LEBANON: Lebanese March Against Domestic Violence

Thursday, March 20, 2014
Western Asia
PeaceWomen Consolidated Themes: 
General Women, Peace and Security
Human Rights
Sexual and Gender-Based Violence

A number of alleged domestic violence killings in the past year in Lebanon have fueled a renewed attention on women's rights in the country, as victims' families and activists speak out.

Rights groups said two women lost their lives in tragic circumstances last month.

Manal Assi died after her husband reportedly beat her with a pressure cooker and Christelle Abu Shaqra died after her husband allegedly poisoned her.

“He used to take his pistol and shoot at her, and he even tried to remove a tattoo she had on her arm with an iron,” Abu Shaqra's mother told a local television station recently about her daughter's husband.

The recent spate of alleged domestic violence incidents' has amplified public outrage in Lebanon, leading many to demand politicians pass a law against domestic violence.

While Lebanon is considered one of the most liberal countries in the Middle East, it has no law protecting women from violence by family members.
Women hold placards during a rally, notably to denounce domestic violence, on the "International Women's Day" on March 8, 2014 in front of the National Museum in the capital Beirut. (AAP)

There are no exact statistics on the trend in the country but rights groups said one woman a month is killed by domestic violence while thousands more are subjected to physical and verbal abuse every year.

After the death of Rola Yacoub last July, who was beaten to death by her husband in front of their children, a parliamentary committee approved an amended a draft law criminalising domestic violence.

However, the National Assembly, who needs to pass the law, has failed to meet in almost two years.

One amendment to the draft law introduced the spousal right to sexual intercourse, while another one removed a special status for women and added adultery to the definition of domestic violence.

Activists said they want the changes reversed so the bill focuses on women and includes a move to criminalise marital rape.

But the new bill has also faced firm opposition from religious figures.

A woman holds portraits of victims of domestic violence during a rally on the "International Women's Day" on March 8, 2014 in front of the National Museum in the capital Beirut. (AAP)

“Religious groups exercise authority over matters pertaining to personal status, such as marriage, divorce, child custody and inheritance,” Lea Baroudi, founding member of March, a Lebanese NGO that works on civil rights, said.

“The Shi'a, Sunni, Christian and Druze confessions have state-appointed, government-subsidised clerical courts that administer family and personal status law. The interference of religious groups in these matters instead of having civil laws that protect all citizens equally make it difficult to pass certain laws as some religious authorities do not believe that there is something called domestic violence or marital rape as per their religion.”

Roula El Masri, gender equality programme manager at ABAAD-Resource Centre for Gender Equality, said passing a law to protect women exclusively from domestic violence would be essential to instigating change in Lebanon.

“There should also be awareness on a national and community level on the cost and effect of violence,” she added.

“Domestic violence is still seen as a taboo in Lebanon, but the media is shedding a spotlight on the issue. All forms of violence is condemned and must be ended.”

Baroudi echoed her thoughts.

“What we hope to achieve as a first step is to simply protect these women from getting beaten up by their husbands with impunity,” she said.

“On the longer term we hope to achieve equality of all citizens regardless of gender or religion under civil rights laws. Civil personal status law would help in achieving equality in rights between women and men and help to liberate Lebanese people from sectarianism and build a proper secular state.”