Another year and the battle against gender-based violence is still being hard-fought in Lebanon. To mark the 26th global “16 days of activism against gender-based violence” campaign, local and international organizations rallied to bring the issue further to the fore.
“Based on our work ... I would say that 2017 compared to 2007 there is definitely an increase in the public awareness toward issues related to GBV,” Roula Masri, director of programs at local NGO ABAAD, told The Daily Star, pointing to increased media, social and governmental attention paid to the issue.
“Of course it’s not enough,” she added. “But it is definitely a start.”
ABAAD, which works on issues surrounding gender equality, was one of the organizations celebrating the successful results of years of campaigning to repeal of Article 522 of the Penal Code – known as the “rape law” – that allowed a rapist to escape prosecution if they married their victim. Parliament voted to abolish the controversial law in April.
Winning the battle has only spurred on women’s rights groups to keep pushing for reform. During the 16-day campaign, ABAAD launched the LifeForLife campaign in collaboration with the government’s National Commission for Lebanese Women and U.N. Women.
This new campaign takes aim at the whole of Chapter 7 of the Penal Code, which deals with everything pertaining to sexual assault, and calls for a life sentence for perpetrators of incest rape. Masri noted that most of sexual assault cases where the survivor is a minor involve a relative, making it less likely that the crime will be reported. “We wanted to go further and have the whole Chapter  reviewed and women really protected from sexual and GBV inside the household not only just ... in the public sphere,” Masri said.
While Masri said that ABAAD’s work shows there is an increase in reporting incidents, “women are still hesitant and don’t believe ... that reporting would guarantee them full justice.” Another aim of the campaign is to raise awareness of the necessity of reporting sexual abuse.
Raising awareness is the aim of this focused period of activism around GBV that has taken place annually since 1991 between Nov. 25, the International Day for the Elimination of Violence Against Women, and International Human Rights Day on Dec. 10.
The Arab Foundation for Freedoms and Equality released a short video in late November about the importance of consent in sex that grabbed attention through its simple, but effective message. In the video, a seemingly well-meaning aunt-type figure cajoles and eventually force feeds a young woman cake. “I won’t take no for an answer,” she insists. “Once you have your first bite, you will start wanting more.”
Leila Awada, a lawyer at KAFA (enough) Violence and Exploitation emphasized to The Daily Star that the 16 days of activism is just another way of highlighting the ongoing work of the organization. “We gathered all issues we have previously worked on and shed more light on them,” she said. This included working with the Internal Security Forces to distribute pamphlets highlighting the ISF’s duties and laws that women should be aware of.
They drew attention as well to a stalled law criminalizing sexual harassment they had worked on with Minister of State for Women’s Affairs Jean Ogasapian and other women’s rights organizations. “It was passed by the Cabinet a year ago,” Awada said, “but the Justice Department is still working on it.”
Ogasapian is pushing ahead with other projects, announcing Monday the launch of a project to estimate the economic cost in Lebanon of violence against women. The project aims to introduce a reform plan regarding the status of women and to establish a scientific foundation aimed to reduce the incidence of gender-based violence in line with international conventions. U.N. Women and United Nations Economic and Social Commission for Western Asia launched a regional project to estimate the cost of violence from Beirut in October.
Several international governments showed their support for the campaign in Lebanon as well.
Since Prime Minister Justin Trudeau took office in Canada, the country has implemented what it calls a feminist foreign policy, that aims to place human and women’s rights at its heart.
As part of this, newly minted Canadian Ambassador Emmanuelle Lamoureux brought the White Ribbon campaign – also started in 1991 by a group of Canadian men to inspire other men and boys to take a stand on violence against women – to Lebanon. Lamoureux discussed this approach to foreign policy at a regional conference held Tuesday and Wednesday at the Lebanese American University on legislations on violence against women in the MENA region. Organized by the Norwegian People’s Aid, the Sweden Development Partner and Diakonia, the conference highlighted legislative successes in Lebanon, Jordan and Tunisia but emphasized the challenges of implementation.
It was aimed at offering an opportunity to celebrate successes and sharing best practices – a valuable exercise in a region that the World Economic Forum said in 2016 “as a whole is the least gender equal in the world.” The ranking is not going unchallenged though, as demonstrated by a number of actions and events, as well as social media support that is taking place during the 16-day global campaign in Lebanon and beyond.