Salwa Says, “Speak Up!”

When Doha had to jump out of her cab three times after being assaulted by the drivers in broad daylight, she knew she had to do something about it. So she has joined a growing number of women in Lebanon who speak out against sexual harassment.

A local non-government organization, IndyACT, supported a national campaign against sexual harassment called, “The adventures of Salwa.” Salwa is a fictional character in a series of television ads aimed at fighting sexual harassment:

A television ad features a young employee named Salwa who is summoned by her boss. When she enters his office, he is sprawled out in his chair, cigar in hand, and slyly holds out a promotion form to her. Salwa happily reaches out for the form when the boss tries to kiss her. Red with anger, she deals him a blow with her handbag before slamming the door as she leaves. The Salwa ad is one of a seven-episode campaign expected to show situations in university, taxis and public places.

Commenting on the ad, the campaign and the aim of it, Leen Hashem from IndyACT said:

“We are not preaching violence. Our message aims to encourage women to defend themselves and not to fear social stigma. …we have plans to empower the campaign by launching the day of Salwa in all governorates of Lebanon, where Salwa bags are distributed to women and children, containing instructions and means of protection from sexual harassment, and organizing workshops to educate parents.”

As for the reason for the name “Salwa,” Hashem said:

The name comes from a well known children’s game called «O Salwa, why you cry?». Also it (the name) happens to be neutral and does not represent any amenity or religion, and represents all social classes. Salwa is a normal Lebanese girl. Salwa and her sisters have felt that sexual harassment (physical and verbal) can no longer be tolerated in the streets, means of transportation, workplaces, universities, schools and homes.

Stop Street Harassment is a blog dedicated entirely to stopping sexual harassment. They interviewed Raghida Ghamlouch, a social worker with the non-governmental Lebanese Council to Resist Violence against Women, who stated that, “Lebanon’s social fabric does not encourage victims to speak out. … Women are told it is their fault if they hitch a cab off the street, if they are dressed a certain way, if they come home late.”

She even gives a very important observation: “Another factor that silences victims is (sic) Lebanon’s unjust laws, which does not explicitly consider harassment a crime.”

The "Sheel Edak" poster. Image via Sheel Edak's Facebook site.

Another campaign called “Sheel Edak” (“Remove your hand”) has been co-founded by four people from Egypt, Lebanon, and Jordan to try to eliminate such a problem. One of the groups’ founders talks about the future plans for the campaign, saying:

“We are working on the getting the website fully working, to make them able to communicate with the public, share information, experiences and ideas. Also we are preparing a booklet containing instructions for girls to defend themselves in the events of exposure to harassment or rape, and instructions on how to lodge a complaint with the Public Prosecutor.”

Sexual harassment is a major problem in most, if not all, Arab countries. Syrian blogger Maysaloon had a post about such a matter. Egypt is one of the countries that suffer the most. According the Egyptian Center for Women’s Rights, 83% of Egyptian women and 98% of foreign women in Egypt reported being sexually harassed. Nesrine Malik from “The Guardian” wrote an article last year about harassment in Egypt. She concluded:

Perhaps the answer is to first dispense with all the excuses and justifications. Men take such liberties when conditions encourage them and the authorities are so indifferent that harassment becomes part of everyday life. However, as with most oppressive governments in the Arab world with weak civil societies, in Egypt any criticism of the status quo is seen as striking at the heart of the establishment. The best approach is to tackle the problem at its roots – on the streets, in the media and in people’s homes.

And this is exactly what women in Lebanon are doing. Through media campaigns online, on television, and in public advertisements, women in Lebanon aim to eradicate sexual harassment in their country.

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