Lebanese women demand new rights amid political turmoil – The Guardian

Lebanese women demand new rights amid political turmoil – The Guardian

Feminist bloc plans to build on role in protests that brought down prime minister




Students take part in an anti-government protest in Beirut.
Photograph: Aziz Taher/Reuters

A man may just have stepped down as prime minister, but the women of Lebanon are not going anywhere.

During the protests that led to the resignation of Saad Hariri, women were among those chanting, blocking roads and debating the future of the country’s politics.

In the most visible instance, a woman was caught on video kicking the armed bodyguard of the education minister, Akram Chehayeb, footage which went viral and became a symbol of defiance.

On Wednesday night women took to the streets of Beirut chanting: “Oh patriarchal powers, women’s rights are not a footnote”.

“Lebanese women are not afraid to take their place in the streets,” said Rand Hammoud, a human rights activist in Beirut. “We weren’t scared when they threw teargas at us, and we won’t be scared when they challenge our right to govern Lebanon’s future. The feminist bloc has always had an important role in Lebanon’s civil society.”

Away from the spotlight, women are taking up traditional roles for revolutionary ends. Faylusa Nafr, 54, from Chouf, about an hour from the capital, used her small kitchen to cook for hundreds of hungry protesters.

“The protesters out on the streets are doing what needs to be done for our country – they are working day and night to make our dreams come true,” she said. “I needed to do something. No one can just sit back and not help.”

With her friends and her husband lending a hand, Faylusa spent a whole night last week cooking 200 portions of mujaddara, a traditional Lebanese lentil-based dish. “I have this spirit to help others. I never feel tired because of the joy that it brings me to help. I do this for Lebanon,” she said.

With the help of her sister, she also bought tents for protesters occupying the streets in the October chill. “Tomorrow I will bring soup to the protesters, it can warm them up and give them vitamins,” she said.

Perhaps predictably, there has been a backlash against women participating in political discourse. Some media coverage has sought to trivialise women’s efforts by branding female protesters “pretty faces” in the crowds. Hariri supporters have launched campaigns to stop female activists, journalists and protesters from reporting violence carried out by the authorities throughout Lebanon.

Ali Sibai, a consultant at SMEX, a non-governmental organisation that works on issues of digital platforms and human rights, said: “Pro-government users have been reporting protesters’ activities online to get their accounts suspended and content removed from social media. This is dangerous because it is a form of rogue censorship of what is happening on the ground. We have dealt with 30 urgent cases throughout the protests, and almost 70% of these regarded women.”

Men are also accused of revealing women’s personal details, such as phone numbers, to encourage harassment.

In this climate, many hope the protests will lead to reforms of a legal system that many feel enables a culture of discrimination against women in Lebanon.

“Sexual harassment is not legally defined and criminalised according to international standards. All the laws that deal with marriage, divorce and custody always favour men,” said Hammoud.

“The resignation of the prime minister is not the end. It’s only the beginning to revolutionising the entire unjust system in Lebanon.”


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