NAYA| 'My City! My Space!:' Saying no to sexual harassment

There’s a need for everyone to take action and not behave as if it’s normal to be sexually harassed or assaulted, or even to see someone being so.
by Fatima Dia

6 December 2019 | 19:33

Source: by Annahar

  • by Fatima Dia
  • Source: Annahar
  • Last update: 6 December 2019 | 19:33

Organizers and Panelists gather for a picture after the discussion, “My City! My Space!” (Annahar Photo).

BEIRUT: Restored public ownership of public spaces and the freedom to speak up were key themes in the panel talk that took place on December 5. Held by The Arab Institute for Women, in collaboration with the United Nations Economic and Social Commission for Western Asia, “My City! My Space!” discussed the city of Beirut and gender-based-violence within the underlying scope of the revolution.

The event comes during the annual international campaign 16 Days of Activism Against Gender-Based-Violence. Founded in 1991 by a group of women activists, the campaign begins on November 25, the International Day of Elimination of Violence against Women, and ends on December 10, Human Rights Day.

The panelists present were Mona el Hallak, an architect and heritage preservation activist; Enas Hamdy, head of board of trustees of HarassMap in Egypt; Nay el Rahi, feminist writer and International Labour Organization certified gender auditor; and Haifa Subay, a Yemeni street artist who is responsible for the ongoing campaign #SilentVictims in her war-torn country. The panel was moderated by journalist and documentary producer Diana Moukalled.

"The panel is called 'My city, My space.' I really feel this topic is part of what we’ve been going through the past two months,” said Moukalled, referring to the impact of the revolution on the public. From reasserting that the streets belong to the people, to bringing out of the shadows important subjects such as sexual assault, the revolution has set new standards for discussions where speaking up about injustices is a duty.

"The discussion of violence against women is essential and is no longer for closed doors and classrooms only. It’s a public discussion for the streets, at the heart of the city,” Moukalled said.

Conforming with the personal aspect implied in the title of the event, Moukalled expressed her happiness in “having a downtown again.” Using the Arabic translation of the word, she emphasized the importance of having a “middle of the city.” The term implies a place that is a middle ground for all the different people of Lebanon.

Bringing up the tents and discussions that took place in downtown the past two months during the revolution, Moukalled spoke about how having a place with no metaphorical walls between people had allowed for important and sensitive topics to be discussed in the middle of the street, including women issues.

“We are not used to the idea that public spaces are ours,” El Hallak said. “I think the revolution is what brought the city back to us.”

In addition to bringing the city back, El Rahi explained that the revolution saw at the front lines students taking initiatives that showed keen determination and called for human rights.

El Rahi is the co-founder of Harasstracker, an app created specifically for anyone who is harassed or assaulted across Beirut. Through this app, they have managed to shine the light on the regularity in which harassment against women occurs, specially in public spaces.

“There was a feeling that [as women] our presence in public places always came hand in hand with a series of sexual harassment,” said El Rahi. The app, which was inspired by HarassMap of Egypt, creates a platform in which anyone who is harassed or attacked can speak up anonymously, pointing out the place in which it happened.

Both Hamdy and Subay also described sexual harassment in their respective countries as a normality. Much like the terms heard in Lebanon regarding victim-blaming, Hamdy said that if a girl speaks up about being harassed, the reaction is almost every time “why did you go there, then?,” “of course he will say that if you’re dressed like this,” and “I’m sure you said or did something to make him say/do that.”

Hamdy pointed out counter-arguments for every excuse that she has heard for rapists, or harassers. She said, if it was the clothes, then why are veiled women also raped? If it was something that was said or the look, then why are children raped? Subay reminded the audience of a case in Yemen, where a young girl of three, was raped.

El Rahi spoke about “collective accountability,” where she explains that there’s a need for everyone to take action and not behave as if it’s normal to be sexually harassed or assaulted, or even to see someone being so. And more importantly, all panelists agreed, no victim-blaming.

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Welcome to "NAYA," the newest addition to Annahar’s coverage. This section aims at fortifying Lebanese women’s voices by highlighting their talents, challenges, innovations, and women’s empowerment. We will also be reporting on the world of work, family, style, health, and culture. NAYA is devoted to women of all generations-NAYA Editor, Sally Farhat: Sally.farhat@annahar.com.lb

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