“Take a moment to remember a time in our own lives when we did not have control of our own sexuality.”
That was the powerful opening statement to the CSW session “Why Addressing the Control of Sexuality is Critical to Ending Child Marriage”. Talk of sexuality is considered taboo in many contexts though it parallels gender, which receives much attention. People will shake off the topic as being a personal matter, a cultural tendency, that an outsider should not question. Yet, it is sexuality that fuels the gender inequality in the world even in 2016.
When a family is in poverty, why is the girl the first to be married off and not the boy? What is the underlying value in a woman’s virginity that would justify marrying off a 12 year old girl? Why is a child bride no longer considered a child after marriage, despite her obvious young age?
The panelists represented NGOs that work to end child marriage in various parts of the world. Anthony Keedi, a representative from Abaad, a NGO based in Lebanon, spoke on challenging the concept of child marriage in the Middle East. Abaad is currently working with government officials to revoke a penal code in Lebanon that states if a man rapes a woman but the proposes to marry her for a minimum of five years, he can escape a prison sentence. Laws such as these stem from a strong cultural background of male dominance and sense of entitlement. Keedi says that in order to end child marriage, one must first tackle the cultural gender roles and gender norms. He points out that in the context of the Middle East where religion is a strong identity, introducing a concept such as gender equality may face opposition as people do not want to go against what they believe to be a religious culture. For this reason, Abaad purposefully works with religious leaders in an effort to help people realize that gender equality can be accomplished while still exercising one’s faith. Though it is a work in progress, it is a step towards dispelling myths on the "unimportant" topic of sexuality.
Lack of control of sexuality is something everyone experiences at some point in life; it is the extent of the lack of control that creates the need for intervention.