Amidst the tension and clashes recently happening in Lebanon, I got to thinking about a million and one things, like, why do I feel so helpless? What is it that I can do? What is it that I’m willing to do?
A thought crossed my mind, among the chaos of these never ending questionings: now is the time when our detractors will enter the scene, soberly telling feminists that “now is not the time to focus on women’s rights when the security of the country is challenged, we have more pressing matters to deal with”.
This claim is not new and regularly comes back about three times a week under normal circumstances, but now that the country is on the brink of something much more sinister than the daily chaos and incompetence of politicians, I have a feeling we’ll be hearing a whole lot more of that rhetoric.
Which is precisely why we should be prepared and ready to answer, in a very clear, confident, and powerful way.
I don’t think my thoughts here will be clear or confident or powerful, I’m just trying to organise on paper what won’t seem to settle in my head, and contribute to the ongoing conversation feminists have had and still have to face.
Proponents of the “We don’t have time for human rights in times of militarized strife” only focus on the traditional definition of security, that is, defending the nation-state from external threats: this is why they’re quick to over-simplify what is currently happening in Lebanon and blame it all on the Syrian crisis spillover. What they seem to be missing is that the nature of conflicts has shifted and now happen more within states than between them and that therefore, the concept of security has evolved. Since the ground breaking UNDP report of 1994 broadening and deepening the concept of security, challenging the traditional understanding of the term, there is a trend, and a dire need, to understand security under the realm of “human security”, a concept putting the individual back at the center of concerns, stating that human beings should live under “freedom of fear” and “freedom of want” and covering all aspects of human lives: socio-economic factors, health, environmental conditions, food, political security, community security, stating that: “For most people today, a feeling of insecurity arises more from worries about daily life than from the dread of a cataclysmic
world event. Job security, income security, health security, environmental security, security from crime – these are the emerging concerns of human security all over the world.”
The latest events in Lebanon do not only take their roots in the Syrian crisis, as excellently explained by Patrick Galey in his article Don’t Blame Syria – Lebanon Leader’s are fuelling the fighting in Tripoli. Rather, they are the result of a combination of factors having the neglect of human security at their core, and most importantly, they are the result of the perverse effects of the sectarian system and of patriarchal beliefs.
Indeed, sectarian leaders have made it a point not to have any kind of national dialogue with regards to the civil war, creating a country of heavily traumatized and militarized amnesiacs quick to draw out their guns at the smallest excuse. This legacy of violence is coupled with the nepotism and clientelist ties without which the sectarian system could not survive and which hinders the proper development and improvement of the Lebanese population’s socio-economic conditions. The diversion of resources from Human Rights such as education and health towards corrupted real estate projects and vote-catching bribes, mixed with the neo-liberal policies Lebanon has been following for decades, have increased social injustice and disparities, reduced the level and quality of education, and hence created an enabling environment for unemployment, precarious working conditions, and violence, as several studies have shown that low levels of education and important socio-economic gaps have an impact on any given society’s stability.
Patriarchal beliefs and gender stereotypes create societies where male’s privileges and sense of entitlement blossom and thrive and where carrying a gun, swaggering and prancing in the streets of cities in Lebanon sporting a “Shou Bek Wleh?” attitude and getting into fights are seen as signs of virility.
Which brings me back to answering the “we don’t have time for feminism” claim.
Feminism is not only about wanting equal rights for men and women. As a revolutionary movement, feminism aims at shifting gender stereotypes, guaranteeing social justice and high quality, free education and health for all, fighting against oppression of all kinds, and making sure women and men live free from violence.
If that’s not trying to guarantee human security for all for the sake of society and its stability, then I don’t know what is.
Sounds to me that we need feminism now more than ever.