By Simona Sikimic and Alex Taylor
Saturday, December 11, 2010
BEIRUT: The last 16 days have seen a flurry of activity across the country as government bodies, universities, NGOs and UN agencies all stepped up drives to protect women from violence.
Concluding Friday, “The 16 Day Campaign” has proved to be the most successful to date, with over 2,000 signatures being collected in support of a law protecting women against domestic violence and other forms of abuse.
“Based on distributed materials, we succeeded in reaching 68,000 people across Lebanon,” said KAFA program coordinator Ghida Anani.
KAFA, a NGO dedicated to promoting women’s rights, was the driving force behind the Lebanese portion of the international campaign which runs each year from November 24, designated as International Day for the Elimination of Violence against Women, until UN Human Rights Day on December 10.
Social Affairs Minister Salim Sayegh, speaking on behalf of Prime Minister Saad
Hariri, attended the campaign’s closing ceremony held at Beirut’s UN Education, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) Palace.
This year KAFA joined forces with universities to initiate a subsidiary “White Ribbon” campaign to symbolize a pledge to not commit, condone or remain silent on the issue.
The initiative is the first of its kind in the Middle East and saw some 20,000 ribbons distributed through various events held at university campuses around Beirut.
“In terms of geographical coverage and number of people engaged, [this year’s campaign is] the largest yet for KAFA,” Anani told The Daily Star.
“Awareness may create active movement. That is the point of democracy to translate public opinion into public policy,” said Joseph Jabbra, the president of the Lebanese American University, which participated in the campaign.
“Unfortunately in our Middle East and Arab society we don’t like to talk about violence against women but it is our duty as universities [and citizens] to bring the issue out into the open.”
“It is very important for women, especially those who have been subjected to violence, to rise up and to refuse to be silenced by any laws. It is their God-given right to be respected by society and most importantly by members of their own families,” he told The Daily Star.
According to UN statistics, 70 percent of women are subject to violence in their lives, regardless of their religious or economic status.
“Violence against women impoverishes society economically, politically and culturally through limiting that active role that women can undertake,” said UN Information Center Lebanon director Bahaa Kawsi. “Enhancing and protecting women’s human rights and … equality between women and men, is an essential factor that contributes to eradicating gender violence.”
The recent campaigns runs in support of the “UNiTE to End Violence against Women” initiative set up by UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon in 2008. Operating until 2015, UNiTE hopes to pressure governments into passing legislation against gender-based violence by producing reports on the issue and increasing awareness.
Despite rising pressure from the international community to enhance the protection of human rights, countries have thus far failed to make “tangible progress” in limiting violence against women, said Kawsi.
Lebanon is a signatory to the UN Convention to End All Forms of Discrimination Against Women, but it has opted out of key clauses pertaining to the right of equal citizenship, including the passing on of nationality, as well as personal status laws, which govern issues such as divorce and inheritance.
“[We live] in a country where we feel that we have a lot of rights but our regulations relating to women are some of the most archaic, dating back to the Ottoman period,” said Jabbra.
“We have to exert pressure on governments to change these archaic laws so that the whole of society can advance.”
At Riad Solh square, over 100 demonstrators gathered in a separate protest to voice anger over politicians’ failure to amend legislation allowing women to pass their nationality to their children and non-Lebanese husbands.
The 62 years since the introduction of the UN’s International Human Rights Charter is sufficient time to demand an “end to injustice and plundering of women’s rights,” said Azza Mroue, on behalf of the National Gathering to End Discrimination Against Women, a pressure-group behind Friday’s protest.
Although Parliament is located close by, “it seems like a long distance” from the desired legislation, which was being stymied by legislators’ “closing the doors of legislation and marginalizing citizens,” said Mroue.
But despite countless hurdles, activists insist progress is being made.
“The response from young men and women [for the White Ribbon campaign] was phenomenal,” said KAFA member Anthony Keedi, who worked on the campaign. “Young men really embraced the message that even if you are not abusive, being silent about abuse has just as negative an effect on society.”
Out of the 850 signatures acquired on the four campuses in support of the anti-domestic violence legislation petition, 42 percent are thought to be from men.
“It’s not just talking, not just putting on a ribbon. It’s an action,” said Keedi. “By signing, that is a direct way for young men to start stopping violence against women in their country.”