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Lebanese women bereft of protection.

Byline: Matern Boeselager

Summary: As women's rights groups worldwide are organizing events to raise awareness for the 9th International Day for the Elimination of Violence against Women, Lebanon's women find themselves virtually unprotected against domestic violence, a number of NGO workers toldAaThe Daily Star.AaAaAmal Ftouni, media coordinator with the NGO Lebanese Council to Resist Violence against Women (LCRVAW).

BEIRUT: As women's rights groups worldwide are organizing events to raise awareness for the 9th International Day for the Elimination of Violence against Women, Lebanon's women find themselves virtually unprotected against domestic violence, a number of NGO workers told The Daily Star. AaAaAmal Ftouni, media coordinator with the NGO Lebanese Council to Resist Violence against Women (LCRVAW), estimates that up to 90 percent of Lebanese women suffer from some form of violence.Aa

"This can mean everything from verbal abuse to physical violence," she says. "However, few of these women dare to speak up," Ftouni said.

The obstacles facing a woman who seeks help against violence from her husband or another family member are enormous, Ftouni added.Aa

First of all, women cannot always expect to find support within their own families.Aa

"Society does not approve of women complaining about their husbands," Ftouni said. "It is a woman's job to be there for her husband, which makes it very difficult for women to stand up to abuse."Aa

Yet, even if a woman decides to take her case to court, chances that her case will receive a fair treatment are slim. According to Lebanese law, domestic violence should be dealt with by one of the countries' 15 religious courts. But according to Ftouni, the courts of all sects usually favor men over women. "In general, the women will always face men taking decisions on their behalf, without having their best interests at heart."Aa

Women are also disadvantaged by the Lebanese court system because cases of domestic violence usually receive very little attention, according to Zoya Rouhana, director of KAFA, a Beirut-based organization that stands against the exploitation of women.Aa

"In Lebanese law, domestic violence is treated in the same way as violence on the street, between two strangers," Rouhana points out. "It does not take into consideration that the woman has to go back home to the one who attacked her in the first place."Aa

A great number of women are left unprotected by the law because they are afraid to take their cases to court for fear of losing their children.Aa

"In case of a divorce, the courts almost always give custody of the children to the husband. To avoid this, many women choose to endure life with their abusive husbands," says Rouhana.Aa

Despite a ministerial statement affirming that the government would "seek to address all forms of violence against females," Rouhana laments that the NGOs that try to help the women concerned still find themselves practically alone.Aa

"There are no services for women in such situations; legal nor social," she complains.Aa

LCRVAW's Ftouni concurs. "In extreme cases, we can take in a woman for a month, at best. But there are no possibilities of housing victims for a longer period of time."Aa

On December 2, the Lebanese Parliament will hold a session dedicated to a project submitted by KAFA which proposes the creation of special courts to deal with cases of domestic violence.Aa

The measure, according to Rouhana, could greatly improve the victim's legal situation. Another fundamental change which the project seeks is the specific naming of domestic violence as a crime in Lebanese law.Aa

"Currently, if I witness my neighbor beating his wife, I cannot even call the police. They would consider this interference in other peoples' business."

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Publication:The Daily Star (Beirut, Lebanon)
Date:Nov 25, 2009
Words:637
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