Roaring a Warning

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And what did you see, my black-eyed girl?
I heard the sound of a thunder, it roared out a warnin’[1] 
A friend of mine and fellow feminist, Nay Al Rahi, wished us more rage and anger in a fantastic article shewrote on Shabab Assaafir . This followed a very pertinent question asked by Nadine Moawad, another friend and fellow feminist (the two seem to go together very often these days). Nadine quite plainly asked where was the rage, where was the angry drive that gets citizens on their feet to demand their rights.
The question came back to my mind as I was giving a presentation on women’s rights in Lebanon at a well-known Beiruti university today for International Women’s Day. I was speaking to young people in their twenties. The (female) students were decked out in pink to celebrate women (see how gender stereotypes are engrained? Pink=Femininity=Women), while very few male students wore pink, a colour no doubt dubbed too girly for them to wear. The few who dared to wear pink wore a very discreet pale pink shirt under a sweater. Note: it is not the pink that I resent, but rather, the fact that only women wore it, and not men, because of societal gendered stereotypes.
Male and female students sat on each side of the conference room, and the men who sat on the “women’s section” caught themselves and moved to the “male section”, among laughs and sniggers.
Only one young woman got up, and sat amongst men.
To see so many (harmful, patriarchal) socially acquired behaviours in one room full of young people, with no one who seemed to question them was painful, but I had high hopes my presentation would stir some conversations.
You see, talking about women’s rights in Lebanon is no easy, light hearted subject. After all, you ARE dealing here with an oppressive sectarian system that puts waaaaaaayyy too much power in the hands of religious sects, who in turn would rather die eaten by wolves than relinquish any of this power for the good of democracy and of the Lebanese citizens.
I started my presentation with Lebanon’s reservations to the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women, said reservations establishing discrimination between men and women with regards to citizenship rights and roles and rights within marriage. I particularly emphasized the fact that in terms of citizenship rights for example, Lebanon was lagging behind Morocco, Tunisia, Egypt, Algeria, Saudi Arabia, the UAE and Yemen, all countries which have updated their laws, enabling at the very least women to grant their citizenship to their children (Algeria, Saudi Arabia, UAE, Yemen) when it’s not enabling them to grant citizenship to their whole family, husband included (Egypt, Tunisia, Morocco).
No reaction whatsoever from the audience, except for a few sniggers.
I pressed on, asking if one of them had ever heard about the articles pertaining to rape in Lebanon, the now infamous articles 503, 504 and 522. Over about 50 students, just one young woman timidly raised her hand and told me she knew what article 522 was all about.
So I went on to explain. In Lebanon, you see, as per articles 503 and 504, martial rape is not a crime as rape is defined as forced sexual intercourse with a woman who is not one’s wife. Article 522 states that if a woman gets rapes, if her rapist marries her all prosecutions and charges against him will be dropped.
I wasn’t sure what I was expecting really. Maybe shocked faces, maybe questions, maybe puzzled expressions, I don’t know. SOMETHING.
I got nothing.
Except more sniggers at the mention of sex.
And again I pressed on. I spoke about the anti-violence against women law, about the struggle within which Kafa and the Coalition of 41 associations and lawyers and activists have been engaged in for the past 5 years or so to draft a law and have it adopted by the Parliament. I spoke about the sectarian system that managed to block the voting of the law with talks about how religious texts already protect women and supposed outrage at the mention of marital rape, stating it doesn’t exist, while these same religious courts and entities are only using religion to keep their control over women’s bodies.
And still I got nothing.
I became passionate, pounding my words as we pound our feet when we’re marching to uphold our rights, I looked at them and told them: “These are your streets, walking down your city’s streets feeling unsafe and uneasy because of harassment is not ok, you have a right to ask your government to take action, it is their duty to protect you and to make sure your right to privacy and life are respected”.
I even told them, to provoke them, to create some sort of reaction: “The Lebanese government’s sole purpose in life is not, as it seems, to disrupt traffic when one of them is going from his house to his friend’s house, stealing people’s money for their Hummers, you can apply pressure on them to change society, you have a voice, use it, it works.”
And still,
I got,
The presentation ended, and one young woman came to me to ask more about Nasawiya, to get contact details and phone numbers, and she made it all worthwhile.
But I can’t help but wonder: what does it say about the state of a society when you tell some of its young members, educated, bright, privileged members, that rape is permitted under the laws of their country, that women are second class citizens, that themselves, their mothers, sisters, aunts and cousins are oppressed on a daily basis by laws, religious instances, patriarchal values and an economic system that has been doing nothing expect impoverishing them and reducing their work opportunities, what does it say when you say all that, and get nothing?
I say, Nay, my friend, you are right.
Let’s bring back the rage.

[1] Adapted by Bob Dylan’s song, A Hard Rain A-Gonna Fall

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