Imagine, for a moment, that you are a young woman. Imagine then, that because of your gender and because of your age, your voice is always muted, and your decisions are not your own to make. Imagine that you are raped. Imagine the police confronting the person who assaulted you, asking them if they had sex with you with the intent of marrying you. Imagine, that if they answer “yes” to this question, then it would not be considered rape. Imagine that if you consumed drugs and were sent to jail as a result, you would be considered a prostitute. Yet the man who raped you would not be considered a rapist. For many Lebanese women, theyneed not imagine. This is the reality that they are confronted with.
On Tuesday Youth RISE membershad a panel conference with Adel Mashmouchi, the police general in charge of Lebanon’s Office of Crimes and Drugs. In Lebanon, like in most place in the world, drugs and crime are always linked within policy. In these policies, there is no mention of drugs without mentionof crime. In Lebanon, the law dictates that if you are caught with drugs, evendrugs that are intended for your own use and your own use only, you have twooptions presented to you; 3 months to 3 years in jail, or, obliged to treatment even if you don’t need it In Lebanon, most people do not differentiate between drug users, abusers and those are dependent on certain drugs. This law does not specify the amount of drugs thatcan lead you to incarceration, nor the maximum amount of time that you may berequired to be in rehab. It is well known among the people that there is wide spread violence through the form of torture (like for example, tying you and whipping you) within the prisons of Lebanon. A young lady who attend school near the institution said to me, “we can hear them yell”. When confronted with this, Adel Mashcmouchi entirely denied that there was any violence in the prisons. Lara, who was on the panel, had been slapped in the face twice by Mr. Mashmouchi five years ago when she asked to leave rehab andwas then sent to jail. Again, when confronted with this, he denied being ableto recall having slapped her twice, which comes as no surprise. When one inengages in continuous and normalized violence, there is a little reason to remember such habitual incidents.
Officials physically abuse individuals, and out of the 31 women who were interviewed by Youth RISE, themajority of them reported fearing sexual assault while incarcerated. It is common for women to be asked to perform oral sex with the promise of being released. Even if the sexual favour is performed, they never do get to leave as a result. When I think of such things, I ask myself how could it be possiblethat the use of drugs could lead to a systematic removal of your dignity. Yesterday, in a Lebanese jail by the name of Roumieh, two inmates were killed by security when a protest broke out for the demand of better conditions within the jail.
When women leave jail, theyare disproportionately stigmatized by their communities which renders it difficult for them to find housing or employment. Even though many of them are incarcerated because of drug use, they are considered sex workers. Many women are psychologically traumatized for years after they leave jail and rehab facilities from the sexual, physically and verbal abuse that they weresubjected to. I was told, “some of them report crying everyday for a year afterthey are released, thinking of the things that happened to them”.
After 2006 Israel-Hezbollah War, the number of NGO’s in Lebanon dramatically increased in number and continues to grow today. Why haven’t they intervened in this massive violationof the rights of these women? Lucie , who has a masters in public health, explained to me “NGO’s in Lebanon are a business. You see them with their iPhones, their Blackberries and driving in their expensive cars. They are disconnected from the need of the Lebanese people”. What I personally believe might be the problem is with some NGO’s working abroad is that they chose to function as apolitical units, and as such, depoliticize the issues. They are accountable not to the people which they function to serve, but to their donors. “They workon short term non-sustainable projects,” says Sarah “they use big words in their reports but we see no change”. You cannot produce change in issues thatare directly linked to politics without working with the government and to believe that you can do so is to not be in touch with the complexities and tools needed for reform. This is not to discredit all NGO’s, as some who work withyouth have done incredible work in this community, such as Skoun. These are the models to learn from and replicate whenever possible.
When the panel conference came to an end, Mr. Mashmouchi left the stage furiously. Moments later he approached the Lebanese youth who had confrontedhim and asked them how they could speak in a such way of their own country infront of foreigners. When recounting what had happened, Sarah said to me, “of course we will tell them, we want the world to know. So that they might help us.”
After the international Harm Reduction Conference that took place in Lebanon in April 2011, the Youth RISE International Working Group in Lebanon felt the need to step forward and form a team in order to start an organization on the national level. This would allowthem to take action on drug policy issues locally, as well as educate them on Harm Reduction. Youth from Lebanon will be traveling to Toronto to train with TRIP! Skoun will be collaborating in building capacity for youth harm reduction locally in Beirut. Through international collaborations we can make a difference in raising awareness and building solidarity globally.