Paola Daher: Marching towards equality

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The worst part of it all, is that we all know a woman who has been abused, harassed or raped.

Those were the words I overheard a man saying to his friend while we were marching down the streets of Beirut during the FightRape protest organized by the Feminist Collective Nasawiya on the 14th of January.

His words resonated with me as I remember thinking that he was right: we all do know a Lebanese woman who has suffered some sort of abuse. I myself am shocked to say that I learnt about two new cases (that’s on top of the ones I already knew of) in the past week, a regular occurrence that seems to repeat itself at a disturbing pace.

It is because of the unbearable common place character of such news that feminist activists and concerned citizens took to the streets last Saturday following a consistent and acute call for mobilization initiated by Lebanese feminist Collective Nasawiya. Mobilisation entailed stenciling Beiruti walls, plastering every corner of every street with posters, recording support messages from Lebanese celebrities such as singers Zeid Hamdan, Aziza and Mayalinne H from band Lumi as well as from United Nations officials such as Ms Simel Esim, Gender Specialist in the ILO’s Regional Office for the Arab States in Beirut, negotiating ads space with media, giving interviews to different TV channels, writing endlessly in various outlets and circulating leaflets for people to share at their workplace and within their networks.

The protest called for the following points:

  • Criminalizing marital rape by amending articles 503 and 504 of the Lebanese Criminal Code that consider rape as forced intercourse (penetration) on a woman who is not one’s wife, therefore leaving out marital rape altogether from the definition
  • Cancelling article 522 of the Criminal Code that stops prosecution and cancels sanctions for a rapist if he married his victim
  • Applying proper sanctions to a person found guilty of rape
  • Pressuring the government and parliamentarians into passing the domestic violence Bill currently at a standstill because of opposition from religious authorities who consider such a law an interference from the State within affairs usually taken care of by religious communities
  • Criminalizing verbal and physical harassment and encourage the government to take appropriate measure to make streets safer for all citizens

Hundreds (some estimations going as far as over a thousand) of protestors therefore took to the streets to put the government in front of its responsibilities towards its citizens, chanting slogans such as, amongst others, “We want our full rights”, “The Law Must Pass”, “Against Rape, Revolution!”.

It is indeed a revolution the Lebanese people are calling for: a legal one, where all citizens, despite their gender and social class, are considered equal before the law in a substantive way, not only on paper, but also a revolution of the minds, where the social constructs that are gender, masculinities and femininities shift and no longer dictate how people should behave or are expected to behave and what place should be awarded to them within a society.

The demonstration ended at Riad Al Solh Square, close to the Parliament, where some protesters pushed further the reclaiming of their streets. Indeed, to protestors, marching in the face of abuse, harassment and rape was crucial, but some activists took it to the next level by breaking the army and security forces checkpoints surrounding the Parliament in a powerful symbolic gesture to show public powers that every street of a given city belongs to its citizens and that even though the Violence Against Women Bill did not pass, they did.

Watching them from afar, split seconds before security forces jumped to stop them, just looking at these women running freely holding their banners, asking for equality and justice, I felt they had – and gave me- wings.

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

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