Lebanese women, fight for your rights
She sat in the corner, her back against the wall, knees together, shaking, until she heard the door slammed shut. Breathing heavily and sobbing like a child, she dragged her seemingly heavy body across the room, in an attempt to reach the nightstand. The carpet will get stained, she kept thinking, how will I get the blood stains off before he returns home. Finally there, she reached for the mobile that was still on the nightstand, her wounds burning and stinging. She called her cousin to go pick up the kids from school, begging her with a shaky voice to keep them at her place for a few hours. She hung up before questions could be asked and called her next door neighbor. It took forever to reach the door, but she did and there was her neighbor, like countless times before, yet her eyes looked different this time. They were full of shock and fear. Then she heard her shouting, and a few more familiar faces gathered. Then all went dark.
This could very well be your little daughter, in a few years from now, and that’s one of the reasons why KAFA called for a march on the 8th.
Holding pictures of their victimized daughters, sisters and friends, women in black lead the way, with faces washed in tears. Young women taken early seemed to be present, reminding the crowd that this gathering was well worth their time. The streets got colored in red and grey ink on simple protest signs. Each lady, man and child present voiced the same main concerns: protecting women from verbal, physical and sexual abuse. From smiling faces happy to move for a cause, to shouts of oppressed women who lost it all, the streets of Beirut echoed a single thought: Give Lebanese women the right every Lebanese man has always had, that of being a citizen and an individual.
This brings us to the most simple of demands, giving the Lebanese woman the right to pass her nationality to her children. For how is she to be considered a full citizen if she is denied that most basic right that every Lebanese man has? How is she to be considered an equal citizen if she doesn’t share the same rights? Is she not a citizen in this country? Is she not Lebanese? Is she not voting to bring those who deny her to power? Then why is she not allowed the same benefits every male citizen has by birth? This simple fact women endure every day since birth in Lebanon demonstrates explicitly how sexist our laws are. In fact, whether we tackle marriage or divorce or the custody of her children, we notice that the law subdues the Lebanese woman in every stage of her life. She is barely existent as an individual; she is either a daughter, or a wife. Her religious beliefs can only be those of her father and later, husband, and she even “follows” them in all official procedures, even voting, as she is registered where her father or husband is, depending on her marital status. To make things worse, society has incorporated this culture of inequality into every possible tradition, so much that it is considered the normal way of life. To marry a woman must do so in a church following her future husband’s religious affiliation, and once married she is expected to forget her own convictions and attend religious ceremonies with her husband. Even her children are not allowed to choose, they must follow suit and be registered according to their father’s religious affiliation. It is sickening to see such a patriarchal culture still standing in 2014. Equality must guarantee the basic right of an individual of both genders to worship as he wishes, and society must reflect that.
Sadly, even divorce and custody laws are unjust toward Lebanese women. So many have been denied divorce or custody while being the victims of adultery or even domestic violence. That is not to mention the treatment women receive if they dare ask for help or protection from the police. In many cases they are simply sent back home, after being mocked or told that their husbands have the right to set them straight and that they must have provoked them. Yes, I am still talking about women in 2014, in a country that prides itself on freedom. That is why the march organized by KAFA mattered! In the age of social media and global news, it is important to show the world the real face of Lebanon so that even if our leaders have hearing problems, our voices may be heard. The more pressure we apply to unmask the hypocrisy of our laws and society, the closer we get to change the status quo. And that can only happen by changing the laws and spreading awareness. Awareness is a power that women in Lebanon still don’t fully believe in, and that is why it is important to remind them that not only are some abused women scared and in danger, but some don’t even realize the types of abuse they are enduring. For instance, verbal abuse must be recognized and accepted as a form of abuse before we can ask for a law that makes the abuser accountable for it. That can only be achieved through awareness campaigns and the call to move, in order to empower women and make them believe that they can get the treatment and legislation they deserve, as equals in this country. We must remember no one will give us our rights if we don’t know and demand them.
So make yourselves heard, ladies, for your own dignity as individuals and full citizens and for the future of your daughters; and all you civilized gents supporting our cause, thank you, for reassuring us that there is hope in spite of the sexist laws and traditions.
My final shout out goes to Lebanese mothers, you who are raising the next generation of men, please forget the old ways. You sons are not little Tsars whose every whim should be obliged until they are in their late 30s and incapable of understanding they can be wrong at times. Please remember one day they will become husbands and must be taught empathy and that if they expect their wives to share every responsibility in this modern world, they must provide them with the respect of treating them as equals.
Every Lebanese mother must teach her son that a woman is not a toy that gets broken if another has played with it, nor a lesser person that he can control by threatening her reputation. But above all, she should raise her son with the morals never to raise his voice at a woman, so that he may grow up knowing raising his hand is unthinkable and barbaric.