BEIRUT: Thousands of women and men marched in the capital over the weekend to demand that the draft law to protect women from domestic violence be adopted, in the largest protest yet aimed at pressuring officials to pass the proposal. Holding banners slamming the absence of a law against domestic abuse and paying tribute to victims of such violence, protesters walked from the National Museum to the Justice Palace and chanted slogans condemning the “corrupt judiciary.”
More than 2,000 men and women took part in the Saturday demonstration organized by the anti-gender-based violence group KAFA, which has played a vital role in the adoption of the draft law at the parliamentary committee level.
The protest began with a 20-minute play about a young girl who was married to a “handsome” man and fell victim to domestic violence. Thousands watched, cheered and clapped throughout the performance.
Holding puppets dressed as a bride and groom, the three-person act demonstrated how social norms were one of the main factors silencing victims of marital rape, repeated beatings and general mistreatment.
“I went to see my aunt and told her about what was happening to me, she told me to go back home without causing a scandal,” one of the actresses, dressed in white and holding a small bouquet, said.
The play also touched on the fact that authorities in the country lack the prerogative needed to intervene in “family affairs.”
Speaking over a loudspeaker, one of the organizers said that the turnout eclipsed those of similar protests in the past.
As protesters began to march toward the Justice Palace, a 10-minute walk from the museum, a leading activist spoke through a megaphone and asked that the crowd repeat his chants.
“Against male dominance, domestic violence and oppression, we shall revolt,” the young man, carried on the shoulders of another activist, shouted.
Many of the marchers carried banners condemning the unjust treatment of women in the country and the absence of gender equality and demanding their lawmakers do their jobs to protect them.
“Shame on the nation that kills its women in the name of honor,” one of the banners read.
“As long as violence is not deemed a disgrace, the laws will remain no more than slogans,” another read, while other placards urged women to “stop being victims.”
Holding a relatively large banner that read “From the street to the legislative house: Approve the draft law to protect women from domestic violence,” the mothers of two victims of domestic abuse led the protest.
The relatives preferred to remain silent, leaving the protesters to defend their cause.
“I am here today to say that it is no longer acceptable for a civilized country to lack basic human rights of gender equality,” 30-year-old Eli said.
“It is also never acceptable to see men who have committed murder exonerated,” he said.
Though he demonstrated against the Syrian regime in 2005, Eli said that he had stopped protesting altogether “But today’s cause is about civil rights.”
Other women took to the streets to encourage women suffering from violence to stand up for themselves.
“I am here to pressure Parliament to pass the law but I am also here to encourage weak women to say no and not take a beating for the sake of their children,” Nisrine, a first-time protester, said.
“Your son or daughter needs a strong woman to be their role model, not someone who is weak,” she said.
Among those taking part in the protest was Layla Yaacoub, mother of the late Roula Yaacoub.
Yaacoub, 31, was found comatose at her home in north Lebanon last July and died upon arrival at the hospital. Despite a report clearing Yaacoub’s husband of any role in the death, Layla Yaacoub maintains that her daughter was the victim of domestic violence.
The demonstration reflects the growing anger among activists and the general population after several more cases of domestic violence surfaced this year.
In February, Manal al-Assi, a teacher, died in a Beirut hospital due to injuries she suffered when her husband allegedly beat her with a pressure cooker.
The most recent victim was Christelle Abu Shaqra, 30, who, her family claims, was poisoned to death by her husband. The couple had been separated for two months.
Assi’s case and others have prompted fresh criticism of Parliament’s failure to endorse a draft law that would protect women from domestic abuse.
The draft law was first submitted to Parliament in 2010. A parliamentary subcommittee began studying the legislation in May 2011 and finalized its amendments in August 2012.
The amendments altered the title of the text, which now refers to violence against the family, as opposed to women specifically. The committee also removed a key clause criminalizing marital rape after it sparked backlash from religious figures and some politicians.