By Simona Sikimic
Monday, January 03, 2011
BEIRUT: Passage of gender-based violence legislation should be a top national priority in 2011, women’s rights activists said Sunday to mark the start of the New Year.
Some important progress has been made in the last 12 months, with a draft law on domestic abuse gaining approval by the Cabinet that publicly discussed the issue for the first time.
In spite of this endorsement, however, a parliamentary vote on the issue has been shelved for the time being, falling victim to the general paralysis of the state’s decision-making bodies, overburdened with divisions on how to tackle concerns surrounding the Special Tribunal for Lebanon (STL).
“Getting the law to this stage is one of our biggest achievements and perhaps one of the biggest steps for women’s rights in Lebanon in the last decade,” said Zoya Rouhana director of women’s rights NGO Kafa.
“Protecting women from violence and sexual exploitation is a vital human rights issue which has been ignored for too long but we have finally managed to shift many areas of the debate from the private to the public sphere.
“We are planning to intensify our advocacy for the law and will keep pushing for its ratification, which we do hope to see it in the near future. We will also work toward securing solid implementation procedures that have to be approved by different ministries.”
The law has been discussed in committee, but despite being positively received, conservative pressures forced the original draft document to be altered to account for “cultural sensitivities” that preserve religious laws which continue to regulate issues like marriage, divorce and custody. Such a compromise was seen as necessary to accelerate passage of the legislation but has been criticized for falling short of the intended reforms.
“The inequality that exists in personal-status law is a main issue that creates some cases of violence against women, depriving them of their basic rights,” said Rouhana. “Legislation alone is not enough. We also have to change the minds and actions of people.”
This legal disparity between men and women was a major topic during Lebanon’s November UN Universal Periodic Review where the human-rights situation in the country was publicly evaluated and once again urged to adopt the Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination against Women Convention. Lebanon has ratified the convention but with several crucial reservations that allow for the preservation of personal-status law.