Tuesday, April 01, 2014

How the "The Law to Protect Women from Family Violence" never came to pass

In quintessential Lebanese style, parliament just passed a law that initially meant to protect women from violence at home but has been modified beyond recognition to what is now known as “The Bill for the Protection of Women and Family Members Against Domestic Violence". The Legal Agenda has done a great job of explaining why this law is in fact insulting to feminists and anyone who appreciates a sense of justice in their society. Here are a few points from their thorough analysis. I highly recommend reading the article in full:

The subcommittee in charge of reviewing the original draft law prepared by the NGO KAFA (Enough) objected that the text of the legislation does not treat all members of the same family equally and discriminates positively for women. Without a shred of irony, they argued that  the draft law "contradicted Article 7 of the Lebanese Constitution enshrining equality of all Lebanese in terms of their rights and obligations." Because we all know that all Lebanese are treated equally under the law, except for some Lebanese (i.e. males) who are treated more equally than others (read civil status law).

It is common knowledge that the subcommittee had removed "marital rape" and "forced marriage" from the text of the original draft. It claimed that only physical violence that can be proven as per the Criminal Law counts. But did you know that the committee just added “marital rights to intercourse” in an explicit text of civil law (Clause 7(a) of Article 3 of the amended draft)? If this draft passes, guess what it means. The Legal Agenda depressingly expalins:

"Not only does the amendment fail to consider marital rape an act of violence, it might actually lead to deeming the infliction of harm by a wife on her husband while fighting off his attempt to rape her an act of violence itself."

In other words, the husband can legally rape his wife, and if she fights back, he can sue her for domestic violence.

To add insult to injury, the committee also included "adultery among the list of crimes that fall under marital violence, thereby allowing the aggrieved husband to seek protective measures under the law." Why? Because equality apparently.

Happy April's Fools everyone. We've all been duped.

Wednesday, February 12, 2014

Nudity indeed sells

When I first heard about Jackie Chamoun's leaked video and the criticism that made her apologize, I was offended. Why should she? If Lebanon was indeed a conservative society, then we shouldn't be subjected to the political porn we have to endure on a daily basis. Of course, I also wholeheartedly believe that a woman (or man) has the right to do whatever they want with their bodies and no one has the right to dictate their moral standards on them. The incident soon snowballed resulting in hundreds of blog posts and tweets and hashtags and creepy dude pics, all in support of Jackie's right to strip and represent Lebanon in the Olympics. Good for them. Good for us (I also did my share of tweeting and FB sharing).

But looking at the extent of the supportive response (to be honest I barely saw any negative comments about Jackie), I wonder where all this energy and indignation is coming from. I didn't see any of it when Roula Yacoub's husband was found not guilty of murdering her, under extremely murky legal proceedings. Why hasn't there been any outrage at the refusal of the police to intervene in a domestic violence incident that lead to the murder of another woman? I don't see any hashtags or Instagram photos calling for justice and rule of law, and for adopting progressive domestic violence legislation in Lebanon.

So I do want to ask, how "modern" are we as a society? And is it freedom and human rights that we are advocating, or just the image that comes with it?

Just food for thought.

Friday, December 27, 2013

Sequence of events after a Beirut blast

This is literally what happens every single time:
  1. When you hear the news, experience shock and moment of silence. Heart sinks.
  2. When you recover, immediately - and irrationally, contact your partner/significant other/loved ones via Whatsapp, Facebook, Twitter (phone lines are usually down) to make sure they are fine, even though you're not sure exactly where the explosion was.
  3. When the initial panic wears off, try to determine the general vicinity of the blast and remember if anyone you know works, lives or may be in the area at the time. Repeat Step 2 for those people.
  4. When you are sure everyone is fine, start getting angry at the cowardly assholes with no clear agenda except terrorizing people who are just going about their lives, when they already have enough problems.
  5. When you realize that this was an assassination and not a random blast, secretly breathe a sigh of relief for one second but then decide that this only means one thing: we are as irrelevant and insignificant as we have ever been in this damn excuse for a country, and only serve as collateral damage in a decades long conflict that has nothing to do with us.
  6. Get frustrated and depressed.
  7. Repeat ad infinitum.

Tuesday, November 12, 2013

Is Egypt really the worst Arab state for women?

After Amman was the rated the third "Ugliest City in the World" and Beirut the 20th "Top City in the World", using vague criteria such as "dirty, chaotic streets and ugly buildings looking like they're crumbling on top of each other" (in reference to Amman not Beirut!), the polling community has come up with a new ranking system: worst Arab states for women. And Egypt won, apparently due to a "surge in violence and Islamist feeling", whatever that means.

Now I am not going to make the argument that Egypt doesn't deserve the title when there are countries like Saudi Arabia and Yemen in contention. I am not an expert on how it is to be a woman in Egypt these days, enduring harassment in the street on a daily basis, nor have I ever been a female citizen of Saudi or Yemen. But I am almost certain that as a Lebanese woman, it in no way feels like I am supposed to be worse off than a woman living in Somalia, a country that still refuses to sign the Convention on the Elimination of Discrimination Against Women. I do not believe that as a woman living in Tunisia, with full citizenship rights, I would be worse off than a Jordanian woman, exposed to "honor" crimes and denied the right to pass my citizenship to my children, where the glass ceiling feels like fortified cement. Something doesn't add up here.

This strangely designed poll by the Thomas Reuters Foundation is reminiscent of the annual Transparency International  poll in which people from different countries are asked about the perception of corruption in their country. The headlines always goes something like "Lebanon most corrupt country in Middle East". In fact, it is simply an indicator of people's perception about corruption, because there is no other way of actually measuring corruption (you can't just go up to a politician and ask them if they accept bribes - well let's just say it gets more complicated). This poll basically asked "336 specialists" their own opinion on whether statements like "Women and men have equal access to run for all elected positions in public office" or "Girls are expected to give up their education sooner than boys" in their country. As complicated as the statements were to confirm, more problematic were answering questions like: "Current inheritance laws are biased towards men.", an issue that has a basis in religion.

What bothered me about this poll is first, the obviously strange and inexplicable results. The second thing is that many of the questions, such as "Marital rape is recognised by law and punished" or "Female genital mutilation is a common practice in this country" can be clearly answered through a little bit of research. They are not really perception based. Another problem is using the indicator of access to health care, as Karl noted, which may not be a sign of a gender equal society but of a rentier state, compared to a country that does not provide public health care to any of its citizens.

I am not sure why the Thomas Reuters foundation decided to conduct their study in this manner, but it has not shed any light on the issue of gender discrimination in the Arab world, as we ended up with one more useless list of countries ranked at someone else's whim.

Tuesday, January 15, 2013

A justified rant: Are you kidding me with this citizenship thing?

This seriously cannot go on. How retarded are we? Did you know this:

Palestine was the first Arab country to give women the right to pass on their citizenship, in 2003, followed by Egypt, Algeria, Morocco, Yemen, Tunisia and Libya. Last year, the UAE announced that children of Emirati women married to foreigners could apply for citizenship once they turn 18. And in January 2012, the Council of Ministers in Saudi Arabia announced it would grant citizenship to children of Saudi women married to non-Saudi men, on the condition that they meet other citizenship requirements.

Saudi Arabia people. Where women can't drive. Saudi Arabia, the most backward country in the world when it comes to women's rights, doesn't think that granting women the right to pass on their nationality will turn their country upside down and ruin life for everyone else.

But in Lebanon, it's a different story. In Lebanon, we form an all-male committee to review the possibility of granting women full citizenship. We not only leave it to the "men" to decide, we do it at the most patronizing timing: On Mother's Day. You know, as a "gift" to mothers, not an inherent right to all women. Of course the committee found that this "gift" was not a good idea after all, because despite the constitution, human rights and international treaties that Lebanon is committed to, granting this priceless gift may unhinge the delicate sectarian balance of the nation. And God forbid this sectarian balance, that for all I can see only guarantees government positions for the country's warlords, should be unhinged. Meanwhile, Americans of Lebanese male ancestry from 1921 have every right to that coveted nationality. I wonder how many actually claimed it.

I don't know why we expected anything different from such a cynical committee. Everybody knows that on Mother's Day, the Lebanese buy their mothers toasters.

Sunday, October 07, 2012

Women in the constitutional amendment

We are, supposedly, living historic times in the Arab world. Democracy is peeking its head everywhere we look, but a full presence has not yet been secured, at least in my opinion. Let's for a minute turn our eyes to the "democratic" state at work: the Republic of Egypt. It is indeed an important achievement. Egypt is now debating its new constitution, and the discussion is public. How much of the public discussion will be taken into account for the draft constitution, I don't know. But it's a definitely a step forward.

As part of the discussion (yes I am aware that I am not Egyptian but I'm putting my 2 cents in anyway), let's have a look at one of the proposed articles on offer, Article 36. Here's a quick translation I made:

The State commits to to all legal and executive measures to enshrine the principle of women equalling men in political, cultural, economic and social life and other aspects, that does not go against Islamic Shari'a. The State will provide free maternity and child care and will guarantee for women protection and social, economic and health welfare, the right to inheritance and ensure agreement between her duties towards her family and her work in society.

Anyone with a basic knowledge of gender issues can clearly see that equality is not really at the heart of this article, but the appearance of it is. I will not venture to argue whether Islamic Sharia' does allow for equality between men and women because I am clearly not an expert on the subject. I will just make a few remarks from my own reading of the article.

The phrasing "the principle of women equalling men" is obviously problematic. It's not "equality between women and men", as if to say that somehow men are superior and they will advocate that women equal them as much as possible.

The mention of women and her role as a mother in the same article that is meant to advocate equality is more evidence that gender equality was not really taken seriously when drafting this text. Social, political and economic rights is not the same topic as caring for a family. The family should be the responsibility of both parents, but the writers here do not seem to agree.

Which brings me to my last point: how is it the state's responsibility to interfere in the woman's decision to juggle work and family? I am referring to the statement "ensure agreement between her duties towards her family and work in society".

No. They are not serious. This article is a joke. And judging from the feedback on it, it will probably pass.

Wednesday, October 03, 2012

What's a little beating between spouses?

It is statements like this that keep me optimistic about the future of the human race:

“We do not support violence against women, but God allowed a certain form of beating,”

This gem was uttered by Salafist preacher Yasser Borhamy, aka "godfather" of El-Nour Party in Egypt. To be fair, he did argue that even though the husband is permitted to beat his wife, no physical damage or scar should result from the beating.

God bless him.