(Reuters) – A few thousand protesters took to the streets of Beirut on Saturday to demand that politicians approve Lebanon’s first law against domestic violence in a non-partisan display rarely seen in Lebanon’s highly politicized climate.
Organizers harnessed popular outrage over the deaths of two Lebanese women in suspected domestic violence cases which struck a nerve in a country where regular car bombs and rocket attacks have desensitized many to violence.
“The people want the passage of the law,” protesters chanted outside the ministry of justice, invoking one of the most popular slogans of the Arab Spring uprisings.
The demonstration, called to coincide with International Women’s Day, appeared to number at least 3,000 – large for a politically independent event in Beirut.
Lebanon, known for its nightclubs, stylish boutiques and liberal social norms, offers women freedoms denied to many in the Arab world, but campaigners say one woman a month is killed by domestic violence in the country of 4 million.
Many Lebanese took to social media following the deaths last month of Manal Assi and Cristelle Abou Chakra to condemn a seven-month delay in passing the domestic violence law, held up by political disagreements and backlog of bills linked to the Syrian civil war.
“How many wives must die assaulted by their husbands before the state passes the law to protect women?” said one tweet…
While Lebanon’s legal code is largely secular, personal status laws give Muslim and Christian religious authorities control of many civil affairs. The confessional system settles disputes over marriage, divorce and inheritance in religious courts.
Human rights lawyer Nizar Saghieh, who runs the legal reform NGO Legal Agenda, said the amendments would dilute its ability to combat domestic violence.
One amendment removes a reference to forced marriage, while another one introduces the spousal right to sexual intercourse, essentially legalizing marital rape, he said.
The amended proposal also removes a special status for women and adds adultery to the definition of domestic violence. According to Saghieh, this could extend to men the protections intended to shield women from their historically inferior social position.