As women across the world take a moment to celebrate their numerous achievements in human rights, women in Lebanon continue to fight for theirs in an unrelenting patriarchal society. An alarming report released by KAFA, a non-governmental organization against violence and exploitation of women, indicates that one woman is killed every month in Lebanon as a direct result of family violence. This figure reflects incidents that are published in newspapers and excludes incidents that go unreported.
These killings are not necessarily the result of "honor" crimes - murders to protect the family's "honor" from adultery - rather it is often the result of an escalation in violence that goes unreported and unaddressed, eventually leading to murder. KAFA estimates that as many as three quarters of all Lebanese women have suffered physical abuse at the hands of husbands or male relatives at some point in their lives.
Currently, cases of domestic violence are ruled on in one of the country's 15 religious courts, or family courts, whose laws date back to the Ottoman era and which campaigners say almost always favor men over women. While the Lebanese parliament has discussed draft bills that would take domestic violence out of the religious courts and into the civil system, no real action has been taken. In fact, the two mechanisms intended to safeguard the rights of Lebanese have failed to protect women from domestic violence. This is a combined failure of parliament to educate and legislate proper anti-abuse laws, as well as the inefficiency of law enforcement and religious courts in responding, prosecuting, and informing Lebanese citizens of the dangers of abuse.
In 2011, Human Rights Watch called on the government to criminalize violence against women. While a bill which would punish the mental, physical, and sexual abuse of women was approved by the former Council of Ministers in 2010, it was strongly condemned by both Dar al-Fatwa and the Higher Shi'a Islamic Council, citing article 9 of the Lebanese Constitution which protects the freedom of religion and opposes state legislating matters that religious communities consider a part of their legal realm. This condemnation, followed by months of political upheaval, has left the issue on the back burner and undermined the process of ratification.
Despite repeated calls for meetings with members of the committee, womens' rights activists say that their demands are not incorporated. Instead of offering women legal protection, that the bill has been horribly distorted from condemning violence against women to one that condemns violence against all family members, effectively removing the gender component that research and testimonies have proven to be a gender based problem. The distorted bill has eliminated Article 3, dealing with marital rape, which, under this version, would not be considered a form of family violence, and has not recognized economic and psychological violence. The new draft law further relegates judgment to religious courts should there be any discrepancy with the stated law.
Needless to say, these proposed amendments dealt a huge blow to the efforts of women's rights activists on this end. But women in Lebanon continue to push for this, and other rights. To date, their political participation has been minimal and their civil status diminished. Women in Lebanon have not yet obtained the right to pass their nationality to their children, and they continue to strike to mark their role in society. As the US Ambassador to Lebanon Maura Connelly put it in an editorial to mark International Women's Day today, women's rights are human rights. Women in Lebanon face a monumental task but without changing the current system, the country will continue to lag behind economically, socially, politically and culturally.