By Brooke Anderson
BEIRUT: Hundreds of Lebanese gathered in Downtown Beirut over the weekend to protest the country’s lack of legislation against domestic violence. Nearly 300 supporters took part in the rally, dubbed STOP Domestic Violence Against Women, which was held at Samir Kassir Square Saturday.
Local activists organized the demonstration to raise awareness of Lebanon’s lack of laws protecting women from domestic abuse, including spousal rape and physical violence.
Protesters carried signs reading, “If you want a chick, go buy an egg,” “Adam and Even,” and “All marriages are sacred, but not all are safe.” A similar march against rape last month drew around 600 people.
“In Lebanon, women don’t know the laws that don’t protect them,” said Hala Akiki, who organized the event through a campaign that included billboards, television ads and fliers, with the support of her employer, advertising agency Leo Burnett.
The advertisements, which have been running for the past several weeks, show a woman with a black eye, beneath the words, “Legally, he can still abuse you.”
Akiki says that the original caption, “He will legally rape you,” was deemed too inflammatory for Lebanon’s General Security authorities, but the words remain on the group’s Facebook page.
Plans for the protest came following a series of leaks from Parliament, which has been reviewing a domestic violence draft law since April 2010.
The proposed legislation, drafted by the NGO Kafa and supported by dozens of other groups, calls for the punishment of men who physically or sexually abuse their wives.
Currently, there’s no such legislation, with all family law being governed by religious courts, which tend to favor men.
Critics argue that the parliamentary committee tasked with studying the law has made so many concessions that the proposed legislation has become irrelevant.
The committee is made up of eight MPs (seven men and one woman): Samir Jisr, Nabil Nicolas, Michel Helou, Gilberte Zouein, Ghassan Moukheiber, Ali Ammar, Imad Hout and Shant Jinjinian.
One of the most controversial amendments made by the group removed a clause in the draft law that would outlaw spousal rape.
In December, Hout told The Daily Star, “There’s nothing called rape between a husband and a wife. It’s called forcing someone violently to have intercourse.”
“I think the existing domestic violence laws are ridiculous,” said Gino Raidy, a student at the American University of Beirut who blogs about Lebanese society and politics.
He added that “the attempts to derail efforts to fix these archaic laws are despicable, and I refuse to stand idly by as the law is rendered obsolete.”
Maya Ammar, media officer at Kafa, acknowledges her frustration with the delays and concessions in implementing a strong law to protect women against domestic violence.
“While they were studying the law, they distorted it,” she said.
“But we’ll find new ways to put pressure [on the government].”
Indeed, for those looking to send a message to the government, there was some hope for protesters, with the presence of Telecommunications Minister Nicolas Sehnaoui, whose Free Patriotic Movement, which holds the majority of the committee members, has been criticized for failing to safeguard the law.
“His presence and support for the movement fighting the damaging draft law amendments were ... welcome,” Raidy said.
“And protesters demanded he pressure his party’s MPs to drop the amendments,” he added.