and civil society – everybody who is fighting for a civil space, a civil state, civil laws – must fight to the bone for this law that will save many from misery and save many from murder.
This article was edited one day after publishing to clarify that it was attempted rape.
The attempted rape and murder of Myriam Achkar in Sahel Alma has angered and outraged all of us. Myriam’s story is tragic and brings us face to face with the cruelest, most heinous of crimes. We are frustrated and enraged because it is unjust that she dies like this. A young woman, 28, takes a 20-minute walk from her home in the suburbs and gets sexually attacked and then murdered by a man.
That’s really what the story is: A young woman, 28, takes a 20-minute walk from her home in the suburbs and gets sexually attacked and murdered by a man.
But that’s not the story we’re hearing everywhere. What we’re hearing is: A young, Christian, virgin woman, 28, takes a 20-minute walk from her home to a church to pray, and gets sexually attacked and murdered by a Syrian worker.
And so the anger and outrage becomes Christian anger against Syrians. The family thirsts for his blood. They want to lynch him in the public square of Jounieh. They feel wronged as a religious community. This is violence from Syrians towards all Christians, and the Christians are too forgiving, they say. And they stress that Myriam was a practicing believer. She was not out in Gemmayze at 1am, they say. She was on her way to pray.
Nationality and religion have nothing to do with why Myriam was attacked. Really. I am not justifying the murder, God forbid anyone should justify the crime. And the rapist murderer, Fathi Jaber Al-Salatini should be tried, and if convicted, go to jail until he dies. I’m just stating a fact. Nationality and religion have nothing to do with the violence Myriam faced. What time it was, what she was wearing, what she was on her way to do, none of that matters. She was still brutally violated and her barbaric murder was not motivated by theft or hatred. It was motivated by rape.
Her story is, very sadly, not unique. I have heard dozens of stories about rape, from people and from survivors themselves. And so have you. If you haven’t, it just means that the women around you are not talking to you about it. In fact, the women in Lebanon are not talking about rape at all.
Our anger at this horrible crime – understandable anger, human anger – should be towards rape…
Towards the backwards rape laws in Lebanon.
Rapists most often get off the hook. Women are blamed. I don’t have statistics because we don’t have studies. But I know of many cases. Most recently, a European woman was raped and beaten up by two young Lebanese men. I met her and I saw the scars and bruises. The men have posted bail and are now building a case to fight her allegations in court. Our law, Article 503 says a rapist can be acquitted if he marries the victim. He would often get a reduced sentence if he proposes marriage. The maximum sentence is 5 years. Husbands are excluded from this law if they rape their wives. Rape is interpreted as a penis penetrating a vagina. All other forms of sexual violence are not criminalized. This is the law the governs rape in Lebanon. This is the law we should revolt against.
Towards the police who never take rape complaints seriously.
Our police force is not trained to handle rape cases. They ask a woman what she was wearing and why she was where she was. They ask her if she is married. The forensic doctor examines her on the same bed where police officers sleep between shifts. That is if a woman is brave enough or has enough faith in the police to report rape. In one rape case that happened in the summer, a woman had to return to the police station 3 times before they finally wrote down her complaint and promised to investigate it.
Towards the municipalities who don’t provide enough lighting or protection.
Our streets are unsafe. Women are subject to sexual harassment on the streets – any street in any part of Lebanon – 24 hours a day. Lewd comments, stalking, following in a car, propositions for sex, groping, you name it, it happens 24 hours a day to almost every woman, young women especially, every day. And our protective measure, often, is to tell women not to be on that street, at that time, alone. It’s a stupid measure. What we need is municipalities to take sexual harassment seriously, to have enough security that punishes harassment, to have adequate lighting, to respond to complaints. Outside one university campus in Metn is a women’s dorm where men gather every night to harass every woman who enters and exits. They have complained to the university and the municipality and nothing was done about it. When we allow, as a society, sexual violence to be dismissed and joked about and belittled, we allow for rape to go unaddressed.
Towards the sexist culture that promotes the sexual objectification of women.
Women’s bodies are used, haphazardly and illogically, to sell just about anything. Selling taouk? Put a naked women on the ad. Selling a carpet? Put a naked woman on the ad. Selling a gadgets magazine? Put a naked woman on the cover. Everywhere we go, the image of the Lebanese woman we are promoting is one of sex and desire and objectification. There are often no heads on the bodies even, no people behind the bodies. In a media and advertising culture that promotes women as sex objects, how can we raise our girls to love and claim ownership over their own bodies? How can we raise our boys to not feel entitled to consume women’s bodies at their will? How can we call for the sexual liberation of women when we only understand sexual liberation as the commercial objectification of women?
Towards the silencing of women’s stories when they want to talk about rape.
It is extremely difficult for women (here and anywhere) to talk about rape. The shame, the self-blame, the guilt, the taboos, the excuses we give rapists first before we condemn them. In our country, we tell women not to get raped. We don’t tell men not to rape. When they do speak up, we either silence them to protect their “honor” or we ask them a million questions as if it were their fault. Rape is never a woman’s fault. We have not opened up the space, as a women’s movement and as a society, for women to come forward with rape stories and get the justice they deserve. We have not created the proper support systems to give them the services (legal, health, psychological, community support) they need. We have not taught our mothers and fathers to encourage their girls to always speak up, that nothing is taboo, that they must report sexual violence when it happens. We protect our girls by teaching them to always speak up. A woman can survive rape. She always does. Thousands of Lebanese women – your friends, your sisters, your colleagues – have survived rape. What traumatizes them is the guilt and shame they feel because you won’t listen to them or you will blame them or you will make them feel worthless.
Towards the excuses we give rapists.
Boys will be boys. Boys need to have sex, it’s a physiological need. He was her boyfriend, it’s her fault for dating him in the first place. He was turned on by her short skirt. He couldn’t control himself. She looks Russian, he thought she was a sex worker. He misunderstood her and thought she wanted it. She was too drunk. He was seduced by her eyes. She had kissed him so he assumed she wanted to have sex. A million excuses we will give men. Illogical, stupid excuses, all part of a system that won’t teach kids proper sex education but will justify sexual violence when it happens. A culture that equates men’s honor with honesty and nobility and courage and equates women’s honor with their vagina. We need to draw the firm line against all rape excuses, all justifications. We need to see men and women as equal sexual beings and demand the same levels of bodily autonomy for everyone. We need to treat everyone’s body – no matter what gender we attach to it – with dignity and respect.
All these misdirected hateful sentiments that have come out of Myriam’s attempted rape and murder, these racist feelings towards Syrian workers, these sectarian feelings, these vengeful feelings. We can understand the feelings. But we cannot condone how they are directed.
We honor Myriam’s memory by directing our anger at sexual violence. May she rest in peace and may the right justice be served. Fight rape.