LEBANON: Protesters Come out Against Gender Violence

Monday, May 30, 2011
The Daily Star
Western Asia
PeaceWomen Consolidated Themes: 
Peace Processes

Pressure mounted on Lebanese authorities to adopt laws banning gender-based violence Sunday as several hundred demonstrators took to the streets of Beirut.

Calling for the speedy adoption of a draft law criminalizing domestic violence that is currently under discussing in committee, around 400 activists from 51 different civil society groups marched from the Interior Ministry in Sanayeh to Riad al-Solh Square in downtown Beirut.

“People asking for these laws are Lebanese citizens and non-Lebanese citizens living on these lands,” said Zoya Rouhana, director of civil society group KAFA: Enough Violence and Exploitation, which spearheaded Sunday's march.

“They are educated and uneducated members of society, and they come from all social classes across Lebanon.”

The legislation has received tentative approval from most political parties, with the Future Movement, Free Patriotic Movement, Amal and Lebanese Forces all present at the event Sunday.

“We are here to confirm that it is not right to have in Lebanon – the Lebanon of civilization and of education and of tolerance and of universities and schools that we brag about – women violently abused by their husbands, or women violently abused by their fathers or their brothers,” said Strida Geagea, a Lebanese Forces MP and wife of LF leader, Samir Geagea.

“This is a sign of lack of civilization. This is why we are here and we will participate in the march,” she added.

The political support, however, was greeted with mixed reactions, with many activists opposing parties' participation, booing political speakers as they addressed the crowd.

“I almost left the protest when I saw that the political parties were participating,” said demonstrator, Nael Aoun.

“All these parties represent macho ideals and have just come out to make people believe these people support them. This was a big disappointment but we can't just go away because of them and let them dissuade us from supporting this very important cause.”

Presently, Lebanese legislation is relatively mute on the issue of domestic violence perpetrated by male family members against their female relative. The issue is rather ruled by Lebanon's religious courts, which hold sway on matters concerning the family, such as divorce and inheritance.

“The women's cause is for the whole of society and not only for a certain group of people,” said protestor Rina Duran, Beirut.

“In Lebanon unfortunately sometimes if a woman gets hurt or violated by her husband she cannot go to the courts because they consider that it is his right to ‘educate' her,” Duran said.

“We want to tell the people that the cause of women against violence is a human right, for all people equally.”

The adoption of the draft law, enacting prison sentences for men found to be beating or harming their female relatives, has become a subject of great contention, with rival protests, taking root in Tripoli Saturday.

Organized by women's groups with deep Islamic religious affiliations, the demonstration drew several dozen women, all opposing state interference in the domestic sphere.

KAFA, however, have dismissed the criticism, saying that the accusations against them are “filled with lots of misinterpretations and misinformation.”

Any kind of discrimination based on sex, race or religion, is strictly prohibited by the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, which was incorporated into the Lebanese constitution.

“It's not acceptable anymore that women are asked to be patient and understanding and silent in the face of violence … just for the sake of preserving the family,” said Rouhana.

“And it's not acceptable any more that the male-dominated society refers to religion just to keep their women prisoner,” she said.

“Religion gives human beings their rights before anything else,” she added.

Former Interior Minister Ziayd Baroud had been a prominent supporter of the anti-abuse legislation.

His resignation last week is being heralded as a major blow to the drive, although activists have vowed to keep up the fight and are promising to step up lobbying efforts over the coming months.