Paola Daher: The last fight is ahead of us

Published on: January 27, 2012
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Many tourists come to Lebanon thinking it is the most liberal country in the Middle East, with its bustling nightlife, restaurants, bars and clubs. They marvel at the rows of mini-skirted women dancing the night away and leave the country thinking Lebanese women are emancipated and free, the very opposite of oppressed; blissfully unaware of what daily life must be for Lebanese women and girls.

And believe you me, daily life isn’t exactly a walk in the park.

Women, as all citizens, have to bear the incessant electricity interruptions, the never ending traffic, the poor social services, the constant rises of prices and the overall political instability that has been plaguing the country for what seems like time immemorial, but stay with me, for the whoopees simply just never stop in the Land of Cedars. Add to this already unbearable situation a pinch (more like a fistful really) of sexual harassment on the streets and in the workplace, making daily routine activities such as walking down Hamra Street a proper ordeal causing stress and anger to any woman forced to bear disgusting comments on her breasts made by idle men appearing to be doing absolutely nothing except devoting their time to being offensive, an ounce of legal discrimination instilling double standards between how men and women are treated before Lebanese law, a spoonful of good old patriarchy and a cup of confessionalism, and there you have it, a perfect recipe for anger.

Indeed, Lebanese women’s rights are being violated by Lebanese law: their right to life, to live free from violence and not to be submitted to inhumane and degrading treatment are violated by the absence of any law criminalizing violence against women; while the Parliament is still tiptoeing around the Violence Against Women Bill, refusing to pass it because religious authorities oppose it, some women go home to an abusive relationship that is destroying their and their children’s lives, putting their lives at risk, unable to leave because the state has made no provision to protect them,  failing to its duty. Sexual harassment is not punishable, marital rape virtually does not exist, never mind criminalized, as article 503 and 504 of the Lebanese criminal code understands rape as any forced sexual intercourse perpetrated on a women who is not one’s wife and prosecution and sanctions against a rapist can be abandoned and lifted if said rapist marries its victim under article 522 of the same criminal code.

The legal situation in which women find themselves has an impact on the population’s mentality: how can we ever dream of shifting patriarchal beliefs and values if the very law of the country validates them? Faced with this situation, women have no choice but mobilize themselves against the blatant discrimination they face.

This is why the feminist collective Nasawiya is organizing a march against rape, marital rape and violence against women on the 14 th of January, gathering women from many different organizations and women citizens concerned by their second-class status within Lebanon society and before Lebanese law. The mobilization stems not only from the abusive laws, but also from a feeling of growing insecurity in front of the increasing amounts of cases of harassment, abuse, rape and murders that are being reported and that communities hear about. We are also very aware that the cases we hear about are only the tip of the iceberg as many abused women do not dare say anything because they feel ashamed simply because society makes them believe they probably did something to deserve the abuse, because they do not think their families will be there so support them or even believe them, or finally because they feel powerless, for public authorities regard the private home as sacred and therefore seldom intervene in issues that are considered private.

In this march, we are calling on the Parliament to:
Pass the draft law for Protection from Domestic Violence without any further delay

  • Intensify punitive measures against rapists and those who attempt rape, amending the current laws
  • Treat verbal harassment as physical harassment, especially in the work place, making it a crime subject to judicial penalties
  • Deal with complaints related to sexual violence with rigor and consistency. We call on the Interior Ministry and the municipalities to also apply those measures.
  • The three bodies should work to make our streets and neighborhoods safe, especially during the night-time, by taking appropriate measures

We are not asking for the moon, we are asking for what is rightfully ours, our rights. Lebanon has ratified the Convention for the Elimination of all forms of Discrimination Against Women (CEDAW) in 1996 and has therefore voluntarily made itself legally bound to the provisions of this Convention, as repeatedly stated by the reports of the CEDAW Committee which periodically reviews the situation of women’s rights in Lebanon.

Us, Lebanese women, are citizens of this country, a country we do not want to leave but in which we want to be treated fairly and equally.

Let our march on the 14 th be a reminder to the public authorities and parliamentarians that they represent us, the people, and that they have duties towards us.

We will not stop reminding them until our demands are met.

Feminist activists have been doing an extensive online and offline campaign to inform the population about the March and urge people to come. Pay close attention to your radio and TV programs, to the leaflets we are distributing, to the posters plastered on the walls of your cities, to the Lebanese Blogosphere, to our Twitter account @Nasawiya , as well as to our website www.nasawiya.org and to the Facebook event .

Paola Daher is a blogger and an LBCblogs contributor. You can contact her on Twitter here or visit her blog .

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