Two months were enough for Lebanon to witness at least eight women killed at the hands of a male relative, or as the result of violent sexual assault. For a country that prides itself as a beacon of progressivism in a region governed by a strictly conservative mentality, there surely appears to be something going horribly wrong, not to say hypocritical.
Now the question is, how do we approach such a horrendous issue? Hint: The answer is much more complicated than we may think.
Of course, first and foremost, such acts, being of a criminal nature, require us to directly refer back to the legislation governing such a matter, as it is often the first thing that people would assign the blame to. It should come as no surprise that Lebanese law under no circumstances sanctions this type of inhuman behavior “in a direct fashion.”
In case you’re wondering about the emphasis on “in a direct fashion”, it’s because the more you dive into the laws in place, the more abhorrent details you will find that greatly shape or reflect women’s place in Lebanese society.
For instance, the Lebanese Penal Code would be more than enough as a source for “inspiration”, having until just recently included articles condoning so-called “honor killings” (repealed circa 2011).
The infamous Article 522 gives rapists leeway to marry their victims (repealed just last year and not in full). Also, it still condones marital rape, places different sentences and varying levels of proof needed between men and women who indulge in adultery (a draft law has been presented to repeal this article altogether) as well as places hefty sentences on women who resort to abortion.
To add to the irony, when parliament was debating a draft law to protect women from domestic violence, it included in its final draft articles categorizing sex as an inherent marital right of the man, and a duty for the woman to fulfill.
Now, as much as laws themselves can be an issue, a lack thereof can even be worse, as in the absence of any clear law criminalizing sexual harassment, or not setting a minimum age for marriage. If all this isn’t enough to create a hostile environment for women, then let’s read into some of the judiciary’s verdicts in cases of violence against women, already taking forever to be issued, they often include every possible excuse to reduce sentences to a bare minimum.
On the bright side, some verdicts have really been fair and brilliantly handed out. For example, the court of cassation’s unanimous decision entailing that some articles that reduce time served may not be applied in cases of domestic violence. But, what we need is more such courageous acts by the judiciary, without which no society can move forward.
Another systematic issue is society’s general mindset. Shaming women for speaking up, often trying to tilt the blame towards them, rejecting the role of government in what they consider “private familial issues”, and with families of abused women trying to silence and pressure them not to file any charges.
Moreover, how can we discuss such an issue, without examining the role of the mainstream media, which insofar has been lacking, raising little awareness, barely putting any pressure on the authorities, and still reinforcing the idea of women being merely housewives, or sexual objects that are used to attract men to buy certain products.
So, what do we do?
First, it’s very important to begin with amending laws in a way to reflect – or promote – a more egalitarian society, in addition to raising awareness around them.
Secondly, we must come to terms with the truth that laws would mean nothing, absolutely nothing, if not applied, and this shall begin by creating a special unit in the ISF and the judiciary body dedicated to domestic violence cases, thus giving it all the attention it deserves as the law already dictates, and away from religious influence.
Thirdly, no society can progress but through education, whether in the curriculum itself or in extracurricular activities. It’s there where the youth must grow with the idea that men and women both must have the same rights, duties, and opportunities for that is the key to a successful nation.
Finally, and perhaps most importantly, women’s economic empowerment as well as facilitating their access to much-needed services is vital. Ending violence against women will finally become reality in a community where both men and women are equally empowered and independent.