High Time We Battle Rape Culture in Lebanon

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Volunteers in 'KAFA', an NGO against gender based violence, perform a play depicting domestic violence. (Photo: Marwan Tahtah)

By: Nadine Moawad

Published Wednesday, January 11, 2012

On Saturday, January 14, we will be marching to the Lebanese Parliament to demand action against rape. Our demands are clear: we have a collective responsibility to fight rape in Lebanon. No woman should ever have to experience rape and if she does, she should never be made to feel guilty or ashamed about speaking up and fighting back.

To achieve this, the state should act immediately against rape culture. It must modify the archaic rape laws that offer to drop charges against rapists if they marry their victims. Marital rape should not be excluded from rape crimes.

The state must put systems in place to facilitate the reporting of rape – which starts with the training of police forces to treat complaints with minimum standards of professionalism and seriousness.

We must work with municipalities to ensure safer streets for women at any time of day or night. We must criminalize all forms of sexual violence, not just vaginal penetration. We must shift from the mentality that this is about protecting women’s “honor” to the fact that this is about ensuring women’s rights. Our educational system should refuse to leave any “taboo” topic unaddressed because taboos don’t protect young people, they only protect crimes and criminals.

We have a long way to go in our goals and it is no coincidence that the cry against rape has surfaced in Lebanon at this very moment in our history.

Since the mid-90s, the women’s movement has been struggling to find its momentum and make tangible gains for women’s rights. Critical questions have been at the heart of activist discussions for over a decade: Are we united? Are we more than just the sum of projects and NGOs? Are the women in Lebanon even aware of the politics of their everyday struggles? Are we a people’s movement at all? And perhaps the most persistent question remains: why aren’t we getting anywhere? Indeed it seems like the situation for women in Lebanon is regressing every year. Campaigns for women’s rights from nationality and family violence to electoral quotas and domestic workers’ rights have, time and time again, been blocked and overruled by a sectarian system entrenched with racism and sexism.

Cross-cutting through all of these campaigns, violence against women remains the core issue of any feminist movement. It’s where the literal pains are. It lies at the heart of our struggle for safety and dignity. Sexual violence and rape are by far the most degrading and physically and psychologically painful forms of gender-based violence. And not only do we not have any protection measures against sexual violence in Lebanon, we live in a culture that enables it.

Two key events in the past three months have made it clear that we, as a society and as a state, don’t understand rape. And if we don’t understand rape, it goes without saying that we have little understanding of the bodily integrity of women.

The first was the vicious attack against the proposed law to protect women from family violence, which resulted in the exclusion of marital rape as a form of violence. The debate around whether or not a husband could even rape his wife because it is her unconditional marital obligation to have sex with him was catapulted into the forefront of public discussion. The absurdity that we were even forced to explain why marital rape is rape was shocking.

The second was the horrific rape-motivated murder of Myriam Achkar, a 28-year-old woman in Lebanese town of Sahel Alma last November. The absurdity of the discourse that emerged from her murder focusing on the nationality of the rapist and steering clear of the actual issue of rape, was also shocking.

But the women’s movement is no stranger to absurdities.

In the heat of debate, it is easy for one to forget just how much of a depressing, misogynistic sign it is that women have to argue for their most basic of human rights, the most minimum of standards that afford us any dignity and respect in the society we share and build alongside men every day.

Women are Lebanese citizens too, they have the absolute right to pass on their nationality to their children. Women are family members too, they have the absolute right to protection from violence within family structures. Women are people too, they have the absolute right to be protected from sexual violence and rape. Women are workers too and they have the absolute right to decent wages and fair treatment in the workplace. How basic are these demands? How is there even room for debate? How normalized has misogyny become in our society that we cannot see our own oppression?

There comes a time for any oppressed class where a collective anger explodes. When you are angry on your own, it is easy for the system to break you and push you to the margins. But today, the Lebanese state with its corrupt politics, its failure of a police force, its brilliance at turning any issue into a polarized sectarian clash, its protection of elite benefits at the expense of the masses, and its continuous paralysis to effect any real social and economic reform, has managed to anger not a handful but an entire generation of young women who resist sexual violence on their own every single day. And these young women have had enough.

We have played the role of a docile women’s movement for too long. We obviously can no longer logically engage with a state infested with corruption and built on the very axes of discrimination we fight against. Our battle is against all enablers of rape culture from political parties to police departments, from advertising agencies to media stations, from religious fundamentalists to academic institutions. It is now time for all of us – women and men, citizens and migrants, students and workers – to come together and make an unequivocal demand that enough is enough and that the crime of rape is not up for discussion.

On Saturday, January 14, we will be marching to Parliament to demand action against rape. It is but a small step in our perpetual movement for gender justice and human dignity. It is your duty to join us.

Details about the March Against Rape can be found on the Facebook event.

Nadine Moawad is a feminist activist based in Beirut and working on gender justice with Nasawiya.

The views expressed by the author do not necessarily reflect Al-Akhbar's editorial policy.


Brilliant !

As a foreigner in your country I am appalled on a daily basis in regards to the liberties men here take in regards to sexual harassment. It seems to be normal and accepted to bother women in any kind of situation...whether she is opening a bank account, buying food or getting her passport checked. Some women here have told me they are used to it but it's just not normal for men to act like this. It is time for the Lebanese men to start acting in a civilized manner. I am seriously sick of the sleaziness that I encounter here.

"How normalized has misogyny become in our society that we cannot see our own oppression?"
That line hurts to read, only because its so true.

Brilliantly written!

We're on a roll and im already falling.

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