In Lebanon, men and women perceive security differently due to their gender roles. This affects the way they respond to and perceive threats. For instance, men are seen as breadwinners and protectors, while for women there is an expectation of chastity. It is also socially acceptable for women to rely on their family for protection, while men are expected to protect themselves.
In addition, security perceptions vary depending on factors such as confessional affiliation, political association, and geographical location. For instance, in the South and South East of the country women were more concerned about theft than men, while in the North men were more concerned. Similarly, women in Jezzine and Koura perceived the threats of sexual assault and rape as significantly higher than men, while the opposite was true in Aley and Sour.
The report also discusses issues such as domestic violence (DV) and gender- based violence (SGBV). In Lebanon, domestic violence is seen as a private issue and it is difficult for the state to get involved. In the past, DV cases were dealt with only by religious courts. However, DV and SGBV are becoming recognized as a serious security issue and the state is becoming more involved in this area.
Indeed, in 2014, the Lebanese parliament passed a national law against domestic violence. However, it did not criminalize marital rape. Although Internal Security Forces can investigate, they do not always open a case; while women, by making the complaint, risk social stigma and further violence from the perpetrator. For men, it is even harder to seek help when they suffered SGBV and DV because the act of seeking help conflicts with the social expectation that men should protect themselves.
Other barriers also exist that prevent people from reporting SGBV/DV such as pressure from the community, economic costs, social stigma, and lack of easy access to services. However, one of the biggest issues is that the police force is mostly male and has a “’macho’ institutional culture”. As a result, the victims are dealt with in an insensitive manner that inhibits future reporting. Research shows that having more women in a workplace makes female and male victims feel more secure; however, in practice, the level of trust has not increased because women are placed in positions that do not allow regular interactions with the general public.
The report also found that there are many similarities between women and men when it comes to the perception of state security institutions (SSIs). For instance, 75% of men and women stated that they would resort to SSIs if they were victim of a crime; however, in practice only 47% of women and 38% of men did so. Of those who did not resort to SSIs, 24% of women relied on their families, while a third of men did not seek any help, which again demonstrated how pervasive gender norms are in Lebanese society. As a result, men are left more vulnerable, which can lead to substance abuse.
Both women and men also believe that nepotism, corruption, and partisan influence are issues when it comes to SSIs and that having connections is important to get justice or adequate services and assistance. Internal Security Forces officers are also underpaid and are not trained on how to respond to SGBV. To make matters worse, their military camouflage uniforms and assault rifles contribute to the perception that these officers are more concerned with hard security rather than human security.
The report emphasizes that while recruiting more women to SSIs would be a positive step forward, there is a need for policies that address the general masculinised institutional culture and other issues such as “retention, promotion, childcare, anti-sexual harassment”. Currently, the state is focusing on recruiting more women into security agencies, but they are placed in positions that are administrative and do not involve any active duty. Consequently, women do not interact with the public and SSIs continue to be perceived as militarized and ‘macho’.
Overall, the report clearly shows that gender is an important factor on security perceptions in Lebanon – but not the only one. In addition, it illustrates that the masculinised institutional culture of SSIs hinders the development of a well-functioning security sector and that policies that only focus on increasing the number of women in SSIs will not be sufficient to address that issue.
The full publication can be accessed here.
Margarita Yakovenko received an MA from the Graduate School of Public and International Affairs, University of Ottawa and was recently an intern at the Centre for Security Governance and the Security Governance Group.