"'Let’s Talk about Sex': Rethinking sexual rights and reproductive health programmes in Lebanon"

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Date: 
October 6, 2015

On the 6th of October, Lebanon Support hosted a roundtable discussion about sexual rights and reproductive health programmes in Lebanon. The event was the 3rd roundtable discussion of a series, within our thematic project Gender Equity Information and Research Network. The discussants were Caroline Sukkar and Rola Yasmine. The discussion analyzed how sexual and reproductive rights are viewed in Lebanese patriarchal society today.

Health issues regarding sexual and reproductive rights have been politicized in Lebanon to discriminate against women. This discrimination has in turn socially and politically silenced women from forming and voicing their opinions on controversial sexual issues such as the right to abortion, the right to affordable reproductive health treatment, and the right to one’s personal sexual choices.  With women’s silence on these issues comes shame and a societal stigma that also plagues the Lebanese government, and respectively so, the laws, policies, and institutions it upholds.

Because sexuality is a taboo topic for the confessional and sectarian government of Lebanon, women’s sexual and reproductive rights are often framed through non-controversial issues. For example, the government stands against domestic violence as there is no debate about the topic and its morality. Similarly, even many Lebanese civil society organisations stray away from controversial language regarding sexual rights, often talking about “the family” and “marital sex”  to avoid topics of sexual education and health, afraid they may offend others.

Discussant Rola Yasmine advocated how women should become more comfortable with their bodies to desensitize the topic of sex and thus desensitize sexual topics such as discriminatory sexual health treatment for women and the LGBTQ communities. She noted that in today’s Lebanese society, guilt often accompanies topics centered around sex, allowing women to carry on the feeling of guilt to making their own choices about their bodies. Commenting on this point, Caroline Sukkar noted that it is a women’s right to do what she will with her body while it is a government’s responsibility to protect women’s freedom of choice. Even in regards to a very controversial topic like prostitution, if a woman chooses sex work as her viable way of living, it is the government’s duty to provide her with equal health insurance and to create laws protecting her right to engage in any line of work she pleases.