Several hundred activists marched from across the capital Sunday morning to demand that Parliament outlaw domestic violence. Setting off from the neighborhood of Sanayeh and arriving outside the residence of Speaker Nabih Berri in Ain al-Tineh, protesters chanted under banners reading “Forgotten women will not forget.” Political parties from across the spectrum, with the exception ofHezbollah and Amal, took part in the march, although Hezbollah’s AlManar television covered the event, thought to be a first for the channel.
The march was organized by KAFA, an NGO that in 2010 handed a draft law to Parliament on the issue, which a parliamentary subcommittee began studying in May 2011. Over the next year the committee met a total of 39 times, finalizing its amendments in August 2012. During this period the title of the text was changed from one referring solely to violence against women to one designed to protect the whole family.
A crucial clause legislating against marital rape was also removed by the committee, with the justification being that consent is presumed between a husband and wife.
Since the draft law was finalized it has been languishing in Parliament. The March 14 coalition is currently boycotting sessions, but Sunday’s protest was aimed partially at encouraging them to make an exception were Berri to table a session that would include debate of the domestic violence law.
Though disappointed with the pace of developments thus far, Maya alAmmar, from KAFA, said that the growing support from political parties was encouraging.
The group is also publishing, via the media, a series of testimonies from victims of domestic abuse, addressed to Berri, which are also being sent to MPs.
In one letter published last week, a woman writes of her experiences:
“I recall a night when he started to hit me at 6 p.m. and then he dragged me to the toilet and put my head in the toilet and kept his foot on my neck and kept hitting me until 4 a.m. He broke my arm. ... Then he dragged me to bed and raped me. When our neighbor tried to interfere he said, ‘This is my wife and I have the right to do whatever I want to her.’”
The letter goes on, “If we had fair laws then my husband wouldn’t have dared to hit me and my children and my son wouldn’t have inherited his father’s violent behavior.”
The powerful accounts, which emerged from KAFA’s listening and counseling center sessions and were published anonymously, are creating a buzz, Ammar said. Although Berri has yet to respond, Metn MP Sami Gemayel replied Friday to one addressed to him in An-Nahar, commending the author’s braveness in speaking out and saying that the law had his full support.
A further 45 MPs have also vowed to support the domestic violence law when it is eventually debated in Parliament, and activists are now working to lobby the remaining 82.
Ahead of elections, scheduled for the summer, Ammar believes action such as Sunday’s protest, and the publication of letters from victims of domestic abuse, will help promote the issue as a priority for other women voters.
“They are becoming more aware of this issue and so perhaps some women will choose not to participate in the elections or only vote for candidates who they know support the law,” she said.
However several attendants at the rally were critical of the presence of political party members.
Mira Bittar, a 23-year-old assistant account executive who had come from Tripoli to attend the march, said she was “very, very upset” to see the turn-out by representatives of political parties, which included the Future Movement, Kataeb, the Lebanese Forces, the Free Patriotic Movement, the Communist Party and the Syrian Social Nationalist Party.
Shocked to see political representation at the protest, Bittar said she was saddened to see the issue used as a campaigning tool ahead of the election, since not all of the parties had a track record for supporting the legislation.
“I am really upset that after all the cause is going to be turned into a game of politics, since the elections are coming up and politicians are desperate to win some votes.”
She also pointed out the inconsistency in political groups attending a protest that was held under the slogan, “The lives of women are more important than keeping your parliamentary seats.”
Ammar said, however, that she believed the political representation was positive, and not mere politicking.
Another protester, 21-year-old Nour Chamoun, said that “At first I didn’t like being part of a demonstration that had political slogans. ... But then I realized that we do need the support of each party so that the law passes.”
She also has faith in KAFA, and believes that sooner or later the draft law will be passed by Parliament: “For me, everything in Lebanon changes eventually, it’s just a matter of time.”
By Olivia Alabaster