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    Fighting Violence Bottom Up

    All Lebanese condemn violence. They denounce it every day and promise to confront it. They raised hell in May 2008, when arms were used against other Lebanese, and constantly point the finger at Israel because of all the violence it has inflicted upon Lebanon for years. True, violence is awful, and using arms against innocent people is outrageous, but that is the public; what about the private?

    Now ten days running, a campaign, “16 Days of Activism against Violence against Women”, has been putting pressure on the Lebanese parliament to pass a law designed to protect women from domestic violence.

    After years of activism and continuous efforts to raise awareness, the Lebanese cabinet finally approved a draft law to protect women from family violence in April 2010. The new law would require those guilty of abuse to pay their victims compensation and be subject to court-ordered rehabilitation. It would also allow women to obtain restraining orders against their husbands while claims of domestic violence are being investigated. However, since its inception, the law has been met with opposition from religious leaders, who are afraid it might undermine religious laws. Thus, parliament hasn’t had the time, or maybe the will, to endorse it. The reason is very simple: women are still considered second-class citizens.

    Granting them equal rights might upset the religious institutions and, of course, politicians hate to let down their religious figures.

    The crux of the matter lies in the fact that Lebanese law recognizes 18 confessions and grants authority to religious courts. Therefore, personal status law depends on these various religious laws and not on one unified civil code.

    The state-religion-family power triangle makes it too complicated for women to break away. Religion imposes discriminatory laws on the state, and these laws are welcomed by the traditional family structure, which prefers to keep women in check. The public sphere is left to men, who control politics, religion and family. It is a vicious circle.

    Discrimination still exists in the civil status, nationality, labor and social security laws, and the penal code.

    The personal status laws threaten women with divorce and polygamy. Women come second on matters of compensation, child custody and inheritance. There is still no legislative text to protect women from domestic violence.

    On the other hand, violence is becoming a symbol of manliness and masculinity. The problem is that it is becoming so difficult to condemn street or armed violence when it is practiced at home every day. We flatter ourselves by claiming to be “modern”, “educated” and “civilized” people, but who are we kidding? We live by a public image, and do not care about what happens behind closed doors.

    As long as it happens in the private sphere, society rarely cares and the state does not interfere, but this only weakens the state and its authority. Endorsing the law would make women who fall victim to domestic violence the responsibility of the state, but it seems that’s something the state authorities do not want to deal with.

    It is a patriarchal gender power structure that encourages violence against women, and deep down inside, condones violence in its other forms. Politically and socially, the rhetoric of violence has been linked to the perception of honor. A woman suffers physical and moral violence and is subject to honor crimes because she symbolizes the honor of the family.

    On the other hand, the use of arms in Lebanon is also linked to the honor of the community. Hezbollah’s rhetoric has recently adopted the honor concept many times. After the 2006 war, slogans addressing the people of the south as “the most honorable people” filled the streets in southern villages and towns to compensate for the death and damage. In May 2008, the attacks on Beirut were committed in the name of the honor of the Resistance. And finally, after the international investigators were attacked by a group of women at a women’s clinic in the southern suburbs, Hezbollah leader Hassan Nasrallah justified the attack by saying that the investigators violated the honor of women who visit this clinic.

    Honor is the word, and protecting honor justifies violence. If those who say they refuse violence condemn Hezbollah’s practices, based on honor, then the same people should also condemn violence against women in private. Otherwise, it is pure hypocrisy.

    If we don’t try to fight violence on the cultural and social levels, we will never be able to eliminate it on the political level. The only way to end violence is to address it on all levels, personal, structural and cultural. No tradition and no religion should stand in the way of this law, because if we really want to protect our society from violence, we need to start at the roots.

    Parliament needs to discuss this issue as a priority, and start looking at women not only as half of the society, because it is not a matter of numbers. Women should be regarded as equal and treated accordingly. If the Lebanese parliament cannot recognize this simple fact, then Lebanon will never be a real country and real justice will never be achieved.

    Hanin GHADDAR
    NOW Lebanon

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