Lebanon is not known for exacting efforts in securing the human rights of the people. With all the problems that the country has gone and is still going through, a focus on human rights (more specifically, women’s rights) becomes more of an after-thought rather than a priority.
Violence Against Women
Gender-based violence, domestic violence specifically, is a big problem in Lebanon much like anywhere else. Statistics concerning this problem speak for themselves; however, it is important to remember that as much as we would like to get accurate data and analyses, we must recognize the stigma surrounding this taboo topic. This stigma causes many women to choose not to come forward out of fear of repercussions of various types (sexual, verbal, physical or psychological assaults and withdrawal of financial support). Complaining against domestic violence means more suffering from violence by the women. Even though some of these acts are penalized under Law 293 (the Lebanese law on domestic violence), men have escaped prosecution under this law. This makes the law complicit to the acts of domestic violence in some cases.
In 2019, the support center of KAFA received 1,107 new cases with 26 percent of the women experiencing various types of physical abuse including choking (3 percent), beating (9 percent), scarring (8 percent) and attempted murder (2 percent). KAFA helped the Internal Security Force (ISF) of the country establish a telephone hotline for these women (1745), which now has personnel assigned to answer the phone calls. KAFA has its own telephone hotline (03018019) since its establishment in 2005.
Laws concerning women’s issues in Lebanon—including domestic violence, prostitution and exploitation, child custody, among others—can best be described as outdated and backward. This led many organizations across Lebanon including KAFA (Enough) Violence and Exploitation to start lobbying many years ago for the amendment of such laws, as well as propose new ones, to ensure the safety of women and girls across the country.
A big demonstration held on 8 March 2014 in Beirut on the draft law to protect women from domestic violence before its enactment on 1 April 2014.
To add insult to injury, since Lebanon’s personal status laws are based on Christian and Muslim ideals that should govern family-related issues, amending them has become implausible due to the sectarian system that plagues the country. Lebanese laws are like an onion: the more you peel it, the more layers appear, and some layers are close to impossible to remove. This is why the NGOs have to do the work required to serve and protect the women in the country regardless of their race, social status, age or nationality.
Before the domestic violence law (Law 293) existed, the absence of an adequate law on domestic violence was a threatening barrier to women’s rights in Lebanon. Pending since 2010, the Lebanese Parliament finally passed the domestic violence law on 1 April 2014. However, KAFA is working to amend Law 293 to rid it of loopholes.
Placard saying “Killing women because they are women continues. Amend Law 293.” Demonstration in Beirut, early 2019.
Every year, women’s rights gain little successes. For example, in 2017, Article 522 of the Penal Law was repealed after a lengthy campaign and public awareness-raising by NGOs. Article 522 of the 1940s-vintage Penal Law provides that rape is punishable by up to seven years in prison with a higher penalty for raping a minor. However, the article also states that a man who raped an unmarried woman can avoid prosecution for the crime by marrying the victim. Article 522 provides:
In the event a legal marriage is concluded between the person who committed [crimes including rape, kidnapping and statutory rape], and the victim, prosecution shall be stopped and in case a judgment [of conviction has been] rendered, the execution of such judgment shall be suspended against the person who was subject to it.
While Article 522 was repealed, its provision was retained in two articles, Articles 505 and 518, of the Penal Law. KAFA issued a statement on this issue:1
Article 505 refers to mating with a minor as a crime punishable by the law, and mentions this crime under the “rape crimes” sub-chapter. However, the amendment of the Article as approved by the members of the Administration and Justice Commission and adopted by Parliament, places the offender again in front of two choices: Imprisonment or marrying the victim if she is aged between 15 and 18 ...
Laws and legal provisions such as these exist in the Lebanese legal system, and the general public may or may not be aware of them (as in the case of public ignorance of Article 522). A notable example is the child marriage law. To this day, NGOs have been advocating the raising of minimum age of marriage to eighteen years. Unfortunately, marriage is under the personal status legal system, where the applicable personal law depends on the religion and sect of the people involved. Each religious or ethnic community has its own personal law. KAFA continued its lobbying and advocacy campaigning on this issue in 2019. It is advocating the passage of a unified personal status law. This proposed law would ensure equality among family members regarding marriage, divorce, child custody, finances and security regardless of their religion or sect.
It is important to acknowledge that online campaigning has played a huge part in advocating for all aspects of women’s rights in Lebanon. Whether it be the anti-child marriage campaign or the “Abolish 522” campaign, their presence in the internet has played a monumental part at gathering and assembling masses of people, educating people online, and spreading awareness about various other issues. This is why the status of women’s rights in Lebanon has changed the most this past decade more than before. It is also important to include the women's marches that have been happening yearly on Women’s Day. Many organizations have been successfully calling on people to participate, normalizing activism and spreading the good word. This sort of pressure on politicians is what is needed, especially more recently during the October Revolution in 2019, when another march took place rallying people against rape, other sexual assaults and sexual harassment which are still not taken seriously by the law. This was exacerbated by an event that happened at the time when a serial rapist, with many testimonies and evidence from many victims against him, was still allowed to roam free without punishment. This is not a single instance in Lebanon but a frequent occurrence that has been brushed off for too long and the people and organizations will not rest until the goal of protecting women is achieved.
The COVID-19 lockdown made things harder for women victims of domestic abuse. Being stuck at home 24/7 with their abusive relatives (whether husband, father, etc.), women have been experiencing more and more violence from these individuals. This, in addition to the various economic and security issues in Lebanon, the lockdown put the women in more harm’s way with the temper of these men having risen for the worse. KAFA observed a rise in domestic abuse reported through calls to its helpline over the last few months, with the number of calls rising to 1,371 calls in June 2020. However this is a conservative estimate since the lockdown led these women to be watched by the men the whole time, making it increasingly harder to report abuses, whether by Lebanese or Syrian refugee women stuck in their camps. Additionally, the ISF has reported that its telephone hotline (1745) dedicated to domestic violence complaints has registered a rise of 100 percent in incoming calls, in comparison with the number of complaint calls in March 2019.
Unfortunately, cases of extreme violence also happened, with a father killing his wife and young daughter. But on a more positive note, eleven of the sixteen requests for protection submitted by KAFA to the Public Prosecution have been granted during the month of June 2020.
KAFA condemns the Lebanese government for not protecting the women and not enforcing laws that would ensure their protection. Mere government planning and strategizing do not amount to anything on the ground. The government has to take concrete actions as soon as possible because this gap has a body count; too many women are suffering because of a system built against them. The ministries and other governmental agencies need to step in and help these women by providing refuge/shelter or legal assistance, and by stopping the practice of putting this responsibility on the NGOs. Lebanon is notorious for relying on these NGOs for all these social issues. The Ministry of Social Affairs needs to get its priorities in order and do its job.
As reported by UN Women, Lebanon ranks low in the equality index:2
Lebanon is currently placed 145 out of 153 countries on the World Economic Forum Global Gender Gap Index 2020.3 In terms of prevalence of domestic violence, 65 per cent of reported incidents are committed by family members, and 71 per cent took place inside the survivor or perpetrator’s household. Moreover, 18 per cent of reported cases of Violence Against Women (VAW) involve incidents of sexual violence, of which 8 per cent involve rape (2016).
Lebanon still has a long way to go to achieve equality between women and men as long as the government is not completely repealing outdated laws and providing actual assistance to women in need.
KAFA (Enough) Violence & Exploitation is a feminist, secular, Lebanese, non-profit, non-governmental civil society organization based in Beirut.
For further information, please contact: KAFA (Enough) Violence & Exploitation, 43, Badaro Street, Beydoun Bldg., First Floor, Beirut, Lebanon, ph 961-1-392220; fax 961-1-392220; e-mail: email@example.com; www.kafa.org.lb.
1 “Article 522 is not fully abolished,” KAFA, 17 August 2017, www.kafa.org.lb/en/node/124.
2 Lebanon, UNWomen Arab States, https://arabstates.unwomen.org/en/countries/lebanon.
3 See Table 1, The Global Gender Gap Index 2020 rankings, Global Gender Gap Report, World Economic Forum, page 9, www3.weforum.org/docs/WEF_GGGR_2020.pdf.