Lebanon News

Women in Lebanon feel much less safe than men

Lebanese female activists carry a banner as they block a road for five minutes to protest against the absence of women in Lebanon's new government in downtown Beirut Tuesday. The banner reads "A government without a woman is going backwards". (The Daily Star/Mahmoud Kheir)

BEIRUT: Women in Lebanon feel significantly less safe walking at night in their own neighborhoods than men, according to the recent findings of a Gallup Poll.

In Lebanon, 62 percent of women felt safe walking around at night in their neighborhoods as compared to 75 percent of men, according to the poll, the results of which were published earlier this month.

Across the globe, women reported feeling less safe than men, though by varying percentage points. For instance, in Jordan, the percentage difference was greater than that of Lebanon’s, with 72 percent of women versus 90 percent of men reporting to feel safe.

Lebanon’s numbers were relatively average when compared to the whole. Worldwide, 62 percent of women and 72 percent of men say they feel safe walking along in their communities at night. But this does not make women feel any better.

“There are many stories of women who are followed near where they live,” said Nadine Moawad, a founding member of Nasawiya, a women’s rights group whose mission is to provide gender justice and equality. “Women get sexually harassed in their own neighborhoods.”

Moawad was surprised to hear that only 75 percent of men reported feeling safe, though she believes it is due to the rise in theft and robbery in the country, and not because of the same factors affecting women, namely sexual assault.

“Personally I feel threatened night and day,” said Marie-Anne Wehbeh, 25, an interior architect living in Jounieh.

“We used to go out until 4 or 5 a.m., but lately you hear a lot about kidnapping and twisted stories, and the politicians are too busy to keep us safe.”

Wehbeh said that when she knows she will be staying out late in Beirut, she chooses to sleep at a friend’s house out of fear of going home alone at night.

Moawad believes that such instances have only increased as a result of local non-action.

“It’s a lot scarier to be out on the street at night than it used to be,” she said. “When you allow violence to continue without any accountability people feel that they can own public spaces and will have no challenges. Violence is just going to keep on increasing.

“And it’s not about having a ‘security month’ or more troops on the streets,” she continued, referring to this month’s announced crackdown on the roads by the Internal Security Forces. “There has been no real attempt to address this from local initiatives.

That is, except for Resist Harassment Lebanon, a website dedicated to ending harassment by publicizing reported instances and mapping out harassment locations.

“Public space and private space is OUR space,” says the website. “And we have a right to exist without harassment on the basis of our sex, race, gender, or any other criteria.”

Ghida Anani, director of the Abaad Resource Center for Gender Equality, believes that legislation criminalizing violence and harassment toward women must be implemented, as well as an institutionalized public mechanism for monitoring such violence.

“Something needs to be done,” said Anani. “Women’s safety is very much linked to women’s empowerment and a major obstacle to this empowerment is the patriarchal system.

Among the list of countries where women were least likely to report feeling safe were Afghanistan, Russia and Iraq with numbers below 40 percent. Syria, which bucked the trend, reported 67 percent of women versus 63 percent of men felt safe – one of the few instances where more women than men reported feeling safe.

“I don’t think there’s a solution,” said Wehbeh. “I always ask myself how I will raise my children one day here. My parents are very cool and always let me stay out late, but I’d rather not. So if things don’t get better for my kids, I think I will be a very narrow-minded mom.”

 
A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Daily Star on July 28, 2012, on page 3.

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