“The Limits of Dissidence in Gender Activism in Lebanon”

November 6, 2014

On the 6th of November, Lebanon Support organized a roundtable discussion on the limits of dissidence in gender activism. The event was the second in a series of discussions designed to disseminate papers and research published on the online platform CSKC (Civil Society Knowledge Centre) and to also stimulate debate within civil society spheres in Lebanon.

The discussants were  Ms. Sabiha Allouche and Ms. Sarah Abou Ghazel. Ms. Sabiha holds a MA in Gender Studies (2012) from University of London and is currently a third year PhD candidate in Gender Studies at SOAS, University of London. Ms. Sarah Abou Ghazel is a Palestinian-Lebanese writer who works on feminist knowledge productions. She is also a member of Sawt Al Niswa.

The session discussed Ms. Sabiha’s research which examines the timing and increased visibility of “dissident bodies” in Lebanon ‒ defined as men and women who operate beyond Lebanon's norms of sex and sexuality. During the talk, focus was placed on the definition of dissidence according to existing Lebanese social  norms. The researcher proposed an increase in the appearance of dissidence after the civil war in Lebanon,which aroused curiosity about the causes and spectrum of gender activism and dissidence in Lebanese society.

Ms. Sabiha explains this range on the individuals involved in the study. The study included homosexuals, cohabitating couples, and young adults openly speaking about their sexuality and sexual futures despite opposition from their parents. Based on the studies findings, the attendees discussed the influence of dissidence on the extent of gender related activism.

The increased presence of these voices in society may be linked to current trends of modernization and divergence from pre-existing taboo topics of sexuality within Lebanon. Essentially, this modernization doesn’t lead to  significant changes in the state’s approach towards sexuality.

Emigration is another factor that plays an important role in this shift in society. Lebanese expats have introduced new ideas to  an essentially conservative Lebanese society. “Classes” were formed depending on the type of nonconformitive behaviour displayed by the adherent against the established norms. The panelists explored whether dissidents progressively develop their own rules and social norms within their communities, which leads to disregard of  wider societal normative behaviours. This results in a change in society's mainstream norms as conventional groups are eventually considered dissident. It was also suggested that people behave unconventionally for the sake of being “trendy”.

The new phenomenon of institutionalization and professionalization of organizations was another hot topic of debate. These organizations are actively involved in issues relating to feminism, gender equity and sexuality,  however fail  to achieving any real change in the state’s view of dissidence. Thus, this activism has no impact on the political reality and although  transgression and dissidence are increasingly accepted in Lebanese society, no laws  have been implemented to reflect this change.