A survey conducted by an international group said on Saturday women in Lebanon feel significantly less safe walking at night in their own neighbourhoods than men.
According to the recent findings of a Gallup poll, 62% of women felt safe walking around at night in their neighbourhoods compared to 75% of men.
The findings said women reported feeling less safe than men across the globe though by varying percentage points. For instance, in Jordan, the percentage difference was greater than that of Lebanon’s, with 72% of women compared to 90% of men reporting to feel safe.
Lebanon’s findings are in line with the global average where 62% of women and 72% of men say they feel safe walking alone in their communities at night. But this does not make women feel any better.
“There are many stories of women who are followed near where they live,” said Nadine Moawad, a founding member of Nasawiya, a women’s rights group whose mission is to provide gender justice and equality. “Women get sexually harassed in their own neighbourhoods.”
Moawad was surprised to hear that only 75% of men reported feeling safe, though she believes it is due to the rise in theft and robbery in the country, and not because of the same factors affecting women, namely sexual assault.
“Personally I feel threatened night and day,” said Marie-Anne Wehbeh, 25, an interior architect living in Jounieh.
“We used to go out until 4 or 5 in the morning but lately you hear a lot about kidnapping and twisted stories, and the politicians are too busy to keep us safe.”
Wehbeh said that when she knows she will be staying out late in Beirut, she chooses to sleep at a friend’s house out of fear of going home alone at night.
Moawad believes that such instances have only increased as a result of inaction and negligence.
“It’s a lot scarier to be out on the street at night than it used to be,” she said. “When you allow violence to continue without any accountability people feel that they can own public spaces and will have no challenges. Violence is just going to keep on increasing.
“And it’s not about having a ‘security month’ or more troops on the streets,” she continued, referring to this month’s announced crackdown on the roads by the Internal Security Forces. “There has been no real attempt to address this from local initiatives.
Resist Harassment Lebanon is a website dedicated to ending harassment by publicising reported instances and mapping out harassment locations.
“Public space and private space is our space,” says the website. “And we have a right to exist without harassment on the basis of our sex, race, gender, or any other criteria.”
Ghida Anani, director of the Abaad Resource Center for Gender Equality, believes that legislation criminalising violence and harassment towards women must be implemented, as well as an institutionalised public mechanism for monitoring such violence.
“Something needs to be done,” said Anani. “Women’s safety is very much linked to women’s empowerment and a major obstacle to this empowerment is the patriarchal system.
Among the list of countries where women were least likely to report feeling safe were Afghanistan, Russia and Iraq with numbers below 40%. Syria, which bucked the trend, reported 67% of women versus 63% of men felt safe – one of the few instances where more women than men reported feeling safe.
“I don’t think there’s a solution,” said Wehbeh. “I always ask myself how I will raise my children one day here. My parents are very cool and always let me stay out late, but I’d rather not. So if things don’t get better for my kids, I think I will be a very narrow-minded mom.”