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Lebanon Feminist Group Mounts Anti-Harassment Campaign

Lebanese cartoon character Salwa encourages women to speak out against sexual harassment

A group of Lebanese activists is concerned about the sexual harassment of women in Lebanon, and with the invention of a mascot named Salwa, they hope to teach women to fight back. Not only does the campaign urge women to speak out against abuse, it educates them about how to recognize it.

Salwa, a cartoon character, is a free-spirited, yet strong Lebanese woman. She does not let anyone take advantage of her, and is the star of an anti-harassment campaign developed by IndyAct, the Lebanese League of Independent Activists.

Farah Salka works for the feminist group Nasawiya and is helping to develop the Salwa campaign. She says sexual harassment is rampant in her country.

"I've been harassed. Everybody has been harassed. A typical woman on the streets in Lebanon, whether Lebanese or not, has been harassed," said Salka. "It can come from strangers or it can come from parents, from friends, from a boyfriend, from a husband."

Activists in Lebanon are holding sexual harassment awareness workshops. Their aim, along with the Salwa campaign, is to teach women to recognize sexual harassment and talk about it.

Women in Lebanon are often pressured not to report sexual harassment, says Mirna Haidar. She says she was harassed when she was 16.

"The problem was not the sexual harassment itself, but was the people's reaction, everyone around me and supervising me and even when I went to my mom, it was like 'Shhh, don't talk about it.' And that was the part that made me feel shocked, traumatized," said Haidar.

There are no published statistics on sexual harassment cases in Lebanon, nor is there any real legal protection, says Noushig Etyemezian of the non-governmental Foundation for Human and Humanitarian Rights in Lebanon.

"For sexual harassment, you don't have laws," noted Etyemezian. "Even if you go to the police station, in Lebanon and in the region, the woman is to be blamed. 'Aw, you provoked, what did you do, what were you wearing', or they will just laugh at you."

IndyAct is trying to change those attitudes. Salka says Salwa Adventures will soon be publicized on TV and in newspapers, and activists plan to lobby government for anti-harassment legislation.