Director’s Update: May 2017

May brought lovely weather and incredible energy – from research on masculinities to innovative awareness campaigns to technology for youth – we’ve covered it all!

We were proud to be among the partners for the regional conference on “Masculinities in the Arab World: Trajectories to Peace and Gender Equality.” The event was organized to launch the IMAGES study, a groundbreaking multi-country study in Egypt, Morocco, Lebanon and Palestine that surveyed 10,000 men to better understand their attitudes on gender equality and perceptions of masculinity. It’s no surprise to learn that traditional attitudes about women, gender roles, and gender equality remain entrenched. But – there’s about a quarter of the men surveyed who are more open. These men support equality – how did they get there?! The research explains that personal histories, family context, and life circumstances all contribute to those men’s views on gender equality.

And for women – there’s still work to do. Not all women are advocates of equality. This is generational, surely, but also based on circumstances such as socio-economic status. The study also exposed the challenge of finding work and fulfilling traditionally-masculine “provider” roles as a significant source of stress for men. This is magnified in times of economic uncertainty, particularly in countries affected by conflict. The research provides insight to how we might create better programming for men and boys in support of gender equality.

The Institute also dabbled in technology this month, attending the Tech4Cause Conference organized by Tahaki on the use of technology to improve the efficiency of civil society organizations. The conference introduced Arabia GIS, a digital application targeting NGOs and youth to provide information and statistics through visual aids, namely maps. The event shed the light on the importance of integrating technological tools - for instance creating innovative ways to respond to crises by accelerating access to information internally as well as externally to stakeholders. Very important stuff!

I was delighted to attend the launch of the Be 100 Ragl III event, organized by The Womanity Foundation in collaboration with Beirut Design Week 2017. The event brought together a diverse range of speakers to discuss creative design – what it means, and how it can contribute to raising awareness of women’s rights. We also discussed edutainment, meaning using technologies such as online games, TV programs, and so on to be both educational and enjoyable. This is a great vehicle to advance understandings of equality and to address challenging issues in non-threatening ways.

The message here is that creative design, pop culture, and social media are tools at our disposal to raise awareness on women’s rights and advance gender equality. For instance, check out the series Madam President, a TV drama that tells the story of Noura Sa’ad, the first female President of Jabalein, a fictional Middle Eastern country. The series, created by Search for Common Ground rekindled a debate on female leadership in the Middle East – a great way to get a dialogue going on women in politics!

We were especially impressed by the global social media platform Love Matters, a safe and friendly space for young adults to talk about sex, sexual orientations, relationships, and any other questions they might not have been able to ask.  This platform provides much needed, credible information for safe and healthy sexual issues for Arab youth. Check it out!

One of the most exciting events of the month was No Demand No Supply – a performance conceived and directed by Sahar Assaf in collaboration with the American University of Beirut (AUB)Theater Initiative. The performance was based on interviews with Syrian women and delivered a reading of Lebanon’s 2016 sex trafficking scandal, capturing the harrowing ordeal of the survivors of the Chez Maurice “torture chambers” where a group of Syrian women were trafficked and tricked into prostitution. Performers narrated the tortures experienced by these women, held captive for 9 months without sunlight and fresh air, and raped on average 10 times daily.

This event was unapologetically by women, about women, and told from women’s perspectives. This powerful and moving performance left us angry, motivated to fight for justice, and hopefully will trigger nationwide conversations and condemnations of what is the most shamefully lucrative business in modern day history. 

We have said before and we will continue to say that gender-based violence is the most egregious and unacceptable human rights violation of our time – and therefore the most important challenge for us all to address! As one example of our commitment to GBV prevention and response, our very own Moufeeda Haidar escorted the global GBV consultant Jeanne Ward to evaluate GBV issues in Lebanon, visiting national and international NGOs and conducting focus groups discussions with Syrian women refugees and adolescent girls.

Also this month, IWSAW Assistant Director Myriam Sfeir wrote an excellent article on the Lebanese law allowing rapists to escape punishment by marrying the women they’ve abused. Myriam explained that rapists have unusual privileges in Lebanon. By virtue of Article 522 of the Lebanese Penal Code, a person who commits this abhorrent crime can be acquitted and escape punishment if they marry the woman they abused. For the survivor herself, it is not enough to endure the trauma of rape; her punishment continues in that she must live with her rapist for years afterwards! Lebanon is not the only country in the region condoning such abuses: Algeria, Bahrain, Iraq, Kuwait, Libya, Palestine and Syria all still allow rapists to escape punishment by marrying the women they raped.

And finally, I wrote another piece on gender-based violence in the region. We know that gender-based violence would not be possible if we achieved gender equality, and yet, our reality in the region is one of pervasive gender IN-equality. So, unless we’re addressing inequalities everywhere – we will achieve equality nowhere.

We have a lot to do – but now is the time to fight for the changes that we seek. As the saying goes: I always wondered why somebody didn’t do something about that; then I realized that I am somebody.

After all, sustainable development isn’t just for development practitioners. Gender equality isn’t just for activists. And ending gender-based violence – that’s for all of us.

So – let’s get to work!

Happy spring,