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Lebanon’s new sexual harassment law falls short of international standards: HRW Open in fullscreen

The New Arab Staff

Lebanon’s new sexual harassment law falls short of international standards: HRW

Statue of a woman by Lebanese artist Hayat Nazer [Getty]

Date of publication: 5 March, 2021

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Human Rights Watch says Lebanon's current legislation on sexual harassment only deals with it as a criminal matter, neglecting prevention, monitoring, and labour law reform.
Lebanon’s new sexual harassment law falls short of international standards, Human Rights Watch said, slamming a piece of legislation that had previously been hailed as an advance.

By addressing sexual harassment solely as a crime and neglecting prevention, labour law reforms, monitoring, and civil remedies, the legislation does not conform to the “Violence and Harassment Convention”, which states that governments should address harassment through an “inclusive, integrated and gender-responsive approach". 

This must include laws related to labour, occupational safety, health, equality, and discrimination as well as  criminal laws, Human Rights Watch said in a report on Friday.

The group called on the Lebanese government to adopt a more comprehensive approach ahead of International Women's Day, which falls on March 8.

“Making sexual harassment a crime is an important step to condemn abusive behaviour that has long been tolerated and normalized in Lebanon, but it’s not enough,” said Nisha Varia, women’s rights advocacy director at Human Rights Watch.

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“Public information campaigns, mandatory requirements for employers to prevent and respond to sexual harassment, monitoring, and enforcement are all essential for tackling this serious issue that affects women’s personal and professional lives.”

Sexual harassment is a widespread problem in Lebanon. A 2016 report by the International Men and Gender Equality Survey in Lebanon found that two-thirds of women respondents reported experiencing sexual harassment in public spaces, with many experiencing it in the three months preceding the survey.

Any "bad and repetitive behaviour that is extraordinary [and] unwelcome by the victim" – as the law defines sexual harassment – is punishable by Lebanese law with one year in prison and fines of up to 10 times the minimum wage, which can be increased in the context of subordination or a work relationship.

The law approved on December 3, 2020, had been hailed as an achievement at the time of its passing. It protects victims from retaliation, discrimination or disciplinary measures against people who report harassment or testify about the abuse. Any retaliatory act can be punished by up to six months in prison and a fine of 20 times the minimum wage.

However, several women’s rights groups had expressed disappointment. Survivors of sexual harassment and violence often risk re-traumatization and stigmatization when seeking remedies through the criminal law system due to discriminatory attitudes on the part of prosecutors and judges.  

“Lebanon should provide a clear path for civil remedies for women who may not want to access the criminal justice system or wish to do so alongside criminal complaints,” Human Rights Watch said.

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