Education is key

Creating safe spaces for women in the workplace and on the streets

No woman should have to take it. Sexual harassment is one of the many prevalent issues Lebanon has yet to solve. Not only is it not reprimanded by the Penal Code, but sexual harassment is the product of socially reproduced gender discrimination indoctrinated through education or lack thereof, so much so that it has become an inevitable reality of what a woman will go through in our country. While government officials are neglecting the need to eradicate sexual harassment, it is time we become our own leaders and put an end to it.

With MP Ghassan Moukheiber’s draft law criminalizing sexual harassment still pending in Parliament (see Prosecution of sexual harassment), Executive urges economic, religious and social influencers to push for the law’s enactment and to create a well-rounded campaign that highlights the inequitable repercussions sexual harassment has on a woman. The campaign will include clauses from each think tank upholding the need to favor the law by confirming the sociological and mental effects sexual harassment can impose on a woman, which inhibit the latter from climbing the social and professional ladder.

Parliament is not our only target; we must forward the campaign to stakeholders who represent mainstream economic entities in Lebanon and invite them to join the campaign. This will help enforce sexual harassment prohibition into the code of conduct of Lebanese companies and offices to protect employees subjected to sexual harassment and discrimination in the private sector. Devising a plan to assess companies on gender-sensitive codes of conduct will also help make the workplace a safer environment. Once the assessment list is finalized, it must be publicized to inform people which companies did not instill a nondiscriminatory code of conduct and boycott it if they wish. This approach would encourage companies who do not have an inclusive approach to implement it, or least do so out of fear of reputational damages.

In 2013, a photograph portraying a woman with a bag over her head being pulled back with a belt attached to her neck was released to celebrate the collaboration of luxury handbag designer Johnny Farah and photographer Joe Kesrouani. The photograph immediately sparked outcry and women’s rights activists called for a boycott of Farah’s products. Although the designer issued a statement explaining the reason behind the photo, he ultimately changed it due to consumer pressure. 

Of course, campaigning for better protection and safety of women goes beyond the law. We must not forget that real change can only come with proper awareness. First and foremost, it is crucial to introduce gender-sensitive education in schools where activities and exercises can challenge students’ reasoning and expose them to different situations regarding issues of gender. Teaching gender equality in schools provides a base for students’ understanding which they will then carry into their lives beyond the educational system. In addition, students should be taught about the prevalence of sexual harassment against women in society, different ways to prevent it and the cruciality of consent. Secondly, Executive urges educational institutions to partner with NGOs to arrange seminars to shed light on sexual harassment from local experts’ points of view armed with real-life experiences and developed knowledge on the subject. Third, the media should grant NGOs airtime by inviting them onto primetime shows or by teaming up with ad agencies to create fairly-priced awareness ads in order to maximize their visibility and influence. We know that social efforts should not be limited to organizations because change starts with each individual. Harassers should be punished  and exposed at every level; be it through public shaming, scolding or sharing experiences on social media platforms, the word on sexual harassment should always be out in order to familiarize people with its prevalence and allow it to become a common cause. One way we can raise awareness is by creating support programs through which anyone who is harassed can share their stories as well as give and receive advice. Earlier this year a website called HarassTracker was developed to help people identify where sexual harassment occurs and to collect the received data for upcoming campaigns fighting sexual harassment. Ultimately, however, the onus is on society to educate men not to harass women.

Change in social behavior cannot happen overnight, especially not in a society that puts women in secondary societal and economic positions and portrays them as the weaker sex. Equality is at the heart of national progression, and as long as we are dealing with prejudice, women will not find their deserved place in society. Sexual harassment in Lebanon must become a thing of the past.

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