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Home page: http://www.nadinemoawad.com
Posts by Nadine
It’s been many years we’ve been talking about the draft law to protect women from family violence. It’s a very simple law really. It enables women to call the police for help if they are abused at home. And it enables them to seek shelter and protection with their kids. It basically says that women can leave their homes with the support of the state.
It also overrides the current law, Article 503 that makes it legal for husbands to rape their wives.
At least one woman is killed every month by a family member. That’s last year’s count. This year alone, there’s been 4 murders. Out of the 2250 women who reported family violence to the police in 2009, almost half said they feel a direct threat to their lives.
The fact is, this law can save lives. An intervention can save a life. A phone call can save a life. Violence unstopped escalates into murder. At the heart of any feminist struggle is violence against women and this law is a crucial step towards ending violence against women. We’re not expecting it to do miracles, of course. But our battle isn’t just about this law. It’s with the patriarchy of our Parliament and Government who have proved again and again that they do not give a damn about women in Lebanon.
We’ve tried protests and sit-ins and vigils and social media campaigns and meetings with MPs and billboards and awareness-raising and flyers and workshops and panels. We even tried interactive theater and flash mobs and dances. And still they tell us to wait.
On February 24, Kafa organized a demo that marched to Nabih Berri’s house demanding that he put the law on the agenda of the parliamentary discussions. He replied on February 25 with: “It is not possible in these circumstances to hold a session while the country is drowning in the elections law.”
And so, we have decided – some friends and I – that we are no longer putting up with this bullshit. Tonight we announce to the MPs that if the law to protect women from family violence is not put on the agenda for the next parliamentary session and if it is not voted on fully without mutilations, we are going on an open hunger strike in front of parliament. If they don’t mind women dying, we’ll give them starving women at their doorstep.
This is our final battle and we are going to win it. Brace yourselves.
We need your help in building our platform for Take Back Parliament. We have compiled a long list of issues to draft positions on (see below). I am sure it is incomplete (a) and I need your expertise in different issues to draft one-page positions on them (b).
So if you’ve worked on one of these before and you can help out with resources, please do. If you can draft the one-pager for us, please do as well. Here I have uploaded a word document that is a draft of our women’s rights position. You can use the same format: stating the problem and stating the changes you want in bullet form.
I know you are probably thinking: gosh, there is too much to change, but let’s try condensing things into different papers and tangible demands. You don’t have to write a thesis, just 1-2 pages will do fine. We will have time to elaborate on our positions later on. Our deadline for these papers is end of October, after which we will post them for the public’s review and feedback.
Message me if you want to talk more and thank you very much!
Green and Public Spaces
Reclaiming of Public Property
Efficient Urban Planning
Preservation of Lebanese Heritage
Investment in Culture and Art
School Educational Reform
Lebanese University Reform
Internet Freedom and Access
New and Alternative Media
Freedom of Speech
A Smaller Parliament and Reduction of MP Salaries
A Civil Personal Status Law
Cancellation of Confessional Quotas in Public Positions
Affordable and efficient public transportation
Efficient Electricity Access
Efficient Water Access
Progressive Healthcare for All
A National Foreign and Defense Policy
Complete End to Arbitrary Detention and Torture
Rights of People with Disabilities
Sexual and Bodily Rights
Accountability and Memory of the Civil War
Support for Entrepreneurship
Sustainable Development of Agriculture
Sustainable Development of Industry
Reforming the Rent Law
Recycling and Zero Waste
Activist spaces where friendships mix with relationships mix with causes are indeed the most difficult spaces to talk about violence. Violence happens everywhere, there is no simple formula to erase it. It’s how we respond to it that matters, how we admit fault, and how we commit to protecting each other personally and politically. What @amarshabby has defiantly started in speaking out publicly about the sexual harassment and violence she faced in Helem, the Lebanese LGBT NGO, is nothing short of revolutionary. It has transformed the way I think about violence and support and accountability. And I have realized the grave mistakes I have made in the past year and before. In our work to bring about change, one could only wish for the gift of being taught such a humbling lesson.
Today, many months into this, Amar and others are STILL being attacked and shamed and called liars and “sluts” and attention-seekers online and offline. Zero acknowledgement of the harassment or the bullying that followed was made by Helem. I was late to offer my support for fear that my involvement would be manipulated by people into what they now call the “same old war.” But after realizing with shock the amount of pain and trauma that is being inflicted on women to punish them for speaking out, well fuck my silence and fuck yours. Ask, read, be aware, learn, and care about what’s happening. Your support is important and I trust you’ll know how best to express it – from a simple message to @amarshabby to a public statement. No lame attempts at finding a bandage are acceptable. Only radical transformation. Speak the truth though your voice may tremble.
So the current Church-sponsored electoral reform plan proposed in the name of the “Orthodox Gathering” (which most Christian leaders have abandoned) suggests that citizens vote only for MPs of their own sect. That means Maronites vote only for Maronites, Shiites vote only for Shiites, etc.
Amidst the struggle for secularism and civil laws, it seems the trend for further “purifying” of political sectarianism in Lebanon is still going strong.
Anyway, Al Balad ran a fantastic story about a very similar law that was proposed in Lebanon in 1922. 1922! That’s even before the formation of the modern state in 1943, back when it was Loubnan Al Kabeer. This is remarkable in its own way but one response to it – even back in 1922 – is worthy of its own story.
Michel Zakkour, a journalist who later became an MP and a Minister of Interior, published a piece in his then newspaper “Al Maarad” proposing a sarcastic alternative to what he saw as an outrageous, sectarian electoral law. His idea – which he named as equally preposterous to the idea of people voting only for people from their own confession – was to do the exact opposite. Everybody can vote for said MP except citizens of his own confession. That (messed up, says Zakkour, but wise) system would create a Parliament where loyalty to the entire nation would perhaps overcome sectarian isolation.
وعلى سبيل الاستطراد وذكر النظير بمناسبة نظيره اقول انه انا ايضاً خطرت في بالي طريقة انتخاب عرجاء عوجاء مثل طريقة هؤلاء الطائفيين ولكنها لا تخلو من حكمة، وهي ان نحرم كل واحدة من الطوائف من الاشتراك في انتخاب النائب الذي ينتمي اليها، اي ان ندع للمسلمين وللموارنة وللروم الكاثوليك ولليهود وسائر الاقليات في بيروت ان ينتخبوا وحدهم دون الروم الارثوذكس النائب البيروتي الارثوذكسي، وان ندع لكل هذه الطوائف دون المسلمين ان ينتخبوا النائب البيروتي المسلم، وهكذا في انتخاب سائر النواب في بيروت وفي سواها من المناطق الانتخابية.
ان هذه الطريقة العرجاء العوجاء تنشئ لنا مجلساً تتغلب فيه الصفة الوطنية على الصفة الطائفية بل مجلساً يحبّب إلينا التجرد من الاستقلال الطائفي في ما هو مشترك بين اللبنانيين جميعاً.
Brilliant, no? Funny guy this Zakkour – from 1922. I wonder which Lebanese leader today would have the guts to ridicule the Orthodox Gathering’s electoral law proposal like he did.
Nobody talks about Sabra and Shatila in my family. We all know, though, that some of us fought for Hobeika during the civil, for Geagea and Bashir and Aoun – all in the same family. There was no logic to the Lebanese civil war, nothing I can trace that shows any loyalty or creed anyone followed that didn’t change and change back. It was a time of chaos and desperation and a vengeance chain of massacres that led to war that led to more massacres that led to more war. Anybody who tries to make sense of it is trying in vain. What remains to be made is redemption for the crimes, the murders, the kidnappings, and the total sell-out of the Lebanese and the Palestinian people. Redemption can only be made through acknowledgement and apology.
Many have called for efforts to commemorate the civil war so that generations would remember how sectarianism kills hundreds of thousands of people. That never happened – and how could it with the same militia men and their militia parties in parliamentary seats today? It is an offense that nobody has apologized. There was no one side to blame, and, therefore, everybody is to blame. And everybody must apologize. It is the first step towards accountability. It entails acknowledgement. Doesn’t make up for it – the least all these parties could do is dissolve themselves. But it’s the first step.
This weekend is the commemoration of the Sabra and Shatila massacre that happened on September 16, 1982. Thousands of men, women, and children were lined up and killed under an Israeli-lit sky and a Christian-led killing machine. It is no different than the Tal el Zaatar massacre where women running away had their babies snatched from them so the soldiers could kill the male babies, the “future fighters.” They bashed the babies’ heads against the wall in front of their mothers. It is no different than the Damour massacre or the Ehden massacre or Black Saturday or the Karantina massacre or the Hama massacre.
Decades after the war, we must still hold political parties responsible. We must hold ourselves responsible. We all come from families that took part in the war. We all come from families that suffered the loss of sons and daughters during the war. We are all responsible. Even those of us who weren’t yet alive during these crimes. We carry the legacy of the crimes committed in our names still – the unspoken burden of history. We must all apologize.
I start with myself. I apologize for the crimes of Sabra and Shatila committed in the name of Christians in 1982. I apologize to the thousands of Palestinians who lost their souls in the most heinous of crimes. I apologize to the families who saw their loved ones slaughtered in front of their eyes. I apologize to all the women who were raped repeatedly for days on end. I apologize to their children – now probably my age – for the wounds they bear. I apologize with all my heart. I’m sorry.
One should never assume that activists have some sort of moral throne that is resistant to the abuse of power. On the contrary, we often find ourselves immune to accountability. After all, who could dare question the self-sacrificing, marginalized, intelligent do-gooder who is so damn important to the cause? And with lack of liability, we are more prone to – and we do – perpetuate harm in private and public relationships until we become a cult personality obsessed with maintaining its persona and thus more resistant to critique. It is a vicious cycle. Who better to play the victim than someone who understands victimhood so well?
I used to think this cycle depended on people’s characters but am starting to realize it has little to do with personalities and more to do with the system. It’s almost involuntary on the part of many, yet quite unavoidable. The only way to avoid it is to think of accountability as our collective responsibility as a necessity for real transformation – from within our movements first and in public spheres to follow. Now when we think of accountability, one easily imagines attacks and vendettas and ugliness. That’s not what it has to be like at all. In fact, that’s the only form of it we know because it is so far from being a natural part of our movements. Accountability can be kind and sincere and full of love if the right frameworks and approaches are put in place. I am not sure how but I know it is a must. Nothing inflates an ego like activism; it is a monster that needs powerful mechanisms to keep it in check for the benefit of whatever cause one is fighting for.
For years now, the Civil Campaign for Electoral Reform has been lobbying for proportional elections, a 30% women’s quota, lowering the voting age to 18, allowing diaspora voting in Lebanese embassies, and a list of other reforms. With time ticking for the 2013 elections scheduled for next May (although many speculate it will be postponed depending on the uprising in Syria), the Lebanese government met today and passed a proposed law to Parliament, which includes proportional representation based on a Lebanon of 13 districts. Since nothing in Lebanon is decided outside of the March 8 / 14 deadlock, it is clear that the current March 8 government would push for proportional representation not because it is more fair but because it would benefit the Free Patriotic Movement, Hezbollah, and other members of the coalition who had greater numbers of votes in the 2009 elections. Zako has a full study of 2009 election results on a proportional scheme here. Odds are that the March 14 bloc will turn down the proposal in Parliament and the country will go to another majority representation in the 2013 elections.
Women’s Political Participation
But now we look at the issue of women’s quota, which was discussed as part of the proposal in government today. I haven’t cared for gender quotas much in Lebanon since we all know the same MP seats are going to be filled with the same corrupt sectarian politicians – men or women. We used to focus our discussions at Nasawiya on the question of: do we want women in Parliament just for representation, so girls can have role models? Or do we not care about women as long as they replicate the same sectarian models? Given that this is a false dilemma, many of us opted for wanting strong, feminist, secularist women in Parliament who can hopefully be elected in a non-confessional system. Of course, this was all theory for me until I actually started meeting women MPs and working on the Take Back Parliament campaign. It was then that I realized that there is really no women’s engagement in politics in Lebanon. None. The issue is not about female MPs or ministers alone – the issue is that there weren’t any women I could name that were political analysts, heads of news desks, editors of political pages in newspapers, bloggers, journalists, anything. Since the days of the civil war in the 70s, women were completely alienated from Lebanese politics – much to their credit, some would say, for who would want to be associated with such a bloody war – and have not been able to get back into the arena since the 90s. And if women are not at the table, you can be sure that their issues are not at the agenda.
This is a structural issue – one that will take years to fix – and the solutions must come at many levels. Electoral quotas are one of these solutions, temporary of course, that could get more women into the political sphere. There is no guarantee that women’s issues will then make it into political agendas (we cite Gilberte Zouein’s shameful stance on family violence as an example). But, frankly, no women on the table at all is an absolute guarantee that women’s issues won’t be on the agenda. So whether or not you agree to a quota, take a look at the disgusting way in which the issue was discussed in government to give you an understanding of just how isolated women are from politics and how shamefully their demand for political representation is treated.
The Discussion on Women’s Quota
In 2011, Cabinet chose zero women ministers and here was Michel Aoun’s chauvinistic reply to why. Basically he said women lack the experience for public service. All women, apparently. His same government now treated women’s quota in the following way.
Firstly, the discussion of percentage happened in the most random of ways, with one minister suggesting 5-7%, another minister upping him to 15-17%, and the majority agreeing that they must take the average of 10%. As if they were discussing what to order for lunch. It shows you just how little concern they pay to the issue of no women in politics as a fundamentally unimportant crisis. Nobody seems to notice that half of the country is not concerned with the way the country is run. Perhaps they know this is to their advantage as sectarian war lords.
And then, during the discussion, MP Nicolas Fattoush (Zahle, March 14) dares to utter the most hypocritical argument against women’s quota by referring to Article 7 of the Lebanese Constitution that states that all Lebanese are equal before the law. Mon Dieu. The nerve of this guy. All Lebanese are equal before the law? Where the hell was that argument when women demanded equal citizenship rights or equal marital laws or equal labor laws or equal anything?
WTF. There is no equality before the law, Mr. Fattoush, we live as gendered citizens – the structures of patriarchy and misogyny (perpetuated by our very government) prevent women from access to protection and to equal treatment everywhere from the home to public spaces to police stations to courts of law. This is a perfect example of empty concepts of equality at the disposal and service of those in power.
When asked about women’s quota, Michel Aoun, the same guy who said women lack experience in the political sphere insulted the question with: “Lebanese culture is misogynistic and doesn’t want to see women in positions of power. You, as women, must create strong women’s movements to impose your opinion. You must refuse all gifts! I personally refuse to give you this gift, you must go out and fight for it!”
WTF again. Ya3ni, I don’t know what to say to that, Mr. Aoun. You think supporting women’s political participation is a gift that women should fight for? And you, a man on top of that pyramid of power won’t do anything to support it, like say, I dunno, instate a women’s quota? The women’s movement has been banging its head against the FPM-majority committee for the protection of women from family violence — these are the same MPs who have claimed that gender-based violence is being handled fine by religious courts and that the state shouldn’t interfere when in fact, at least one woman is dying every month as a direct result of family violence. How hypocritical these statements are and how insulting to all women in Lebanon and all women’s movements.
No Country for Women
The misogyny of these politicians has to be brought to a stop. Every phrase they utter about women is insulting. I hear stories about this every day – even from women MPs and journalists. The other day at the Family Violence press conference, Samir el Jisr had the nerve to tell a woman journalist that she didn’t understand what rape was. He then went on to give her the legal definition of rape. This is the epitome of insult. A man telling a woman what rape is. This corrupt political landscape needs to change on so many levels and one of these is to get large percentages of women from the women’s movement into Parliament, Government, and municipalities. The final format of the proposed law seems to have included a gender quota of “at least one person from every gender in the nomination lists.” That means there must be one woman nominee in every list (the proportional system mandates closed election lists). What a wonderful gift, Lebanon. I’m sure women feel more motivated to work hard for their basic human rights now.
I have a proposal for you as a follow up to this post I wrote 2 months ago about taking back the Lebanese Parliament. I have been trying to find traction and excitement for this project but I can’t manage to convince people around me. Everyone says nobody will be on board and that it’s a failed idea. So I decided to put it online and ask for your feedback (whoever you are). Let me know how you feel about it. Be honest cos I might be wrong. But I can’t help thinking that if we can find a few hundred people who can believe in this, perhaps we can achieve the impossible.
It is clear that we, the people, need to take back Parliament from the claws of the zo3ama, millionaires, and warlords. It is clear that all political parties in Lebanon are too sectarian and corrupt to change anything. We are stuck. We can dream of a revolution in the streets. Or we can dream of a revolution at the voting ballots.
The Lebanese Parliament should not exist so that the rich feudal lords can become richer and enforce their control over people. It exists to legislate laws that protect the people, ensure equality, and develop our economy and culture. Clearly, it has been doing none of that for decades now.
We must take it back.
Despite the corruption and inefficiency of the electoral system, we can still create a third option. Despite the sectarian division of the districts and the confessional quota of the seats, we can still run with an agenda to change this. Let’s elect new, qualified, inspiring people to Parliament. Let’s create a national coalition of top-notch candidates who support a platform of secularism, civil laws and socio-economic justice. Let’s vote for independent candidates who have fresh new ideas and commitments. Let’s support the new talents who usually have no chance: the women, the youth, the workers, the ones who have never had a relative in Parliament. Let’s hold our representatives accountable. Let’s revolutionize the system. Let’s run a low-budget, eco-friendly, grassroots campaign that will astonish generations. A coalition where everyone has a critical voice – and nobody is a blind follower. Let’s remember forever that summer we took back Parliament – against all odds, when nobody believed it was possible.
Makes you a little nervous, doesn’t it? Could it really happen? No. Surely, it is impossible. Or is it? Maybe? If we work hard enough? No… what is this naïve unrealistic dream, I obviously don’t know shit about politics. But wait. Can we gather enough heart and intelligence to face the billions of dollars in bribes? Can we break that barrier of fear and intimidation? Can we make our people believe in their power again?
I’m just like you – uncertain. But the mere thought of engaging in a real battle for Parliament in 2013 (instead of getting depressed) makes my heart dance. So I decided to put up this post and ask my fellow Lebanese: are we ready? What do you think? Can we find a few hundred Lebanese who can commit to a new 2013 elections campaign?
To you, the answer.
P.S. I will not publish your info online anywhere ever. But I will email you to have coffee.
So we’ve been trying to address the issue of women’s leadership and mentorship at Nasawiya in critical and innovative ways. A working group of 20 young feminists met in Amman for a conference of a new network called ALWANE and has been meeting regularly since. We came up with a bunch of ideas – one of which is to publish a book of inspiring women leaders in Lebanon. We also wanted to build a sort of solidarity network in which successful women support younger women in their ambitions. It’s hard to find successful formal mechanisms to do so that aren’t a little fabricated or imposing. You kinda wish all women would just know that’s what they should do and you wonder why they don’t.
In the midst of all this thinking, I noticed that some really cool mentoring relationships were emerging in and of themselves within the working group. Here’s my favorite story yet.
Nissrine (26), who is part of the working group, realized that one must take on leadership roles and not just talk about them. She then decided to run for municipal council elections in her village (which had never had a female council member before). She called up Josephine whom she had met at the Nasawiya retreat last year, and who is the only female council member of a neighboring village. Nissrine and Josephine sat and talked, discussing politics of running for elections and challenges women face. Josephine gave her unconditional support. A month later, Nissrine won the seat in her council. The support relationship happened beautifully and organically – nobody advised Nissrine to contact Josephine, nobody asked Josephine to support Nissrine, it just happened because the two women had met in a space that was conducive to these kinds of relationships.
And it didn’t stop there.
Nissrine, now a member of the council wanted to support younger girls from her village. So she called up some of the parents to let them know about the Girl Geek Camp and got Nicole (16) to register. Nicole is a brilliant teen, full of energy and enthusiasm, and was the life of the Geek Camp. She learned how to make videos and build websites and use social media. She also learned about feminism and migrant rights and social justice. She is our newest Nasawiya member now and a natural leader who looks up to Nissrine and takes pride in having someone so young and supportive sitting on the municipal council.
And there you have it. Three young generations of women who are looking out for each other. Again, nobody asked them to. Nobody enrolled them in a program that encouraged them to. It just happened on its own.
Perhaps the lesson one can learn is that our task is to simply build spaces where women can find their common struggle and trust that it will somehow inspire them to act in solidarity with one another.
Yes. It’s true. Yesterday, we went to Vantage Points, a film festival organized by UNHCR in Metropolis Sofil to mark World Refugee Day. This was happening while 20 Sudanese refugees had been on hunger strike for 15 days to protest their maltreatment. We escorted 4 refugees on hunger strike and their families (including 8 children). The kids handed out flyers to the attendees that explain the reasons behind the hunger strike. Check photos here.
They were completely ignored by UNHCR. When the film started, we went into the theater and lifted a banner (photo below) and they held up posters that said “Why won’t you meet with us?” The cinema staff asked us to get out of the theater and not disrupt the film screening. So we got out and sat in the lobby. An hour passed and still nobody from UNHCR would talk to the refugees. One person earlier only asked them if they wanted to see the movie.
After an hour, Tony, who works at Sofil came to tell us that he was obliged to notify the authorities of our presence. We asked why and he said because we were bring disruptive. Note that we had only been sitting in the lobby for an hour quietly, waiting for the audience to finish the movie, thinking maybe they might want to talk to the Sudanese refugees then. Tony had asked us to leave before, but we insisted on staying. He then warned us that the police might come. Why? we asked. He repeated that we had been disruptive. I asked him if UNHCR had asked him to call the police and he said yes – although UNHCR staff then denied that they had called the cops. You can call Tony yourself and ask him.
The police arrived, asked us to leave, and we insisted on staying. They agreed that we weren’t being disruptive and told us we could stay but couldn’t do any action on the premises. So we stayed. 15 minutes later, a second police patrol came with a higher-ranking officer. UNHCR finished their movie and came out into the lobby to have wine and snacks. They stood there eating, drinking, and chatting, with the police standing between them and the refugees (kids, again).
The level of ignoring at the event was surreal to me. Not a word, nothing. Not a hello, how do you do, nothing. The Sudanese families were completely invisible. UNHCR kept chatting with their audience at the event, saying they couldn’t do anything about their situation. But how could they not even say hello? If it is true that it’s not in their hands, why can’t they just meet with the refugees and explain everything and reach a compromise? How could they treat them with such indifference and impertinence? It was pretty obvious that they had circulated an internal memo asking their staff not to talk to the refugees at all. I’m pretty sure they were expecting some action at their event. They seemed unsurprised and unaffected.
It was one of the most depressing things I’ve ever seen – to be so invisible to people in power. Our Sudanese friends were less shocked than we were, having experienced this sort of treatment for years. What else did you expect? they asked us. Perhaps I was expecting a tad bit more humanity and compassion from the people who make their living off of helping others.