BEIRUT: People took to Hamra streets in solidarity with survivors of sexual assault, protesting against gender-based-violence on December 7. Holding banners, and chanting empowering slogans, the people marched from Bliss street to Riad el Solh.
The ongoing revolution in Lebanon has opened doorways for several discussions to take place openly. At the frontlines, the protest against sexual assault and harassment aims to remove the stigma behind these topics, and encourage survivors to speak up and pinpoint violators in order to create safer environments.
“This case of Marwan Habib is just the beginning, a guy will think a thousand times before touching a girl now,” said Noura, one of the protesters. “The most important thing is that people don’t remain silent anymore. This revolution was an opportunity for people to talk more. If you want me to count the times [a woman has been harassed]...I swear you can’t count.”
Based on a report by the Internal Security Forces from 2017, one out four women in Lebanon is subjected to sexual harassment. Six percent of Lebanese people know at least one person who has been sexually assaulted, and yet only 24 percent of the victims report the assault. In addition, 49 percent of sexual assault cases are from within the family. According to ISF, from December 2016 till the end of 2017, there was an average of 13 women reporting sexual assault cases per month.
“This protest is very important because it will give a public awareness about the struggles of women. I hope it’ll make a change if we do protests continuously,” Nay Hnein, another protester, told Annahar.
A study carried by HarassTracker in 2018 found that most men, as well as generally older women, typically blame the women who were harassed. This is one of the issues today’s protest tackled.
A video ABAAD uploaded to its Facebook page in 2017, where an actress, dressed in a skirt and a tight shirt, acted the part of a woman who had been raped, disclosed the regularity with which survivors are blamed rather than the perpetrators.
“I’m here because I want to feel safe at night,” Petra Rafeh told Annahar. “I have the right to even go to clubs and pubs and feel safe there too.”
HarassTracker’s study also found that there is a general lack of understanding of what sexual harassment or assault encompass. The Merriam-Webster dictionary defines sexual harassment as "the uninvited and unwelcome verbal or physical behavior of a sexual nature,” whereas sexual assault is defined as “sexual contact that usually involves force upon a person without their consent, or is inflected upon a person who is incapable of giving consent, or who places the assailant in a position of trust or authority.”
Within the Lebanese legislation, women and girls are protected under the law from domestic violence. Article 522, which allowed foe exoneration by marriage to the rapist, was removed in 2017; but according to a UN report of the legislation in Lebanon, there are some cases where exoneration by marriage is still allowed. In addition, there are no concrete laws that protect women from sexual harassment; the Labour Code, for example, doesn’t prohibit workplace sexual harassment. Protesters on the street today are not only showing support to survivors, but fighting measures that are structurally harmful to women.
“Women’s fight against the system is the same fight against the government,” said Julia, another protester on the street. “It’s one patriarchal misogynist system that puts us all in danger.”
Today's march demanded a safer environment and adopted a grander and more humane social perspective regarding survivors, specifically by shifting the social tendency in Lebanese culture to blame the survivor to blaming the perpetrator.
“Collectively, we encourage each other. One voice doesn’t do much, but the more voices join, the stronger you become, and the more people will grow braver to talk,” said Noura.
Manal Makkieh contributed to this article.
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.email@example.com
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