Monday, December 7, 2009

KAFA introduces family-violence legislation (Beirut, Lebanon)

Violence against women and children is, unfortunately, truly international. But even in places like Lebanon, where women have very few legal rights, beginning efforts are underway to combat the violence.

Pleas to end domestic violence fall on deaf ears
NGO underlines urgent need for law designed to prevent family abuse

By Dalila Mahdawi
Daily Star staff
Monday, December 07, 2009

BEIRUT: For years, Umm Radwan’s (not her real name) daily routine never changed. Her husband would start beating her and her children early in the morning, only stopping to rape her, eat, and sleep. If the mother of four pleaded with her husband to stop his aggression, he would take a knife to their throats or shove their heads down the toilet. If they fell unconscious, her husband would rouse them with a cold shower and then continue his beatings.

Although she eventually left her husband, Umm Radwan and her children remain deeply scarred by their experiences. Despite repeated pleas, the police never intervened to help Umm Radwan. When her husband was sent to prison, it was for theft, not family violence. “My son started acting like his father and carrying a knife. He said to me once he remembered being 6 years old, when his dad would hit him, and how I would run to the police to get help and they wouldn’t come.” Umm Radwan’s son now lives on the streets, and she says she is both scared of and for him. “I have been screaming for 20 years and no one has listened to me or helped me,” she said.

It might be too late for Umm Radwan, but women’s rights activists are stepping up action to ensure no women have to endure such suffering in the future.

KAFA, a Lebanese non-governmental organization dedicated to eradicating to eradicating gender-based violence, child abuse and human trafficking, last week defended the need for a family-violence bill. Speaking at the Lebanese Parliament, KAFA representatives said such a law was needed urgently.

No statistics about domestic violence exist in Lebanon, where the issue is heavily stigmatized, but KAFA estimates at least 75 percent of women have experienced some form of physiological or physical violence. Lebanese law also favors men: the penal code has no specific laws relating to domestic violence and does not criminalize marital rape. Currently, Lebanon’s 15 religious courts preside over cases dealing with domestic violence and usually disadvantage women on such issues as custody and divorce.

Because of the social and legal obstacles surrounding domestic violence, many women often choose to stay with violent partners for the sake of their children, campaigners say. “Domestic violence is still considered a private matter and talking about it is still a social taboo,” KAFA’s director Zoya Rouhana told MPs. “This prohibits traditional legal systems from defining domestic violence and from making it public so that it can fall under the authority of the law.”

If introduced, the KAFA family-violence bill would see a special, secular family court established, where cases of domestic violence would by ruled on in the presence of judges, psycho­therapists, social workers, and forensic experts. Specialized police units with female officers trained in domestic violence issues, would be opened across Lebanon’s six governorates. A law would also be formulated obliging anyone who witnesses domestic violence to report it.

The Lebanese government should pass the bill “to show a clear refusal of these violent actions and to send a clear message rejecting popular traditions justifying domestic violence,” Rouhana said.

According to KAFA lawyer Layla Awada, the law also gives women the right to ask for restraining orders. “The restraining order also states that a man must provide a safe place of residence for his wife and family, cannot use her personal belongings, pay alimony and undergo a rehabilitation treatment.”

The Woman and Child Parliamentary Committee began coordinating with women rights activists in 2007 and has discussed and presented draft laws on several laws. However, political bickering has held back progress on crucial gender-equality issues like nationality, personal status or a women’s political quota, the committee’s head, MP Gilberte Zouein said. “A huge responsibility falls on the Lebanese government … because it is unable to guarantee gender equality,” she added.

The state of women’s rights in Lebanon stands in stark contrast with the Lebanese Constitution, which guarantees equality between men and women before the law, and Lebanon’s obligations to gender equality in accordance with its adherence to international agreements, Rouhana said. – Additional reporting by Carol Rizk and Omar Katerji