Tag Archives: women

Lebanese Women Offered a Toothless New Law

5 Mar

Dalila Mahdawi

BEIRUT, Mar 5 2012 (IPS) – Nour’s husband returned to Lebanon after two years of working abroad a changed person. The man she had loved was distant, cold and uncommunicative. Then, two weeks after his homecoming, he attacked Nour while she slept, raping her with such ferocity that he caused a fissure.

“When he finished I felt something coming out of me,” she says. As she writhed on the floor in agony, her husband looked on in silence. “After an hour he took me to a doctor. The doctor is his friend and refused to examine me. He prescribed me medication for the bleeding, which took three days to stop.”

It took Nour a week to recover but the psychological pain remains. “He killed my spirit, my body and my femininity,” she says quietly.

In an effort to protect women like Nour from abusive partners, a coalition of civil society organisations has spent the last five years drafting a law criminalising mental, physical and sexual abuse. The bill was approved by the Council of Ministers in April 2010 and is expected to be passed by parliament within the coming days. However, campaigners warn that the parliamentary committee tasked with overseeing the law has made so many amendments that they have rendered it useless.

The law, as drafted by the coalition, would have appointed public prosecutors to investigate incidences of violence, established special units within the Lebanese police force to respond to family violence cases, obliged medical personnel to report cases in which they treated women bearing signs of abuse, and empowered women and their children to seek restraining orders against their abusers. For the first time in Lebanese law, it outlined the different types of abuse women face, and designated clear punishments for offenders.

But a committee of eight parliamentarians, only one of whom is a woman, have made a number of radical amendments, removing marital rape, and economic and psychological violence from the bill entirely, and introducing a new article that grants religious bodies priority over civil law to oversee protection.

Leaked committee documents also show that the clause establishing a specialised police force for domestic violence cases was deleted and the bill’s focus on women was watered down to include the elderly, men and children.

In an interview with the Daily Star newspaper in December, committee member Imad Al-Hout hinted at the changes to come by denying the existence of marital rape. “There’s nothing called rape between a husband and a wife. It’s called forcing someone violently to have intercourse,” he was reported as saying.

The amendments have left the law “empty” and its approval would represent a major defeat for women, says Maya al-Ammar of KAFA: Enough Violence and Exploitation, the non-governmental organisation that spearheaded efforts to draft the law. In particular, the removal of marital rape indicated a lack of understanding by the committee about the types of violence experienced by women, says Ammar.

“If they don’t see that rape is rape, then I don’t know how they can study a law related to gender-based violence seriously,” she tells IPS. The coalition has had some dialogue with the committee but its members are reportedly keen to avoid debate until the law passes. Calls to committee members made by IPS went unanswered.

Statistics are difficult to come by in Lebanon, particularly on such a highly stigmatised topic as domestic violence, but a tally of reported death tolls suggests one woman is killed on average each month by a male partner, according to KAFA. Lebanon has a population of four million.

At least one-third of women in Lebanon have experienced some form of gender-based violence, says Dr. Jinan Usta, a family medicine doctor at the American University of Beirut Hospital, and researcher on domestic violence. Considered a private family matter, domestic violence remains shrouded in secrecy, and women face considerable barriers leaving abusive relationships. Women who seek assistance from the police or courts often report being told to return home, meaning few even bother to report abuse.

The amendments made by the committee seem to be aimed at placating Lebanon’s main religious authorities, which have all vigorously opposed the law. As with other issues relating to personal status, Lebanon’s 15 religious courts currently have jurisdiction over cases of domestic violence and are keen to maintain that power.

In June 2011, the country’s top Sunni and Shia bodies rejected the bill as a Western plot to undermine the Arab family. Campaigners, however, find the charge offensive. “Violence is not an Arab tradition,” says Dr. Usta.

Zeina Zaatari, regional director for the Middle East and North Africa at the Global Fund for Women, agrees that religion is being used to cover deep-seated patriarchal attitudes towards women.

“The domestic violence bill presents a form of legal protection for women and children residing in a particular household,” says Zaatari. “I do not see in that any contradiction with Muslim values, unless we are saying that Muslim values support violence against women; or unless we are saying that women are so simple minded and vicious that they would go and appeal to the courts just to spite their husbands. If we value women’s lives, which all faiths should, then we would support a law that protects them.”

The need for a civil law is especially critical as religious courts have demonstrated they are unwilling to assist women facing family violence, says Nadine Mouawad of the grassroots feminist collective Nasawiya, which has been active in lobbying for the adoption of the draft law.

“Across all confessions, the priority of religious courts is to advocate for reconciliation, which often means brushing over the women’s experience of violence. They have been inadequate in offering women shelter, separation rights, financial support, and other important elements of protection.” The amendment to refer cases of domestic violence back to the religious courts therefore “defeats the purpose of the new law,” she says.

Despite the bleak outlook, campaigners have vowed to keep up the pressure on the government in the coming weeks with media campaigns, protests and publicity stunts. If the amended law is approved, says Ammar, it will have “succeeded in silencing the voices of women.”

Nour, meanwhile, had this message for the parliamentary committee: “Where is the family that should be preserved? If the mother is finished, then the whole family is finished and you will simply be the one who contributed to its destruction.”

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Women Prisoners Play the Liberation Role

19 Aug

Women in Baabda prison attending one of Daccache's workshops (CREDIT: CATHARSIS)

By Dalila Mahdawi

BAABDA WOMEN’S PRISON, Lebanon, Aug 18, 2011 (IPS) – To a soundtrack of almost constant pounding of fists against iron doors, drama therapist Zeina Daccache is trying to capture the attention of a group of women prisoners. Many of the 45 women are suffering from drug withdrawal and alternately appear agitated, upset, energised and detached. Others chat loudly, take long puffs off cigarettes, or pace the room.

But it doesn’t take long for Daccache, who is also a well-regarded comedian on Lebanese television, to bring calm to the chaotic scene. After a few warm-up games intended to break the ice, she has several of the women relating their life stories and future ambitions, envisioning a world beyond the confines of bolted doors and barred windows.

Daccache has come to Baabda as part of her goal to bring drama therapy inside Lebanese prisons. Her organisation, the Lebanese Centre for Drama Therapy (CATHARSIS), is the only one of its kind in the Arab world and one of very few offering rehabilitation services to those behind bars.

Following an adaptation and award-winning documentary of the 1950s U.S. play ‘12 Angry Men’ (renamed ‘12 Angry Lebanese’) with inmates from Lebanon’s high-security Roumieh prison, Daccache decided to expand her drama therapy programme to other prisons in the country. With support from the Drosos Foundation, she is also training dozens more individuals to become drama therapists in the hope of encouraging a new generation of professionals combining theatre with rehabilitation. Although she has only been working in Baabda for a few weeks, Daccache is already seeing some of the prisoners shrug off their initial caution to embrace the therapy.

“I’m very sad because of my situation and I’m sad because my daughter is far away,” says D.W., who is serving time for drug offences. “I have a good heart but I didn’t think of my daughter,” she says, crying quietly. “I didn’t know right from wrong.”

Drama therapy gained popularity in the 1970s and has been used ever since in schools, rehabilitative clinics, bereavement centres and prisons to help individuals overcome personal problems, promote critical thinking, teach teamwork skills and improve self-esteem. Through role-play, group therapy sessions and dramatisation, many of the women in Baabda are gaining greater self-awareness and reflecting on the events that led them into conflict with the law.

“The aim in the end of this current project in Baabda is to have a theatre performance,” Daccache says. Because of the high turnover in prisoners, the group will create a montage of monologues as opposed to a full play, giving newcomers the chance to participate and explore their personal history. “Each one of them is a scene by herself,” says Daccache. “Each one by themselves fills the room.”

N.L., who has been using drugs since she was 15, clutches a sketch of herself on a stage. “My role in the past was addiction, humiliation,” she tells the group. Although she awaits sentencing for drug trafficking charges, she says she’d “like to be a wife, a mother, someone who is respected, happy.”

Daccache is passionate about the power of drama in rehabilitating prisoners and combating recidivism. At Roumieh prison, “the inmates started working on themselves instead of blaming their situation entirely on society the whole time,” she says. “Depression diminished and the inmates were able to plan a future for themselves outside of prison.” Some of the men became so passionate about theatre that they sought out acting jobs after leaving prison.

The need for such rehabilitative services is especially important given the dismal conditions in Lebanese prisons. Notoriously overcrowded, 19 out of Lebanon’s 20 penitentiaries were not originally built to serve as such, says MP Ghassan Moukheiber, who as head of the Parliamentary Human Rights Committee recently presented a detailed report on prison reform. “Prison conditions are to be considered in themselves a form of torture, cruel and degrading punishment,” he told IPS. “There is an urgent need to shift prisons from being places of punishment to places of rehabilitation.”

Besides segregated quarters in mixed prisons, Lebanon has four women’s prisons. Women count for only around 300 of Lebanon’s roughly 5,000 prisoners, all of whom are kept in overcrowded penitentiaries that fail to meet the standard minimum treatment recommended by the United Nations.

Poor holding conditions lead to frequent rebellions and riots. In April, Roumieh prison experienced the worst uprising in Lebanese history. Prisoners protesting a lack of access to medical care and poor services broke down doors, started fires and took control of much of the prison in a standoff which resulted in the death of four inmates.

Earlier this month, Lebanon’s Parliament rejected a proposal to reduce the prison “year” from 12 to nine months, prompting three inmates to set fire to themselves, resulting in the death of one, and hundreds of others to initiate hunger strikes. Last weekend, five prisoners from Roumieh managed a jail-break by scaling the prison walls with bed sheets. Experts are now warning that another prison riot there is looming on the horizon.

While in better condition than many of Lebanon’s larger prisons, Baabda offers no exercise facilities, and women only have access to sunlight filtered through a caged-in rooftop. Many prisoners complain of inadequate medical treatment and unhygienic conditions, and have little to no recourse to legal counsel. Frustrations often lead to spats among the inmates.

Amidst such circumstances, the group therapy offered by CATHARSIS takes on additional importance. “The sharing of experiences and the group dynamic helps them find a way to channel their anxieties,” Daccache says. “The new social interaction has given them back a sense of worth and has made them feel as though they are part of a community.”

Perhaps most importantly, says Daccache, drama therapy offers prisoners a sense of hope at a time when many experience an overwhelming sense of despair. “They are learning that there is still a chance to change even while they are still in prison,” she says. (END)

Wanted: Women for Lebanon’s Cabinet (op/ed)

25 Jul

A woman-free zone: Lebanon's new Cabinet comprised entirely of men (AFP)

Beirut, LEBANON:In 1776, the first lady of the United States, Abigail Adams, wrote a letter to her husband John and to Congress, imploring her countrymen not to overlook women’s interests. “Remember the ladies,” she urged, adding with considerable defiance: “If particular care and attention is not paid to the ladies we are determined to foment a rebellion and will not hold ourselves bound by any laws in which we have no voice or representation.”

More than 230 years later and thousands of miles away in tiny Lebanon, Adam’s words have gained renewed urgency. In mid-June, after five months of intense negotiations, Prime Minister Najib Mikati finally unveiled his new Cabinet. Not one of his 30 appointees is a woman.

“Women hold up half the sky,” as the Chinese proverb goes, but in many parts of the world they are still being forgotten by the governments that are supposed to represent them.

While the absence of women from political life is typical in other Arab countries, like Saudi Arabia, Lebanese women have enjoyed at least symbolic representation in their government since being given the right to vote in 1952. Before the previous government was brought down in January, there were two women in the Cabinet, holding the finance and state portfolios, and four women among 128 parliamentarians. Though this amounts to a paltry 3.1 percent, most activists were optimistic it would, in time, gradually increase.

If being deprived a share of the Cabinet wasn’t bad enough for Lebanese women, their role in society has been further called into question by the disappointing comments of the country’s most senior Sunni leader. Grand Mufti Mohammad Qabbani recently condemned efforts to introduce legislation protecting women from domestic violence as a Western plot against Muslim family values.

These seem like strange words indeed when one recalls Lebanese citizen Charles Malik’s pioneering role in drafting the 1948 Universal Declaration of Human Rights — a document firmly committed to ending gender discrimination and one that the Lebanese have enshrined in their Constitution. Mr. Qabbani seems to have overlooked the fact that Lebanon helped articulate those very values he now accuses of being foreign and which many other Muslim leaders would call an integral part of their religious beliefs.

Unfortunately, the masculinization of Lebanon’s government is just the latest in a string of major blows to women’s political participation in the Arab world as a whole.

Women were at the helm of the uprisings in Tunisia, Yemen and Egypt, but only one has been appointed to the new 27-member Cabinet in Cairo and plans for a woman’s quota introduced last year have been abandoned. In Tunisia, where women formerly held over a quarter of parliamentary seats, they head only two of 31 ministries now. Developments in Lebanon thus may well herald the beginning of retrogressive steps on women’s rights throughout the region.

This apparent sleepwalking backwards increasingly goes against the grain of global attitudes towards women, whose participation in decision-making is now an internationally recognized marker of social progress and is on the rise every year.

The United Nations has, since 2000, led initiatives to mainstream women’s active role in the public life of their countries, issuing several resolutions in this regard. Lebanon should embrace its historical role as a defender of human rights and implement those resolutions in good faith.

Without women, Lebanon’s political jigsaw puzzle is glaringly incomplete and calls for transformative change will go unanswered. As one local group put it recently, “How can we arrive at social justice for all when we exclude half of society in the decision-making process?”

Women must become an integral part of decision-making bodies if Lebanon and other Arab countries want to enjoy real democracy and truly serve the needs and aspirations of their people.

The political participation of women is a matter of justice, not a privilege they should have to fight for. The sisters of Abigail Adams should not have to wait any longer for their rights to be recognized.

Posh women’s rights in the Arab World

2 Dec

The New Arab Woman Forum is an elitist club for ladies who lunch. It desperately needs to become more diverse

Dalila Mahdawiguardian.co.uk, Wednesday 1 December 2010

Today, hundreds of women will gather in Beirut for the fourth annual New Arab Woman Forum (Nawf).

Bringing together prominent personalities for two days of “analysis of the changing position and role of women in Arab society, politics, and economic life,” Nawf claims to be the region’s “leading and most relevant women’s event”. If that’s true, then the Arab women’s movement is in serious trouble.

When I attended Nawf as a journalist last year, I was given a luxury leather notebook-holder as a welcoming present. Sadly, the notebook-holder was pretty much the only thing of substance to emerge from the proceedings. The file’s fashionable pink and brown colour scheme represents all that is wrong with Nawf, which seems to be more a gruesome parade of plastic surgery operations and couture outfits on the relatives of male political leaders than anything remotely to do with women’s empowerment.

For many involved in the struggle for gender equality, Nawf is as genuine a women’s event as many of the noses of its attendees. Last year’s session on political quotas, arguably one of the most important debates for women in the Arab world, for example, was butchered down to about 20 minutes so as to ensure it didn’t run into the obviously invaluable lunch break.

Besides a struggle with priorities, one of the biggest obstacles to the forum’s legitimacy is its outrageous price tag: it costs $300 (plus 10% VAT – more than £200) a person to attend, with no discounts for non-governmental or other community-based organisations. Why organisers have repeatedly chosen to host the event at the InterContinental Phoenicia hotel, the ultimate symbol of opulent excess, is another mind-boggler.  Perhaps Nawf didn’t get the memo that it is women who make up the bulk of the Arab world’s illiterate and impoverished citizens. If the organisers switched to a free or cheaper venue, it would automatically open up the event to a more diverse community of women.

Activists have also complained that Nawf denies invitations and speaking opportunities to important grassroots groups in favour of big names. Nawf could learn a lot from those it excludes, including those on its own doorstep in Beirut, such as the feminist collective Nasawiya, who recently invited the prominent gender studies professor Lila Abu-Lughoud to deliver a free public lecture. Instead, Mohammad Rahhal, Lebanon’s male environment minister, is delivering a speech.

The gilded hotel doors are firmly shut on precisely the women who should be listened to but wide open to those who have no real involvement in improving the lives of Arab women.

Another particularly irksome feature of Nawf is that organisers have stubbornly insisted on holding it in Beirut for a third time. The choice of location has repeatedly been justified with the old cliche that Lebanon is the most open society in the Arab world. But just because some women in Lebanon can wear a miniskirt doesn’t mean they enjoy substantive equality. Far from it: the Lebanese government considers women as juveniles in many aspects of the law, forbids them from passing on nationality to their children, and does not protect them from domestic violence, including marital rape. Until recently, Lebanese women were not even permitted to open bank accounts for their children.

Lebanon also has one of the lowest regional figures for women in politics, standing at a mere 3.1%, compared with Iraq’s 25.2%, Tunisia’s 27.6% and Syria’s 12.4%. As recently as 10 November, Lebanon balked at UN recommendations to improve women’s rights. Nawf’s real motivation to host its event in Beirut, therefore, seems to revolve around the idea that the allure of a trip to Beirut, with all its glamorous boutiques and restaurants, will entice more participants to cough up the hefty attendance fee. After all, there’s nothing like a vague two-day conference to take away the guilt of spending thousands of dollars on yourself.

No doubt the organisers had the best intentions when they envisioned Nawf. Any efforts to initiate discussion on the problems facing Arab women are to be commended, but if Nawf wishes to be taken seriously as a platform for all Arab women, it must make immediate and serious changes to become more inclusive of those whom it claims to speak on behalf of. Until then, the conference will remain an elitist club for ladies who lunch and a source of dismay to the real, anonymous women fighting for equality in the region. They might not have designer handbags but surely their ideas and experiences deserve just as much recognition.

Nationality and the Palestinians

8 Jun

Looking over my story about Samira Soueidan, I realized I left out some vital information about why the Justice Ministry would appeal such a case. Do they not like Egyptians? Do they not like widowers?
Those who’ve followed my reporting on the issue will know that the appeal is actually more or less framed around the idea of the 400,000 or so Palestinian refugees being resettled in Lebanon.
Lebanon has always been paranoid that Palestinian refugees will be granted Lebanese citizenship and resettle here, upsetting the demographic balance in this hysterically confessional country. The argument put forward by officials in public is that they don’t want the Palestinians to relinquish their right to return to the country they were expelled from. (This is coincidentally one of the main reasons Lebanon also does not grant the Palestinians the right to work in most professions).
But scrutinize the issue and you will find this policy is nothing but lies. Christian Palestinians were granted Lebanese citizenship a long time ago, simply because they would bolster Christian numbers. So it has nothing to do with the rights of Palestinians to return to their occupied country and everything to do with sectarianism. By granting Soueidan the right to nationality, the Justice Ministry saw a dangerous precedent being set that could pave the way for all stateless children and husbands to demand their right to citizenship.
It’s especially difficult to comprehend the logic behind Lebanon’s sexist nationality laws when looking at the facts on the ground: According to a UNDP-funded study, only 2% of all Lebanese women married to non-Lebanese are married to Palestinians. This shows the law for what it is:deeply flawed and only existing to serve the patriarchal sectarian system.

Rich old widows and manipulative foreign men

3 Jun
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NGO hits out at General Security over nationality laws
By Dalila Mahdawi and Carol Rizk
Daily Star staff
Friday, May 21, 2010

BEIRUT: A Lebanese non-governmental organization (NGO) lashed out on Thursday at recent comments by the director of General Security, Wafiq Jezzini, accusing him of “humiliating” racism and sexism.

The Collective for Research and Training on Development-Action (CRTD.A) also asked the Lebanese government to clarify what progress had been made in enacting a decree granting free of charge residency permits with up to three years validity to the non-Lebanese husbands and children of Lebanese women.

The decree, proposed by Interior Minister Ziyad Baroud, was approved by Cabinet on April 21, but has not yet come into effect, leading human rights activists to suspect it was being delayed on purpose.

Last week, Jezzini told the Cabinet Baroud’s decree contravened Lebanon’s labor laws and accused non-Lebanese husbands of Lebanese women of entering the country illegally and marrying much older “rich widows” to financially exploit them.

Jezzini, whose remarks were published by Al-Akhbar newspaper on May 14, also claimed that granting complementary residency permits to the non-Lebanese husbands and children of Lebanese women would lead to “social problems.”

Lebanese law permits men to pass on their nationality to their non-Lebanese wives and children but bars women married to non-Lebanese from doing the same. Deprived of state protection and recognition, those without citizenship live in a precarious legal vacuum and cannot benefit from state education or health care, work in the formal economy or vote.

Non-Lebanese husbands and children must apply for costly residency permits on an annual basis or face imprisonment and deportation.

“Giving complementary residency permits would encourage these people to enter Lebanon on the pretext of tourism or work and then not leave,” Jezzini said. “They marry Lebanese women to benefit from the provided facilities and nothing more, and this can lead to social problems and hurt society and the economy.”

He added: “[General Security] has mentioned in previous correspondences that … Lebanon has become a target country for immigrants. This flow is either legal or clandestine … [and] has led to a relatively large number of foreigners living illegally in Lebanon, many of whom – notably Egyptians, Iraqis and Syrians – marry Lebanese women and have children even if they are already married in their native country.

“They do not take age differences into consideration and sometimes marry rich widows because they are looking for a refuge or a way out.”

Roula Masri, gender program coordinator at CRTD.A, said Jezzini’s tone was “humiliating” and “totally offensive.” Jezzini was suggesting that foreign men come to Lebanon to find “old and unmarried women,” she told The Daily Star. The security official also suggested that Baroud’s decree “would give working class men the right to come and marry women who have passed the suitable marriage age and to exploit them,” Masri said.

CRTD.A asked the government to elucidate what progress it had made toward ratifying Baroud’s law. “It’s been a month since the endorsement so it’s unusual that it’s not yet passed into effect,” Masri said, adding that most laws only need two or three weeks to enter into force.

The NGO also issued a statement responding to Jezzini, saying his comments were “offensive to Lebanese women, their husbands, and to the working class.”

It added: “The head of General Security should not have generalized but should rather have focused on determining clear and transparent standards. He should also not have interfered in the personal affairs of the right of Lebanese women to choose their husbands.”

Jezzini’s comments were especially offensive as “dozens of families live in constant fear of being deported,” CRTD.A said. According to Masri, the Iraqi husband of a Lebanese woman was deported on Sunday even though his papers were in order.

Honor killing in Lebanon

12 Mar

This AFP story filed on Friday March 12 describes the latest honor killing in Lebanon. It says honor crimes are rare in Lebanon but a recent report I read said around 88 had occured in a seven year period (I can’t remember where I read that so don’t quote me on that), which is 88 too many. Sadly Lebanon’s penal code grants leniency to such killers, as it does rapists, who are pardoned if they propose to their victim. The good news is that a family violence bill is in the works, which might herald a new era in how Lebanon views perpetrators of gender-based and child abuse.

BEIRUT: A Lebanese man has been arrested in northern Lebanon for killing his sister earlier this week in what authorities described as an honour killing, a security official said on Friday. “The 24-year-old victim was single and apparently had a boyfriend,” the security official told AFP. “(Her brother) admitted shooting her twice in the head to cleanse the family honour.” The woman was only identified by her initials, as was her 28-year-old brother. Her body was discovered on Tuesday on the main road of the village of Hakr al-Daheri, in the northern Akkar region. “This kind of crime is not common in Lebanon but we have a few every year,” the official said. Lebanese law stipulates extenuating circumstances for so-called honour killings, in which male relatives kill female kin they suspect of illicit behaviour with men. In 2007, Lebanon’s top Shiite Muslim cleric Mohammed Hussein Fadlallah issued a fatwa, or religious edict, banning honour killings as repulsive acts that contradict Islamic law.