Lebanon Marks the First “One Day, One Struggle” with a Talk on Sexuality at AUB

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As part of the international campaign “One Day One Struggle” organized by the Coalition for Sexual and Bodily Rights in Muslim Societies (CSBR), an international solidarity network of progressive NGOs and premier academic institutions working to promote sexual and bodily rights as human rights in Muslim societies, Meem and Helem collaborated on a panel on sexual rights in Lebanon at the American University of Beirut.

Over 20 organizations held simultaneous actions and events in 11 countries to promote and assert that sexual and reproductive rights are universal human rights based on the inherent freedom, dignity and equality of all human beings.

In Beirut, and on November 9, 2009, AUB’s Women’s Rights Club in collaboration with the Health Sciences Expertise Club held a seminar on Sexual and Reproductive Rights. The panel included Ghiwa Sayegh (Women’s Rights Club) as moderator, Dr. Faysal El – Kak (a medical doctor specialized in Obstetrics and Gynaecology and a public health professional), Rasha Moumneh (who has been working on issues of sexual and gender justice for the past five years in Lebanon. She is also active with local LGBT and feminist groups – such as KAFA, CRTD, Helem), Nadine Moawad (actively involved with gender equality in Lebanon since 2006 and has organized many youth-led grassroots initiatives to address sexual and bodily rights in the Arab world, including the Feminist Collective), and Hiba Abbani (an active member of Helem since 2008 and responsible of the media and publications unit).

The speakers each addressed sexual rights from their respective specialities. Dr. Faysal Kak believed that sexual rights is the only viable framework for effective sexual health. According to Dr. Kak there are two main ideas to keep in mind when tackling sexual right: 1) all individuals are equal despite sexual preference and 2) everyone has the right to be sexually active, reproduce (or not), and to have (or not have) relationships without being judged. He also stressed the importance of including the topic of sexual health within school curricula and having community services (such as sex health information, family planning, and communication on this topic). Dr. Kak considers “human rights [as the] womb for sexual rights” and that in order to attempt to break taboos in Lebanon (and around Muslim societies), we must learn to admit this fact and adopt it as a mind frame.

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Rasha Moumneh is a researcher on the Middle East and North Africa at Human Rights Watch. She concentrated on the political aspect of sexual rights. She mentioned the fact that society is constantly bombarded with images of sex. Hence, “sexuality is not just confined to the bedroom.”  Moumneh used the example of an advertisement for a laser company to remind the audience of the idea that in order for women to be attractive, they must be hairless. She then went on to explain how we make these rules on a micro level and they manifest themselves on a larger scale. Furthermore, she brought up the topic of western intervention using examples of brothels in Egypt (introduced by the British), anti-sodomy law in Lebanon (introduced by the French), and liberating women from wearing the ‘hijab’ (one of the US reasons for invading Iraq). One of Moumneh’s final ideas was “that sexuality functions within political and social aspects.”

After discussing both the health and political aspects of sexual rights, Hiba Abbani concentrated on the social outlook. Abbani considered the roots of oppression to be the real target we must concentrate on in our struggle. She focused on the sectarian, religious, and family roles within the Lebanese and Muslim Societies. These systems tend to oppose anyone who chooses to live outside of the heteronormative lifestyle deemed natural. In society, we tend to stick to the prearranged roles (ex: “real man or real woman”) conveyed to us by our government and religious sects. Sexual rights are fundamental rights for humans and those who control sexual rights control every other aspect of our lives. Finally, Abbani left us with the idea that these structures try to “mold people into a product” that fulfills a specific established personal freedom and then have a perpetuation of the established power structure.

Although Nadine Moawad was the last guest to speak on the panel, she definitely made an impact on everyone in the audience. Moawad spoke about the issue of sexuality being tied to morality, sex being perceived as sometimes good, sometimes evil. She linked the ‘good’ sex with children, sex with the opposite gender, and partnership. The ‘bad’ sex was associated with anal sex, gay sex, and promiscuity. According to Moawad, “Sexual rights, at the end of the day, are your right to have great, amazing, mind-blowing sex all the time.” She then went on to say that if people claim that food, shelter, and security are more important human rights than sexual rights, then she doesn’t understand why we can’t just have that right – if it’s that unimportant. Moawad emphasized that people do have a right to fear that things will dissolve if we are granted sexual rights. Indeed, what will dissolve are the oppression tools and things like virginity (good riddance). She ended by saying that all sex is a negotiation of power.

All in all, the seminar was a success. The Q&A period was filled with twenty five minutes of comments and questions such as “although sex has becoming openly spoken about in Beirut, how are the Human Rights Watch, Helem, and Feminist Collective tackling it in outer areas?” Each question and comment was addressed with some specificity. The brilliant ideas presented by Dr. Faysal El-Kak, Rasha Moumneh, Hiba Abbani, and Nadine Moawad made this seminar one that I am particularly glad I did not miss.

Contributed by Shaniqua

Guest Contributor

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