Director’s Update: April 2017

The month began with our participation in AUB’s Knowledge is Power multidisciplinary conference on discrimination and sexual harassment where IWSAW was present on two panels: Sexual harassment and violence: Conceptions and on-the-ground comparative realities and Art as an alternative catalyst for change in Lebanon. This conference raised some delicate issues about sexual harassment – how we define it, and if we are able to address it, and how we need to commit every day to ENDING it! 

IWSAW travelled to Switzerland and Kuwait, and participated in a range of national events as well – continuously committing to national, regional, and international outreach! At the Seventh International Conference on: “Women and the Economy”, organized by Women’s Research and Studies Center at the Faculty of Social Sciences in Kuwait University, IWSAW’s Carol Khater delivered a presentation on “Gender Gap in Labor Market Indicators: Challenges to be Faced in Lebanon.” The conference brought together experts, academicians, and young women entrepreneurs from the region to highlight the role of international organizations in fostering women’s economic empowerment, the gender gap in the labor market indicators, the role of the state, education, and the private sector in empowering women to enter the labor market.

I was invited to present a paper at the first international GENiUS-Workshop on the topic of “Concepts that matter! Terminologies of Women and Gender in Transnational Perspective” held at the University of Zurich. GENiUS (Gender in University and Society) is an informal Swiss-Arab Network of academics specialized in the field of Gender Studies in and on the Arab region that aims at fostering scientific exchange on the levels of research, teaching and institution building. It was created following discussions a first exploratory workshop on “Feminism and Theory in the Arab World”. I presented on the Institute itself, and our experience in building and expanding the region’s FIRST Institute for Women’s Studies. This means addressing our evolution in the 44 years since we were established – where we started, where we’ve been, and where we’re going! Stay tuned for more on this…

Additionally, Moufeeda Haidar, our LAU Engagement strategist, attended the inception phase of “Roots Lab.” The two-day workshop took place at Oxfam and was the result of a collaboration between FRIDA the Young Feminist Fund, Global Fund for Women, Oxfam and the Young Foundation. The workshop aimed to develop and test a social innovation incubator for young women’s rights activists. The main objective of Roots Lab is to support young women activists by developing their ideas to enable them to implement projects that seek to achieve gender equality.

Finally, Tala Harb attended the International Labor Organization (ILO) meeting on “The Tripartite on the Future of Work in the Arab States”. Dr. Nader Kabbani, Senior Fellow at the Brooking Institute in Doha, delivered a presentation on how to boost women’s employment prospects to shape a just future. In his presentation, Dr. Kabbani claimed that one of the main factors to improve the labor market in the Arab region is to encourage regional economic cooperation, improve technical education and introduce innovative and technological tools. He emphasized that expanding the labor market’s capacity would allow an increase in the economic participation of women, stating that women in the Arab world suffer from the highest level of unemployment on a global level, specifically refugees and immigrants.

This month’s Food 4 Thought speaking series was about “Smart Sex”!  In a country where discussion about sexual health is stigmatized - and nonexistent in school curricula! - youth tend to seek information online from unreliable sources. This dangerous practice might lead to misconceptions and dangerous practices. We were lucky to have LAU’s faculty members from the School of Pharmacy, Dr. Ghada El Khoury and Dr. Wissam Kabbara, join us to discuss sexual health and safe sex. Additionally, Sara Abou Zaki, from Marsa Sexual Health Center, talked about sexual health in Lebanon, and how it is perceived as a taboo in Arab societies. The result is often shame, embarrassment, and an inability to control our own sexual health! Sara presented the center’s scope of work and services and encouraged youth to pass by for a free – and completely anonymous - checkup. In short, we were delighted by the engaged audience and critical questions, reminding us that we need to continue to have courageous conversations on these issues! We are ready to take this further – and want your advice in how best to do so!

LAU students have been active in creating events to promote human rights and equality. The People’s Society Club at LAU Byblos embarked on a mission by challenging LAU students’ perspectives on abortion and whether it should be legalized. To present their findings, the club organized a panel discussion and produced a video summarizing student perspectives – obviously not in agreement! Pro-choice students voiced their opinions, like one young woman who said: “women should have control over their bodies, it is their right to choose. But abortion must be a last resort.” Other students, from the pro-life camp, felt that taking a child’s life away is not within our hands - regardless of the circumstances. So, what do YOU think? Debate – discuss - and post on our Facebook page!

On another occasion, the People’s Society Club organized a panel discussion on “The Challenges Facing the Lebanese LGBTQI Community”. The panelists included the Lebanese Medical Association for Sexual Health (LebMash), MENA Organization for Services, Advocacy, Integration and Capacity-Building (MOSAIC), and an LAU faculty member from the Department of Psychology. The discussion was rich and multilayered, combining legal, social and psychological perspectives. They explained that in Lebanon, LBGTQI persons are subject to discrimination, animosity, and verbal or physical abuses. Charbel Maydaa, Director and Founder of MOSAIC, affirmed that the LGBTQI community suffers from emotional impacts of this discrimination, leading to depression and high rates of suicide. On top of this, they are often marginalized from their communities and society and criminalized. This is unacceptable! We’re so proud of the People’s Society Club and the way they confront such challenging issues! For more information on sexual orientations and gender identities and expressions (SOGIE) in the Arab region, check out our Country Gender Profiles.

IWSAW remains strongly committed to building the capacity of law enforcement personnel to identify, prevent and respond appropriately to gender-based violence (GBV). As you may have read in previous updates, we launched the second phase of our project this year. This is a continuation of years of support and engagement with the Lebanese security sector. The 5-week training entailed workshops and interactive sessions with 35 officers, women and men, from the Internal Security Officer (ISF) and General Security (GS). On an exciting note, the ISF and GS directors decided to integrate this unique Arabic training material into their curriculum, and now it can be shared with other Lebanese security agencies. Eventually the material can also be shared with security institutions in other Arab countries!

Our Gender in Development and Humanitarian Assistance (GDHA) Diploma continues to deliver interactive and exciting classes. This month we introduced “Gender Human Rights and Social Justice” and “Gender and Socioeconomic Empowerment”. Don’t forget - you can apply for the full GDHA Diploma or register for individual courses!

On the last day of the month, the Institute proudly marched in solidarity with the migrant domestic workers’ community, sending a political message to the government and the community that domestic workers’ conditions are unacceptable and their rights must be protected. Migrant domestic workers – particularly women – endure a range of abuses, illegal deportation, violations of their rights, discrimination, and suffer a lack of legal protection. These workers must be able to access the full range of support, protection, services, and rights! And if we believe in human rights – there should be no exceptions!  

Yours in equality,