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Lebanon’s youth fight for future free from domestic violence

After months of protests, Lebanon finally passed a solid law that protects women from domestic abuse

Yara al-Wazir

Published: Updated:

The Lebanese parliament disagrees on many things, but this week it proved that there’s one thing people from all walks of life need, regardless of their political and economic background: a solid law that protects women from domestic abuse. It also proved that if the call is made by enough people, and if their future as politicians is threatened by young people, they’ll do what is right.

After months of protests, sparked by the vicious reality of one death per month at the hands of domestic abusers, parliament finally pulled it together ad joined the 21st century by deciding to protect women against domestic abuse. Although there aren’t solid statistics on the rates of domestic abuse, Bader el-Deen, a lawyer focussing on the issue in Lebanon, estimates that about 50 percent of Lebanese women have been victims of this gruesome act.

A call by tomorrow’s generation answered

Although pop-culture has made it seem that young people are at ease with issues of domestic violence, the protests that lead to this bill being debated once again in parliament were brought on by young people. A joint effort by KAFAA (enough), an NGO that protects abused women from their abusers, and a group of young campaigners at the American University of Beirut (AUB) organised a joint protest on World Women’s Day in March. Over 3000 people, ranging from young students to victims of abuse, attended the protest, threatening to pull their vote from lawmakers who don’t vote for the bill. Protesters even took to Twitter, using the hashtag ‘#NoLawNoVote’ to point out their abstinence from voting for politicians in the future if they didn’t push for this law through.

In an almost unprecedented move, lawmakers responded in a shockingly quick manner, passing the law less than a month since the protests.

Rape is rape – the act of coercion is a violation of the body’s sanctity, and that in itself is illegal, regardless of whether the woman is married to the man or not

Yara al-Wazir

In an ideal world, we wouldn’t need the law to tell men that beating someone’s mother, daughter or sister is illegal. In an ideal world, we wouldn’t nurture a culture that allows these cases to go unreported; instead, we’d nurture a culture that teaches basic respect for a woman’s sanctity and body. But this isn’t an ideal world, and although this law is much needed and the fact that it passed is a major achievement, the law isn’t ideal either.

Marital rape is still rape, why isn’t it illegal?

The bill passed disregards one of the major culprits of domestic abuse: marital rape.

Rape is rape – the act of coercion is a violation of the body’s sanctity, and that in itself is illegal, regardless of whether the woman is married to the man or not. A legal document should not have any bearing on what happens inside the bedroom.

The reasons behind not including a specific clause that addresses marital rape are complex and are wrapped in a religious blanket that insinuates that a woman must obey her husband. However, religious texts do not justify force as a means to achieve this need. Islamic religious texts refer to a man “going to bed angry” – thus, if it was justifiable by religion, why would one go to bed angry? Regardless of whether or not marital rape is justified by religion, Lebanese law is not based on a specific religion – even when it comes to marriage, May 2013 saw the countries first civil marriage ceremony conducted, replacing the traditional religious ceremony. So what gives?

Moving forward

The superiority complex suffered plagues our society – the mere belief that there is any case where it can be justified that a man lays his hand on a woman to physically or emotionally harm her is outrageous. Likewise, it is outrageous for parliament to pass a law like this and expect no backlash to one of the most fundamental forms of abuse exercised.

Over the past few years, young people have lead many protests and organised many sit-ins. But nothing has had an impact as quickly and as meaningful as the latest efforts. The fact of the matter is, that in this situation, a clear goal was set, the target was simple, achievable, and non-debatable: women need protection. The method was realistic: passing a bill to protect them. Although social and cultural changes haven’t been addressed yet, legally, these women are now protected. The core fundamental values from the organisers of these protests can, and should, be used in the future to emulate social and legal change, both in Lebanon and in neighbouring Arab countries.

Mobilising society to speak up

Like any law, this bill is useless if people don’t make use of it. Sadly, it’s very much a chicken-and-egg situation – laws need to be put in place to protect women, and to make sure that women know they are legally protected and have a way out. However, society must mobilise and empower women to the point where they feel comfortable in coming forward and reporting this abuse. Cultural norms and the stigma associated with abuse must be eradicated.

At the end of the day, women must be reminded that it is not only their lives that are at stake – violence is violence, and by not reporting these crimes, their children and future generations are at risk. If a woman’s son sees his mother being beaten, and her not doing anything about it, then odds are that he will grow up to walk in his father’s shoes.

The key to cultural mobilisation is in a more accepting society, one that listens to the victims, rather than blaming them. There is no situation that justifies ever laying so much as a hurtful word or finger on a woman or child.

Hundreds of women must be thankful that this law has passed, but an amendment regarding marital rape is the next step towards true social justice.

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Yara al Wazir is a humanitarian activist. She is the founder of The Green Initiative ME and a developing partner of Sharek Stories. She can be followed and contacted on twitter @YaraWazir

Disclaimer: Views expressed by writers in this section are their own and do not reflect Al Arabiya English's point-of-view.