Fighting for Gender Equality in Lebanon & What Remains to be Done

These are some key takeaways from Lebanon’s civil society parallel report for Beijing +25 Conference. Where are we falling short, what insights can propel us forward, and what remains to be done?

Labor & Representation

  • Lebanon holds one of the lowest rates of gender equality in political representation and leadership. 
  • Factors limiting the engagement of women in the political field are prevalent at the financial, legal, and social levels
  • Laws, regulations, and gender and social norms are main barriers for women in the labor force, more specifically married women. These norms consider unpaid work (women spending averagely 60 hrs/week) for women their only responsibility hindering their entry into the workforce. 
  • As of 2018’s parliamentary elections, the share of women elected only rose from 3.1% to 4.7%. The intersection of formal and informal institutions of power sharing created undefeatable obstacles to women’s political representation.

Legality & Culture

  • Lebanon has enacted the fewest changes to discriminatory laws over personal status and citizenship.
  • Although statistics show progress and equality, traditional stereotyping and the age-old patriarchal culture still prevents some girls from participating in the education system particularly since free compulsory education has not yet been imposed by the government of Lebanon.
  • Lebanon has not established a national minimum age for marriage and completely delegates this responsibility to religious authorities, all religious sects allow marriage for girls under the age of 18 if the girl’s guardian gives consent.
  • Minimum changes in employment and violence/harassment laws have taken place; and the changes hold loopholes within them that further discriminate against women.
  • Three legislative proposals on child marriage have been discussed by the Parliament; the matter is still in custody of the Parliament.
  • Laws toward honor crimes have been proposed for amendment, yet not enacted. 
  • Amendments on laws on adultery and sexual activity, still discriminate against women.
  • Evidence suggests that the Syrian refugee crisis has contributed to an increase in child marriage and was adopted as a negative coping strategy among displaced Syrian families residing in Lebanon.
  • Refugees face particular obstacles in accessing protection of the Domestic Violence Law. Women and girls exposed to violence are not able to seek help from the Internal Security Forces if they are illegal residents or residents in camps
  • Lebanese legal system is now in a state of contradiction: on the one hand, there is a law criminalizing human trafficking, but on the other hand, there are administrative decrees and regulations that open the doors to it.
  • Lebanese media echoes the mainstream patriarchal societal discourse and reinforces existing stereotypes.
  • There are no specific laws protecting people from hate crimes or discrimination based on their sexual orientation, gender identity, or intersex status. There is no specific legal protection or recognition of transgender women or men.
  • The Lebanese law does not provide or mainstream any gender-related matter within the prison.

Health

  • Lebanon was able to achieve maternal mortality rates and infant’s under-five mortality rates below those called for by sustainable development goals by 2030.
  • However, marital status and socioeconomic background are important factors in determining women’s access to health services.
  • Easy and affordable access to contraception especially for women living in rural areas, youth and vulnerable groups is still absent.
  • Many persons with disabilities are left with unmet needs, which is detrimental to their physical and mental wellbeing.
  • The Lebanese State fails to provide financial assistance and other support services to families of children with disabilities.

SOLUTIONS REQUIRED

  • Roadmap for public institutions to initiate a transformative process towards mainstreaming gender in its strategies, policies, and plan, and across services provided:
    • Institute gender mainstreaming committees at the policy level within public institutions.
    • Reduce the gender-gap related to gender roles and gender-based division of labor.
    • Develop gender-responsive process in all services and projects targeting all citizens
  • To build on the cracks in the political structure and to sustain women’s voice and agency numerous positive measures should be taken:
    • Structural reforms and laws that protect against all forms of violence 
    • National strategy to advance women in politics
    • Change in social norms, working on gender at the collective level.
    • A need for capitalization of experiences and for enhancing the coordination and synergies among women activists in Lebanon
  • The main challenge for the successful implementation of the 1325 NAP lies in the funding, along with the absence of coordination mechanisms and identification of tasks and roles among the different governmental institutions.

To maintain our hope and commitment to these fights, let us recognize that on the front of marches and discussion groups, sit-ins and roadblocks, women have been a key driving force behind the movement of the revolution. Changes are made within many spaces and using many different tools. For example, the contribution of Lebanese rural women to the development process is rather underestimated and undervalued as a result of cultural, legislative, social, economic and regional policy biases. We as women must continue to amplify and support one another across socio-economic, geographically, racial, and ethnic lines. 

Illustration & Feminist Superheros: Melanconnie from Priya Comics

Interview by Carla Haid  

CARLA: Connie Michelle Molina, you are from Bogota, Colombia. You’re an artist, an  illustrator, a character designer, a creative director, a media artist… So, my first question  is: what made you want to do art in the first place? Is it a « given  skill » since childhood, or is it something you learned little by little? 

CONNIE: Well, since I could hold a pen I started drawing. I was not especially good at first but I  always felt like I had something there. And art, it’s something I don’t judge myself at. I am good at  judging myself at other stuff but not at art. And everytime, I keep drawing until it gets better.  Drawing is really something I started during my childhood and that I never stopped doing. I started  with pencils and coloured pencils and then moved on ink pencils. I also painted a lot but it was  mostly drawing with pencils and watercolours.  

CARLA : What support do you use for your work? I saw on your website that you use lot  of animations, how do you do that? 

CONNIE : I bought a tablet last year, but I’ve been doing it on paper most of the time. Everytime,  especially for the work you saw online, I do it frame by frame. I play a lot with that, some are  slower, others faster. I draw each frame by hand so I do the drawing several times. My thesis was on  animations, so this is the reason why you can find a lot of animations on my Tumblr.  

CARLA : You have a deep interest in art linked with gender. I’ve seen in your various  work that you mainly draw women. Why women?  

CONNIE : I just do it. I think it is super pleasing. It’s not like I prefer drawing women rather than  men or that I don’t like to draw men but I think women are so beautiful and express the outside  world so well. I always end up drawing more and more women. Also, I am part of a gender group  here in Bogota, which is helping to achieve gender equality in different areas (theatres etc). I also  like going through a lot of deconstruction in this gender topic, but I had the chance to go to a liberal  art school, and learned a lot from my female artist friends.  

CARLA : Do you try to convey a message through your work, as the one of gender  equality for example? 

CONNIE : My illustrations are most of the time based on a context, on a social context. Many  things about my work in the past were about myself in my art, but now it’s more about political  twists, with the aim of delivering a message. Most of it has a meaning or a context behind.  

CARLA : Would you say it’s easy to touch people and raise their awareness through art? CONNIE: Well, I think it’s easier when you deliver something that is easy to understand but the  power of the image is really important. Standard of beauty goes this fast, but if you see different  messages like « be beautiful as you are », maybe you can start thinking differently .  

CARLA : How is gender equality in your country, is it a sensitive subject ? 

CONNIE: Colombia is a very conservative country, and we are really holding tight to past traditions. Gender is not really a common topic here. There is a lot of sexism here and sensitive topics, even in the households. There are a lot of things you are expected to do as a girl, you are not supposed to chase greater things than that. If you don’t have children, it’s sacrilege. The way you look physically too. There is also lot of violence here against women, domestic violence and murder. We have a long way to go. In the women’s movement protests, violence and police brutality are common. There is a lot of hate. The average Colombian girl has to be not « that thin » but with « big boobs and big butts », they must have « meat to hold ». Girls have to have long straight hair and little make up, have to be beautiful without not a lot of make up. They have to be dressed in bright colors, but not too much, have to be short but not too much, tall but not too tall…  

CARLA : What would be the thing we could do to improve gender equality ? 

CONNIE : Well, there’s a lot of things to do. I think everyone, from their own place, should try  not to be silent about gender equality and abuse. They need to raise their voices and stand up for  female friends and themselves. It is a key to have allies in this fight and trans people, men…have to  be included in this fight. The world is not just about ourselves, it’s about everyone and other people  around. Everyone should take the lead in the fight and stand up for themselves. There’s a feminist movement here in Colombia. Something really cool is happening which was born from the art school and university: making sorority in public university (which is really rare). Public universities usually hate the private ones. But I noticed a lot of sorority between us lately. Last year, we made a program called « Destapa la Olla ». We made a public denouncement of abuse of every type: rape, pressure etc; and we discovered more than 30 girls denounced the headmaster of my faculty of science. It was so shocking. I illustrated a frog with his face (because he’s a specialist in the matter), made a giant poster, saying that the poisonous frog here is the headmaster of this faculty. 

I also have a friend of mine, she is such an inspiration. She did a performance at a medical center,  where a doctor raped a lot of patients. It was mass coverage and it was so revealing. I think the  movement has been getting stronger each time. These are little victories that just make a difference.  But to get back to sorority in University, the movement grew bigger, almost in every University in  Bogota right now, where lots of girls are involved in different contexts. We created a very strong  network of support within us all.  

CARLA : You participated in the Baturu campaign for gender equality. What did you  think of this campaign? Why did you decide to participate ? 

CONNIE : I think this campaign was really good. Places like Colombia or China are not that  different culturally. It was really nice to see different countries, to draw characters that have already  existed before. I loved participating in this campaign because, who doesn’t like international  representation and interesting projects like that? On top of that, groups of women superheros are not  something you see everyday. Why is it that drawing 5 men super heros seems normal but drawing 5 women super heros is not. I am super glad I made it. I am glad I participated in this project because it was really cool. The freedom is not just being strong women that are not perfect, but just being themselves. Because, most of the time still, a women superhero has to be perfect.  

CARLA : One piece of your work is the poster of this project. What did you want to represent  through this work?  

CONNIE : Sorority. That is something you don’t see that much here in Colombia. Being friends  with another girl is not that common. But it’s important not to see another girl as an enemy or as  competition. I learned sorority in art school and it was the best thing in my life: being friends with  another girl. In this project, I tried to make this group bonded, like real friends. They know each  other and care about each other. Everyone has different personalities but they take care of each other.  

For example, the lady in green pants is super moody but everyone knows her well and tries to make  her happy too. The black girl with the green and purple suit was my original character. I created it when I was 16 actually. My favourite one is the one in the pink outfit. When I drew her it came out so great! She has a nice power, she can control with music, it looks so mysterious. We also  represented Natalia Ponce de Leon (with the tiny panther), a woman who was attacked with acid.  20% of her body was damaged. She is a celebrity here in Colombia because she made a law about  acid attacks. She’s a feminist and activist, and created a foundation with her name to help people  with severe burns. Colombia is the second country with acid attacks, the first one, is India. 

Exporting the War on Terror: Islamophobia in Asia

Rutgers Center for Security, Race, and Rights held an online event on January 27th, 2021 entitled, “Exporting the War on Terror: Islamophobia in Asia”. The speaker, Professor Khaled Beydoun, focused on the discrimination of Muslims in China and India.

Professor Khaled Beydoun is a speaker at the University of Arkansas, Fayetteville School of Law. He is also a Senior Affiliate Facility at University of California – Berkeley. He has written a book named American Islamophobia: Understanding the Roots and Rise of Fear and can be seen occasionally in the New York Times, Washington Post, and Times Magazine.

India is home to the second largest population of Muslims behind Indonesia. India has recently had a new political party called the BJP who runs on a platform of Hindu supremacy. Some newly implemented laws allow for religious extremists and discrimination against Muslims, which disproportionately affect women. These new citizenship laws are particularly stacked against women who have been historically barred from land and education, making it nearly impossible to prove citizenship. In the latest Global Gender Gap Report, India failed nearly all gender equality indicators. Muslims do not have the right to pass citizenship to their children. India discriminates against Muslims although they are not a minority. Women’s rights are slowly being improved by access to education and the internet. Muslim girls are more likely to attend school in poorer families, in comparison to their male counterparts, than in richer families. 

The Uighur people, a Muslim ethnic group that lives in the Xinjiang Region, also known as East Turkistan (where they have no territorial autonomy) is experiencing a silent genocide at the hands of the Chinese government. In 2016, the government leaders enacted strict and violent policies, such as the strike hard campaign, against minorities that lead to mass arrests, sending them to prisons or concentration camps. In some cases, non-Uighur people were sent to live in Uighur houses to watch them. The government has worked on increasing digital surveillance for small things such as eating halal meat. Many other countries have refused to acknowledge the genocide and the violation of human rights. Uighur women are subjected to forced pregnancy checks, medication that stops their menstruation, forced abortions, and surgical sterilization. By decreasing the births of the Uighur people, the government is essentially seeking the eradication of these people. 

The United States can be pointed to as the creators and framer of the War against Terrorism and the xenophobia that has underpinned its policies and actions since. The government has implemented harsher laws against Muslims and has normalized constant surveillance on all Arab Countries. George W. Bush spoke with China and India leaders to ask them to join the war against terror. The US needs to acknowledge this genocide and China’s ongoing violations against human rights. A strong show of support remains unlikely, as China and the US could risk their economic relations. We continue to imagine and work toward a world where the protection of human beings is at the center of global politics.

Really Ready for Change? Examining Attitudes Regarding Gender Equality

Yunqing Han

A study by UN Women conducted in 2019 (and released this year) reminds us that yes, gender stereotypes exist, and YES, they are detrimental to our quest for equality. The 2019 UN Women paper, aptly titled Are You Ready for Change? quantifies harmful gender stereotypes to inform decision-makers of the prevalence of discriminatory attitudes that hinder gender equality.

The study was undertaken in ten countries: Colombia, India, Japan, Kenya, Nigeria, The Philippines, Sweden, Turkey, United Arab Emirates, and United States.

While these countries agree that gender equality is “important,” all ten countries show significant gender stereotyping. The respondents’ perceived gaps are small in education and healthcare, but big in media, the public sphere, and homes (5). This perhaps reminds us that while the MENA region needs improvement in women’s rights, the issue is far from just regional.

Let’s now zoom into the Arab country of the ten, the United Arab Emirates. Respondents perceive women to have equal access to education and healthcare as men and women feel similarly safe at home compared to their male counterparts. Great. However, respondents believe that women have less control over their lives in deciding who to marry, managing personal finances, and buying property. Women also have a harder time running for elected office. Although nearly 90% agree that “it is essential for society to treat women as equal to men,” around 50% of surveyed individuals perceive media to perpetuate gender stereotypes, 38% believe that men should be paid more than women for the same job, and 31% believe that a woman should not earn more than her husband.

So, are we really ready for change when we say gender equality is important but also have beliefs that may indicate otherwise? However we interpret the data, we should applaud the UAE for giving women (perceived) equal opportunities in certain areas of life. But there are more that can be done, and we should look ahead to that.