For the past year and a half, Lebanese feminist activists have been serving as a voice for the women of their country who are suffering because of the deeply rooted patriarchy and the government dictated by religious authorities. This weekend protesters gathered to demand that their politicians take measures to introduce new laws that protect women from abusive husbands.
In 2010, Lebanon’s Cabinet approved of a draft of the Law to Protect Women from Family Violence. This initial version criminalized physical and sexual abuse, honor crimes, and marital rape. It also created domestic violence response units within the police, and provided the ability to obtain a restraining order against an abuser. But the law has not been able to pass through Parliament because of the many objections of Muslim leaders. Lebanon’s judicial system features religious courts, allowing judges to preside over the country’s faith communities. The religious courts review personal matters, including marital problems. Religious courts in Lebanon focus on keeping the family together, regardless of the circumstance. These courts have been outspoken in their criticism of the law to Protect Women from Family Violence, claiming it is an attempt to minimize their authority.
According to CNN, Dar al-Fatwa, Lebanon's top Sunni authority, and the Higher Shi'a Islamic Council both opposed the draft because the Quran’s Sharia laws protected the status of women, and should remain the basis for governing legal issues with regards to Muslim families. In addition, a judge in the Sunni religious court named Sheik Ahmad Al-Kurdi told CNN that criminalizing marital rape “could lead to the imprisonment of the man … where in reality he is exercising the least of his marital rights.” A provision that criminalized marital rape was removed from the bill.
If women do attempt to press charges against their abuser, they are met with resentment. Lebanese lawyer Amer Badreddine told CNN, "They are told to solve the problem amicably, to keep it a family issue and not cause embarrassment to themselves by bringing it to the police."
Nadine Mouwad, an activist, explains that the outside world views Lebanon as a more modern, liberated country in the Middle East because of the unveiled, glamorous women in Beirut.
"The problem is that we are sold a lot of fake freedoms that raise Lebanese women under the impression that they have freedom to go anywhere, freedom to dress the way they want to," Mouwad said. Mouwad founded Nasawiyas, a collective of feminist activists committed to gender equality. Her organization hears fifteen cases annually of a women murdered by her husband. She said that the original draft of the Law to Protect Women from Family Violence has been sabotaged by religious conservatives adding amendments that if it were to be passed, it would be counterproductive and harmful to women.
As Lebanon’s election approaches in June, women have started to vocalize their frustration by sending anonymous letters to Parliament and the media that detail what victims have been subjected to by the hands of their abuser. One letter reads:
"[My husband] hit me after finding one of my hairs in the tub, after I had taken a bath. He grabbed my hand and started hitting me on the head […] My one-and-a-half-year-old daughter started crying and tried to help me. She wanted to save me from him. Since then, I’m always ready. In the evenings, I don’t dare change out of my day clothes because I always want to be ready to leave home when he starts getting really angry, which is sometimes due to alcohol, sometimes not. When that happens I flee the house and sleep in my car, by the side of a road, so that my daughter won’t have to witness this violence again."
Lebanon needs an uprising, similar to that of India, of women and men joining forces to protect one another from violence. The international community must be exposed to the oppression women face in Lebanon for the religious courts to feel pressure to protect the women of their country. I sincerely hope it does not take an unimaginable atrocity, like a brutal gang rape, for the world to realize that.