BEIRUT: Activists and academics warned Thursday that a recent law had not done enough to protect women from violence, while also criticizing sect-specific personal status laws as one of the biggest obstacles to women’s rights.
Speaking at a roundtable discussion, Canadian Ambassador Emmanuelle Lamoureux said: “The issue of violence against women is being discussed more openly than it was [but] we know that there’s much work to do.”
The ambassador, whose embassy jointly hosted the roundtable alongside Universite Saint-Joseph’s Institute of Political Science, argued for a holistic approach to combating such violence, saying: “This is not just the work of civil society or the judiciary or the government.”
Some panelists addressed a law passed in 2014 to give more protection to family members from domestic violence and physical abuse.
Law 293 was the first law to attempt to tackle such issues, and came on the heels of high reported levels of violence against women: A 2010 report by the United Nations Populations Fund stated that 55 percent of Lebanese women were exposed to either physical or verbal violence.
However, Zoya Rouhana, managing director of the NGO KAFA (enough) Violence and Exploitation, said much of the content of the law designed to specifically protect women had been filtered out from its initial draft.
“We succeeded in introducing the word ‘women’ into the title without having that translated into protection measures for women,” she told The Daily Star.
Protection measures outlined in the draft “were based on the needs of women. It was wrong to apply them to all family members,” she added.
Nizar Saghieh, a lawyer and executive director of the NGO The Legal Agenda, noted that the law failed to take into account other issues that exposed women to domestic violence, such as the fear that fleeing an abusive partner might lead to losing custody of their children.
Panelists noted that Lebanese women often relied economically on their spouse, making them financially dependent on potentially abusive partners.
According to Rouhana, one of the main barriers to women’s equality is the dominance of Lebanon’s personal status laws, which function as civil law for members of each of Lebanon’s 18 recognized religious denominations.
“They all discriminate against women,” she said, arguing that personal status laws should be replaced by nationwide civil laws. She noted the example of the minimum age for marriage, which varies between sects: “Even women are not equal under these laws,” she said.
Internal Security Forces representative Colonel Ziad Kaed Bey argued that his organization had made positive steps to tackle domestic violence, with 1,300 officers having been trained to deal with victims and to prevent violence taking place. “I’m not saying we’re at the desired stage but we’ve made major strides,” he said.
Paying tribute to local activists in the progress made in combatting violence against women, Lamoureux also played down the role of international organizations like her own.
The roundtable “clearly demonstrates that there are some people in Lebanon - and not a minority - who are not only interested in these issues but are pushing for those issues,” she said.