The ugly side of man

The women of Lebanon are still left waiting out in the rain for their rights (Photo: Hisham Ashkar)

Misogyny is the vulgar indulgence of ignorant men, and it is a shame upon this nation that the men who head our government so openly display this flaccid form of intellect. They began to give it expression early in their term, by forming a cabinet devoid of women, and continued through their denial of nationality rights to the children of Lebanese women and their spouses, then ignored a parliamentary initiative to enact laws targeting men who beat their wives and, more recently, a refusal to criminalize marital rape — these are just some of the more obvious affronts.

With such exemplary leaders, it is no wonder why the slighting of women is so pervasive in our society, reaching even inside their bodies to reproductive choices.

Even though abortion is widely available in Lebanon, it remains technically illegal and therefore unregulated and often unsafe. While forms of emergency contraception, in particular what is commonly known as the ‘morning after pill’, are not officially barred, pharmacies across the country were not stocking it on their shelves through December and January.

Emergency contraception in the form of a pill does not induce an abortion; it is a preventative measure that releases hormones to prevent fertilization during the time it takes sperm to reach the egg, usually between 24 and 72 hours after intercourse. Only one brand of emergency contraception, called Norlevo, has legal access to the Lebanese market, but for reasons unbeknownst supplies of the drug were “cut off” according to the more than 20 pharmacies that were contacted last month.

Calls to the local distributor, Union Pharmaceutique d’Orient, enquiring as to why, were met with denials that there was even a shortage and officials for the company refused to comment further. The manufacturer in France, HRA Pharma, also declined to comment. The head of the Syndicate of Pharmacists in Lebanon said he was unaware of the issue when asked, but promised to follow up on the matter — all further calls to his phone were left unreturned.

The underlying issue here is that there are no consequences for private companies who take away a woman’s right to choose and even put their lives at risk. The worst thing that usually happens with the morning after pill is a horrible mood swing, but little or no pain. But the alternative to proper emergency contraception for, say a 16-year-old girl who has been raped, is resorting to drugs such as Misoprostol, intended for use in the prevention of ulcers, but also having the ‘side effect’ of technically inducing miscarriage.

So instead of a relatively painless hormonal procedure to prevent pregnancy, women are forced to endure an excruciating process whereby eggs are expelled after contractions in a pool of blood and then, “you just pray,” according to one pharmacist, that fertilization has not taken place. There is no guarantee with Misoprostol that an embryo is expelled, as it is possible that a life threatening ectopic pregnancy might occur, where the embryo implants outside the uterus. Other complications of Misoprostol can include potentially fatal toxic shock syndrome.

This shortage of Norlevo on the market is directly related to Lebanon’s economic aberration of exclusive agents, which disallows any other company from importing the same brand of medicine. So, in the interests of companies’ product monopolies that keep retail prices high, and the structure of our economy dependent on a few rich and powerful men, women are suffering.

Reproductive rights, and the recognition that women are entitled to the same opportunities and protections as men in a society, are not trivial policy matters — they are issues of human rights that leaders with any claim to morality need to address.

Misogyny in Lebanon is as societal as it is systemic, rooted in a lack of education with regards to the issues and perpetuated by regressive laws and lawmakers. For the sake of treating half the population — including our sisters, wives, mothers and daughters — with a minimum of respect, we cannot allow our leaders to sit so comfortably with their inhumanity.

First published in Executive Magazine’s February 2011 issue