For the first time in years, the streets of Lebanon will not be filled with banners and slogans showing solidarity with women and advocating for their rights, marking November 25th, the designated day that signifies the International Day for the Elimination of Violence against Women.
This day used to witness countless community and legal associations and women’s groups pressuring the government to take a definitive stance on laws to protect women.
“Women’s demands have all been present on the street since October 17th,” a young street activist explained while holding up a banner that read ‘Yes to a Unified Marital Law’.
“We demand a country governed by civil law, which would, in turn, affect women’s status in society, our problems lay in the existence of different religious factions and their interpretations of the law,” she said in a statement to 7Dnews.
Nicole is a vibrant young woman whom you can always find in Martyr Square holding up a banner that reads ‘Women’s Rights’, yet regardless of her efforts, she believes that “The revolution has already listed all our demands as women, and as soon as we get a separate civil marital court, all our problems will be solved, this is why we are all here.”
As Nicole said, since day one, women’s rights have always been present as an integral part of the revolution. Demands include among other rights, the right of a Lebanese woman to give her children her nationality. However, the most important right has been securing a country governed by civil law, that would, in turn, secure all those rights for women, as clearly stated by women activists.
Violence against women is unjustly accepted by religious factions and communities in Lebanon, and the type of courts that they run. Condemnation of this injustice is voiced by other female activists and has been upheld by Laila Awada, a founding member and manager of the domestic violence unit at Kafa, a non-government organisation (NGO) that supports women and minorities, denounces all forms of violence and calls for gender equality.
In an interview with 7Dnews, Awada said, “Regardless of existing laws and those that protect women against violence, the only thing that hinders our efforts to effectively combat violence are marital laws and all the injustices they represent against women.
“Regardless of having a law that protects women against domestic violence and an awareness that denounces them, marital laws remain the only roadblock on the road to freeing women from the involuntary submission imposed on them by their families and husbands.”
She said, “There are 18 factions and 25 marital laws, each falls under a certain factional influence, and all of them discriminate against women and justify violence one way or another.
“If a woman refused to obey her husband, some religious factions would take her to court, while others would deny her a divorce, and others still would deny her a divorce if her child was older than two years, all these restrictions were set to prevent women being liberated from violence and restrictions.
“Even if a woman decided to break that endless and vicious circle of violence, and start a new life, she is always faced with more rigorous and unjust marital laws,” Awada said.
Laws are not enough
Until 2014, there had been no law to protect women against violence nor had there ever been a law that addressed domestic violence in particular, and all family cases used to be investigated under criminal law.
However, since then, Kafa has worked with other community associations to ensure the issuing and passing of new laws to address “Women’s and family’s safety from domestic violence,” and to safeguard their passage through the legal system in Lebanon.
Nonetheless, the 2014 marital law was inadequate with rigid elements that were challenges to women rights’ advocates.
According to Awada, “The redefined marital law was only beneficial to families, but not women in particular… this largely happened because the legislators who worked on it, were not fully convinced of the necessity to have laws that were tailored to women’s protection and to addressing violence against women in particular. They merely viewed violence against women from a social perspective believing that women normally fell victim to it because they most likely had disobeyed their menfolk.”
Most prominent among these anomalies in the law was, “… the inability to protect children and their mothers together, if the child is over two years old.
“Practical application of the law has shown that judges have been able to overcome those difficulties that existed within the law, by protecting the children along with their mothers, even if the law does not indicate that specifically,” Awada said.
The restrictions and loopholes in the law have all contributed considerably to how women have been able to deviate from the legal framework and benefit more from it simply by, “granting her the ability to take definitive decisions concerning the protection of her children, such as removing the threat from the house and ensuring that alimony and further financial compensation were paid by the husband,” according to Awada.
Since the issuance of the law in 2014, until today, more than 700 laws to protect women have been issued. These laws also increased penalties for criminal acts against women. However, according to Awada, “The 2014 marital law only applies to current court cases and accusations, and does apply retrospectively, which leaves most of the murders that took place before 2014, without a proper indictment.”
Women in Lebanon have shown strong character and a remarkable spirit in fighting against violence in the last couple of years, however, their achievements remain incomplete due to the rigorous and strict control of most of the religious factions over marital court proceedings.
Awada cited an example from 2017, when an article in the law dictated that a rapist would be acquitted of all charges if he was to marry his victim.
“We did not abolish the article as courts in Jordan did, we nonetheless, have amended it, while considering other offensive articles in the law that provide clear consent to the marriage of underage girls (under 15 years old). This article which is a violation of women rights has been widely endorsed by other religious factions who seem to intervene with civil laws most of the time,” Awada said.
The head of Kafa said that regardless of such difficulties and slow developments, she still felt that the simple liberty that women now enjoy, has empowered them to talk about their problems without shame or fear, and has encouraged them to take those problems to court as well as to demand justice. This, along with the ‘social awareness’ that both women and society have experienced so far, are achievements in their own right.”
Is violence on the rise in Lebanon?
Recently and specifically in the last couple of years, news about violence against women has increased notably on television, in the press, and in public discussions, which would seem to indicate a rise in the frequency of attacks on women.
However, Awada said that “we cannot say that the percentage has increased or declined because we lack the proper statistics required for such a comparison… It could be that due to increased awareness we have managed to achieve so far, the percentage of those reporting it, has increased.”
It also indicates that victims have made use of Kafa, which itself has documented a total of 1,107 cases.
In the light of all the above, we know that protecting women against violence, would include issuing a unified marital law that does not just ensure gender equality, but more specifically ensure that all women have equal rights, according to Awada.
This new law that started as an initiative by Kafa before the revolution, has now found its way firmly in the agenda of those busy demonstrations that cover countless spaces, and vast distances.
Now, meetings have been taking place, discussions have been being held to constantly raise awareness, and women in Lebanon are an integral part of the revolution, and never once have they been absent from the scene.
Translated by Nariman Mohammed