By Brooke Anderson
BEIRUT: Women and men from across Lebanon marched together over the weekend to call for changing the law governing rape crimes and support for victims of such acts.
The march, which began at noon in the Beirut district of Sanayeh, and ended in Parliament Square, drew over 600 people Saturday. Marchers held signs reading, “It is time to hear the screams of all the mothers and daughters the law has silenced,” “Change the laws against marital rape,” and “Skirt length is not an invitation.”
Meanwhile, men attending held signs saying, “Manhood is not coercion,” “Real men take no for an answer,” and “I respect my mother. The law should too.”
The march was organized by feminist collective Nasawiya with the goals of raising awareness of the crime and protesting a lack of legislation against spousal rape as well as laws that drop sentences for rapists who agree to marry their victims. Organizers are also calling for better facilities for rape victims to report the crime.
“Although I’m a man, this is important to me because we all have sisters, mothers, friends and cousins who are affected by this,” said Michael Oghia, a sociology student at the American University of Beirut who also runs the blog LOVEanon, which focuses on love and relationships in Lebanon.
“If anything is going to change, men will need to be a part of it,” Oghia, who attended the rally, said. “Men are part of the problem, and they can also be part of the solution.”
Nick Jensen-Thomas, a psychology student at AUB, was also one of the men showing his support at the demonstration. He said he was attending the demonstration for several reasons.
“There’s a culture of rape, and it’s promoted that men should have a domineering stance, especially sexually,” he said. “It’s not just particular to Lebanon. It happens everywhere. I’d march against it in the U.S. and I’m marching against it in Lebanon.”
Six 17-year-old girls who were there for a project they had chosen to do for their scouts, said they were there because they supported the demonstration. Reem Araj said: “We are all the women of tomorrow. We are all exposed to this scandal, everyday.”
“You can’t walk at night. You can’t walk in the streets. Even if I want to go to the gym I have to be careful,” Youmna Berbery, another scout, said.
Nasawiya had set up a Facebook page, “A Call to Demonstrate against Rape,” to organize the event, which by Saturday had more than 1,600 members – those who couldn’t attend showed their support nonetheless.
Writing on the event’s Facebook page Saturday morning, Jana Mezher said: “Supporting you all! It’s a really good idea! I love this country. But it’s time to change it to raise our voice so they can be heard. You all Lebanese women and girls have to go down today and fight rape!”
Prime Minister Najib Mikati tweeted on Jan. 12: “As a PM in office, I can’t be in the demo ... but I will support the Lebanese women’s noble cause FightRape, no matter what!”
But for others, Lebanon shouldn’t even need to have such a march. Fatima Karhib, a 20-year-old college student watched the event from afar. She supported the cause, but said events like this were not for her. – With additional reporting by Emma Gatten