BEIRUT: As part of the NYC-Beirut Briefing Series, university students led a conversation on sexual harassment on university campuses in an unprecedented initiative. The series and event are part of an effort to strengthen transnational dialogue.
The conference “Sexual Harassment Beyond #MeToo,” involved a number of AUB students communicating with U.S Mount Holyoke College students through live web cam.
Hosted by the American University of Beirut, KIP Project on Gender and Sexuality, Sulaiman S. Olayan School of Business, Five College Women’s Studies Research Center, and the AUB Women & Gender Studies initiative, the event took place on April 12.
The seminar covered a number of topics such as safety administration on campuses, international human rights standards, and student activism. Each speaker linked the topics to their own national and local context.
“We as a group are trying to highlight the need for transnational feminist dialogue that comes from grassroots organizers,” Charlotte Karam, professor at the School of Business and KIP project director, said. “Universities have a built-in transnational mechanism of communication, they have a built-in mechanism for research and impact, and they have resources to partner with activists and inform government.”
Among the addressed issues was the policies universities have in place to respond to complaints of sexual harassment citing Title IX, which is a US federal civil rights law adopted by AUB.
In addition to outlining where administrations or policies fall short, there was an emphasis on the obstacles survivors may face throughout the reporting process namely the lack of appropriate measures of accountability when dealing with perpetrators.
Students on both sides also highlighted to what extent Lebanon and the U.S. abide by international principles aimed at protecting survivors of sexual assault. Lebanon's reservations on certain CEDAW articles and the refusal of the US to sign CEDAW were used as the prime examples.
Distinction between the two countries was also done when speaking about domestic laws that pertain to sexual harassment. Students discussed the changes to sexual harassment policies under the Trump administration, with the definition being revised to make it harder for victims to seek justice. Lebanon in contrast, does not have a policy to address any sexual crimes apart from rape. Any attempts at changing this situation have either been inadequate or have been ridiculed by public officials.
“It’s a place where I can finally voice my frustrations,” Natasha Mouawad, Political studies student at AUB and one of the speakers who talked about the international framework surrounding sexual harassment, told Annahar.
She added that while international frameworks for combating sexual harassment can be “a stepping stone,” she recommends “policies can be developed by local activists from different backgrounds who actually know what sexual harassment in Lebanon is like”
The conference also highlighted the importance of student activism, calling for fewer limitations on students’ mobilization and protests.
The event concluded by taking questions and input from the audience on both ends, and the students were able to find countless similarities in their struggles.
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.firstname.lastname@example.org
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