Law to Protect Women from Family Violence Faces Horrible Distortions
This is a translation of Farfahinne’s post: مشروع قانون حماية المرأة من العنف الأسري بعد التسريبات: تشويه ما بعده تشويه
Violence against women happens in two complimentary spheres. In the first, a number of cultural, political, and economic values and laws create an environment of violence in the public sphere. And in the second, violence is perpetuated privately within the family. They compliment and complete each other. For instance, laws and policies that discriminate against women economically stem from an attitude that places women in a traditional role within the family as house workers and not bread winners. And thus a woman is deprived of her right to insure her children with social security unless her husband is handicapped or deceased.
Families in Lebanon are engulfed in a shroud of holiness. What happens within their structures – even when violent – remains within a family. Like my neighbor who thought it a curse that his wife only bore 3 girls and would beat them for the stupidest reasons and drag them by the hair down the stairs. Their cries for help would fill the neighborhood for years until they grew up and found an escape, each in her own way. The neighborhood adapted to these cries, got used to them and eventually got bored with them. To many, they became a repetitive symphony that provided immunity from any attacks of conscience for ignoring the painful cries.
In Lebanon, women’s organizations have struggled for years to release violence against women from the captives of the private sphere, to find mechanisms to protect women. The law to Protect Women from Family Violence, presented to the government by Kafa, was the culmination of years of this hard work. It was formulated after years of listening to thousands of complaints from women who were beaten and raped by their spouses and fathers. It was put together based on research from hundreds of counseling and legal support cases. The proposed law is particularly for women because it saw that Lebanon’s penal and personal status laws awarded men with many privileges and that there should be a law that protects women in order to tend to the grave imbalance between women and men in family structures. It aimed to fight gender-based violence, to fight the violence that happens against women for the sole reason of them being women.
And so the law was supported by dozens of women’s and civil society organizations and presented to the government. It was then passed on – with little resistance – to Parliament, which then designated a side committee to study the law and then pass it on to a vote in Parliament. The law has been with the committee for 6 months although their deadline was 3 weeks.
Today, we have word that the committee has two weeks to finish its study and that it has already made terrible amendments that will actually take us hundreds of steps backwards.
The entire ethos of the law has been changed from one to protect women to one to protect all the members of the family from violence. It has, therefore, become entirely void of the gender dimension – despite all the studies and research and testimonies that prove that the problem of violence within families is a gender-based problem.
Some forms of violence have been deleted entirely in Article 3 – most importantly marital rape – which, in this maimed version, is not considered a form of family violence.
The procedure of reporting violence has been changed to prevent anybody from initiating a complaint via reporting it (which means that I cannot call up the police and report my three friends being beaten up by their father).
And perhaps the most dangerous of these alterations is the addition of Article 26 which gives priority and superiority of judgment to the personal status (i.e. religious sectarian) courts in case of any clash between the two laws. With this article, religious courts have the prerogative to judge if the act is considered violent and, therefore, if it should be criminalized or not. This article also discriminates among women in the implementation of the protection law because it will change according to religious denomination. And it’s considered a blow to the Child Protection law which has come under attack recently with demands to return matters of violence against children to sectarian courts as well.
And so, a law like this, in its distorted version, no longer achieves its intended result which was the protection of women from family violence and the open admission from the State that violence against women is a crime punishable by law, which would help fight the dominant cultural social values that justify violence against women.
The struggle is clear today between forces that are working with all their might against civil society to impose religious courts as the fundamental reference for family matters and forces trying to place the Lebanese State in front of its civil duties to protect women form violence.
Women’s organizations and namely Kafa have proven to be patient and persistent. Today, the law faces the grave danger of being born dead or maimed (at best). Women’s organizations and civil society – everybody who is fighting for a civil space, a civil state, civil laws – must fight to the bone for this law that will save many from misery and save many from murder.