Wednesday, September 9, 2009

Prostitution, gay rights ... a Lebanon beyond tribal politics

A few items I came across that are worth mentioning. While the oligarchs of our country continue to procrastinate over which irrelevant ministry they'll receive (seeing as none of them do any work anyway), some other things are happening in Lebanon ... believe it or not.

The country has boasted about its return on the tourist map, with record numbers holidaying in Lebanon this summer (mainly expats and rich Gulf Arabs).

Beirut's nightlife is getting rave reviews in many circles as things seem to be getting back on track after years of political instability and a war with Israel in 2006. However (there's always an 'however'), with Beirut's emerging night scene comes with it an ugly side, as covered by this insightful article from the AFP ... Lebanon's booming prostitution network.

Tourists flocking to the country, coupled with economic depression and political instability has meant more young girls are being swallowed up in the sex trade, often with no limits and little chance of escape.

In a country that "officially" deems prostitution illegal, and operates a moral police unit, those who enter the sex line of work often have no protection, no rights and are completely ostracised from a wider community that still holds religious values extremely high. In other words, these young girls are often left at the mercy - or lack thereof - of their "pimps". What appeared most disturbing in the AFP article was that, in some cases, prostitution is within the family at the helm of abusive, poor husbands.

But something the article didn't pick up on was that prostitution has always been a feature of Lebanon. During my time in the country, young men my age would often profess their desire to sleep with a "hooker", only because Lebanese girls in the village were out of reach due to traditional values.

Although I was immediately repulsed by this, it seemed quite common for a young man to prove his manhood sexually (albeit with a prostitute) and boast about it, while a young woman would be held in high esteem if she retained her virginity until marriage. A young man to be a virgin, or a young woman not to be a virgin, equally drew the ire from the community.

There's no shortage of gender stereotyping in Lebanon.

It does show, however, that while our political elites fluff about power sharing, social and economic matters on the ground level are largely left untouched. Despite media, NGO and civil society efforts, there is little hope for the many young girls from impoverished families now stuck in the tragic world of forced and abusive prostitution.

Lesbian mag back onboard

But not all is bad news in the evolving Lebanese society. The Arab world's first lesbian magazine, Bekhsoos, is set for a relaunch by the Lebanese lesbian group, Meem, after an initial hiccup - as reported here in the LA Times. It follows the successful emergence of the first Arab gay rights movement, Helem.

The absence of effective governance in the country has prompted citizens to fill the void via a civil society that is now attempting to tackle the tough social issues head on. It's promising to see the emergence of civil movements in Lebanon, whether they're proponents of gay rights, women's rights, pension rights, or simply a counter-voice to the dominant political sectarianism.

There are those in the country - albeit a minority - that are determined to push Lebanon ahead regardless of the political climate. Whether our politicians wake up and jump on board is another matter, but the expansion of our civil society should continue nonetheless. Here's to Bekhsoos !

1 comment:

FJ said...

Do you really want our politicians to jump aboard? Change in Lebanon always seemed more effective and constructive when driven by the people, to the exclusion of those in power. Keep the politicians ignorant and maybe these civil rights movements will ACTUALLY achieve something...here's hoping.