Marching For Domestic Violence Legislation


On February 24, 2013, several hundred protesters marched on the streets of Beirut to call on the Lebanese parliament to pass the Law to Protect Women from Family Violence, which would criminalize physical, mental, and sexual abuse, marital rape, and honor crimes.

Protesters marched from the Sanayeh Garden, facing the Ministry of the Interior in Hamra, to Ain el-Tineh, where the residence of Speaker Nabih Berri is located.

The turnout was likely to be bigger had the police and Lebanese Army not blocked major roads leading to the capital, in anticipation of a sit-in in Downtown Beirut, organized by Salafi cleric Ahmad al-Assir and his followers to protest delays in the release and trials of Islamist inmates.

But it wasn’t just al-Assir who dampened the proceedings of the march. To me and several other participants at the march, the presence of representatives from political parties, just added insult to injury. These parties, who don’t exactly have a track record of supporting the legislation, turned the march into a platform for their usual hypocrytical speeches, in a desperate bid to win some votes ahead of the upcoming parliamentary elections.

The protest was part of a campaign called “The protection of women is more important than your seats” launched by the National Coalition for Legalizing the Protection of Women from Family Violence.

The campaign started with an open letter from a survivor of family violence addressed to Speaker Berri, telling him her ordeal and asking him to put the law back on parliament’s agenda.

Other letters from survivors addressed to MPs were published in different newspapers and aggregated on the blog Hayde 7Keyte.

No, electoral laws are not more important than the laws we’re demanding. They are not more important than the Law to Protect Women from Family Violence. – Zoya Rouhana, director of KAFA

During the march, speakers blasted at full volume a key part in Nabih Berri’s 2009 acceptance speech, in which he said: “The new parliament must enact the necessary legislations to guarantee women’s full participation in the government and society, and their protection from violence, and amend the discriminatory laws in this respect in the Lebanese law.”

With the parliamentary elections around the corner, MPs had scratched the Law to Protect Women from Family Violence off their agenda to discuss a new electoral law (the Orthodox-Maronite Gathering law, which reeks of sectarianism, being one of the proposals).

“We’ve always heard them say that the time is not right to raise issues they consider to be secondary because the fate of the country is at stake,” said Zoya Rouhana, director of the NGO, KAFA, that worked on drafting and promoting the law. “And we’re here to say that our issues and other livelihood issues are not secondary, and that our fate, us women, is at stake.”

On average, one woman dies every month as a result of family violence in Lebanon, according to logged reports.

“Women are being killed and nobody utters a word,” Rouhana said. “Women are being tortured and nobody utters a word. Our patriarchal society has long buried these crimes underneath so-called “sanctities” and “privacies” of the family, which you’ve imposed on us in order to tighten your grip and control our lives as you please.”

Rouhana continued: “No, electoral laws are not more important than the laws we’re demanding. They are not more important than the Law to Protect Women from Family Violence.”

A draft version of the family violence bill was approved by Lebanon’s Cabinet in 2010. But it has since been languishing in parliament, mainly due to the objections of Sunni and Shia authorities.

Last year, the parliamentary committee reviewing the bill presented a report in which it diluted the language of the law, thus defeating its purpose. Key provisions, including language that would criminalize marital rape, were amended or removed.

The bill – whether revised or in its original form – still has to be put up for a vote before parliament to pass.

Click here to view the Photo Gallery “Protest to Demand Domestic Violence Legislation” on Flickr, or browse through the selected thumbnails below.

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