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Study says women face long battle for equality in Lebanon

BEIRUT: Lebanon has a long and tough path ahead to ensure gender equality, or even basic legal protection for women, according to a comprehensive study on the situation in the country released Wednesday.

The report, conducted by international non-governmental organization World Vision and local women’s rights NGO Abaad, comes just one day after Lebanon’s Parliament passed an amended law to protect women from domestic violence that was heavily criticized by rights groups and activists.

“It is apparent that the traditional forms of domination, control and coercion are ever present between [married couples],” the study said. “They are still present despite all the legal procedures and efforts aiming at establishing equality between both genders. ... There are still high percentages of men who refuse to accept equality. They support it in claims, but resist in practice and real life.”

“The woman is the giver of life, so why not provide her with rights?” Anita Delhaas-Van Dijk, national director for World Vision International, asked at the study’s launch at Beirut’s Riviera Hotel.

Delhaas-Van Dijk pointed to at least four cases so far this year involving alleged spousal murder of Lebanese women.

“So many women have been killed as a result of domestic violence. Manal [Assi] was hit by a kitchen pot,” she said. “Whose story will it be tomorrow?”

The study focused on five major subjects that have long been of paramount importance to women’s rights advocates: general equality, violence against women, passing on nationality to children, care for the elderly and respect for women’s choices.

This last topic, which includes the issue of marital rape, is currently the subject of much discussion after a key amendment to the domestic violence law was left untouched, essentially granting husbands “conjugal rights” and not criminalizing rape between a married couple.

“This is an important piece of work,” Delhaas-Van Dijk said.

“There are beliefs embedded and taught in the culture,” she added. “The study addresses different perceptions and recommends addressing the root causes.”

The study was conducted over 16 different group interviews as well as some individual interviews, and involved 125 men and women of various ages, genders, geographic locations and educational levels.

Many men said they believed their wives were either primarily or solely responsible for household chores, despite many women working full time or making financial contributions to the family. Some women surveyed said their husbands considered them maids, rather than equal partners.

The report said violence was often used to punish women for “neglect” of household chores.

“We can’t continue like this. We need a shared life,” said Zouhair Hatab, a professor of law at Lebanese University. “Many men don’t think they’re responsible for household work.”

When asked about violence against women, most respondents said that there was never any acceptable reason for it. When a justification was provided, however, it usually involved either the Quran or economic hardship.

For women, on the other hand, “any use of violence against them means the end of mutual married life, even if it continued unwillingly. A violent husband loses his wife’s admiration, love and trust.”

The gulf between the answers by men and women to the same basic questions prompted some activists to urge men to be more involved in advocating for women’s rights.

“We need to change the picture and the way of thinking,” Abaad founder and director Ghida Anani said. “We should see the participation of men in defending women’s rights.”

 
A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Daily Star on April 03, 2014, on page 4.

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