Lebanese teacher investigated over sexual harassment claims

Lebanese teacher sacked, investigated over alleged sexual harassment of schoolgirls
3 min read
08 December, 2021
A high school teacher from north Lebanon was sacked from his job following uproar by students who say they were victims of his verbal and physical sexual harassment
The decision to sack and investigate the teacher followed an uproar by students [AFP/Getty- file photo]

A high school teacher in Lebanon’s northern city of Tripoli accused of sexually harassing female students was sacked from his job earlier this week and is currently being investigated following an uproar.

Secondary school teacher Samer Mawlawi was arrested after allegations he sent inappropriate messages and inappropriately touched some of his young female students, Lebanese Education Minister Abbas al-Halabi announced on Monday.

The case had been referred to the Higher Disciplinary Authority and the Juvenile Protection Department at the justice ministry, to take necessary measures, Halabi said.

"I have asked the relevant authorities at the ministry to provide psychological support for the students and follow up on their status," the minister said.

The issue came to light when a student posted on her Facebook page that Mawlawi, who teaches civic education at the George Sarraf Public High School in Tripoli, verbally and physically harassed a number of her classmates.

With no measures initially taken against the suspected harasser, angry students – male and female – protested outside the school and even tried to storm the headmaster’s office. They accused him of "complicity", and of trying to cover up the scandal.

A hashtag of Samer Mawlawi’s name in Arabic was still trending on Twitter on Wednesday, as the case has yet again started a conversation on sexual harassment in Lebanon, still a taboo discussion.

A Lebanese "Me Too" movement has erupted on social media, and to a large extent on the ground, to raise awareness of the issue in Lebanese society.

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In December last year, a law criminalising sexual harassment was passed, but many don’t think it’s enough to deter potential sexual predators.

Lebanese journalist Luna Safwan, who has spoken out against harassment, praised the students for speaking up.

"I believe that what the students did in Tripoli is beyond brave. We have the means to campaign and out harassers because we are independent grownups. Imagine what it’s like for younger women who maybe live in more conservative settings," Istanbul-based Safwan told The New Arab.

Tripoli is a majority Sunni Muslim city in Lebanon, considered to be largely conservative.

"It must have been scary, and it took a lot of courage. But what they did also set one more example of why we must speak up," said Safwan.

"If 15 and 16 year old female high school students said me too without fear of being expelled or punished by their families, then other women can do this and must rely on each other."

A new campaign by ABAAD, a resource centre for gender equality in Lebanon, has been aired on Lebanese TV channels and shared on social media recently to bring attention to women still suffering from domestic violence, harassment, or rape.

The campaign talking about violence against women includes well-known faces, such as actors.

Videos start off by relaying an important message, then telling viewers to skip if they do not care about it. Many have positively engaged and reacted with the campaign in the age of social media.

The campaign comes despite modifications made last year to law to include further protection-related measures.

"What helps is having a network. Connecting with others who can support you. No woman should do this on her own," Safwan told The New Arab.

"That’s why in my opinion we (women) should speak more to each other about our experiences. You never know who might have gone through the same thing."