One day one struggle
November 11, 2009
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. This event is part of an international campaign organized by the Coalition for Sexual and Bodily Rights in Muslim Societies (CSBR). The panel of this seminar included Ghiwa S. (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 (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 is responsible of the media and publication unit.)
The panel of speakers each addressed their respective specialities concerning the issue of sexual rights. Dr. Faysal Kak believes sexual rights to be a framework to sexual health. According to Dr. Kak there are two main ideas to keep in mind when tackling sexual right. These are 1) all individuals are equal despite sexual preference; 2) everyone has the right to be sexually active, reproduce, and to have or not to have relationships without being judged. He also stressed the importance of including the topic of sexual health within school curriculums and having community services (such as sex health information, family planning, and communication on this topic). Dr. Kak considers that ‘Human Rights are the womb of Sexual Rights’ and that in order to attempt to break taboos in Lebanon (and around Muslim societies) we must learn to admit this fact, adopt as a mind frame, and accept it.
Rasha Moumneh is a researcher on the Middle East and North Africa at Human Rights Watch. Therefore Ms. Moumneh 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 confided to the bedroom’. Ms. Moumneh used an 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, commonly known as Article 534 (introduced by the French), and liberating women from wearing the ‘hijab’ (one of the US’s reasons for invading Iraq in the relatively recent 2003 war). One of Ms. Moumneh final ideas was ‘that sexuality functions within political and social aspects’.
After discussing both the Health (Dr. Kak) and Political (Rasha Moumneh) aspects of Sexual Rights, Hiba Abbani concentrated on the Social outlook. Hiba Abbani considers the roots of oppression to be the real target we must concentrate on in order to tackle oppression. Ms. Abbani 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 hetero-normative lifestyles 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 (example: work. Men earn the bread, women are the housewives). Finally, Hiba Abbani left us with the idea that these structures try to ‘mould people into a product. To point people in the direction to fulfil 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 a final impact on everyone in the audience. Ms. Moawad spoke about the issue of sexuality being tied to a moral issue, as if it was between good and bad. 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 Nadine Moawad, ‘Sexual Rights at the end of the day is your right to have great, amazing, mind blowing sex’. She then went on to say that although there is a truth to the fact that food, shelter, and water, are more important human rights than sexual rights, she still understand why, if it’s not such a vital issue, we can’t have that right. Ms. Moawad emphasized that if we have that right, oppression tools are going to dissolve and that the all sex really is, 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 slightly more specific details than the panel discussion itself depending on the question. The brilliant ideas addressed by Dr. Kak, Rasha Moumneh, Hiba Abbani, and Nadine Moawad made this seminar one that I am particularly glad I did not miss.