Image Credit: Al Arabiya English

Dissecting Gender-Based Violence in Lebanon and the MENA Region

The last few years saw a dramatic increase in the number of women killed by their partners, family members or others in Lebanon and the Arab region as a whole. Lebanon saw 12 femicides in 2021, 18 in 2022 and 11 halfway into 2023 according to an article by the Media Line. 

These numbers are potential underestimations given the degree of cover-up prevalent in the country’s local communities.

On the 28th of July, a man killed a woman after she declined his romantic proposal. Similarly, Egypt has recorded 5 instances of men stabbing women to death, since the beginning of 2023, after the latter rejected their wedding proposals. 

A few days beforehand, a man shot and killed his wife while she was sleeping in the town of Chabtine, Batroun.

Last week, a land dispute saw a man murder his brother and shoot his wife multiple times. The woman was reported to be in stable condition.

Just last month, we witnessed a multiplicity of reports of charges filed against individuals accused of rape, cover-up, negligence and abuse, such as the case of 6-year old Lynn Taleb in the town of Miniyeh.

Last year, a report by ABAAD, a gender equality-focused organization in Lebanon, highlighted that calls to their helplines have increased by more than 200 percent since the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic, reaching 3,600 calls in 2021.

A large portion of these calls reported physical abuse and sexual harassment (42 percent), as well as emotional and psychological abuse (40 percent).

The Legal System

Responses to gender-based violence in Lebanon remain largely inefficient. While the country has laws criminalizing various forms of violence against women, such as Lebanese Law No. 2932, these laws are not properly enforced, and response mechanisms contain significant gaps. 

According to writer Fatima Shehadeh, the lack of accountability and poor enforcement perpetuate a “culture of impunity that allows perpetrators to continue their abusive behavior.” She highlights that “many of the women killed had previously reported incidents of violence to authorities, but their complaints were not taken seriously.”

A 2023 report by Human Rights Watch highlighted the growing number of femicides and domestic violence cases in the country, as well as the need for strong implementation of family violence law.

The MENA region overall suffers from a considerable lack of accountability for violence against women. 

This lack of accountability is reinforced by legal, political, economic and social patriarchal structures. Both are situated in the context of a value system of violence that greatly informs and influences social practices and norms. 

These structures also have disproportionate impacts on various social groups, such as women with disabilities who are in heightened risk of intimate partner violence and harassment, and boys and girls with disabilities who are at heightened risks of sexual abuse.

In Lebanon specifically, 15 personal status laws exist, which is considered by organizations such as KAFA (enough) Violence & Exploitation to be the main cause of violence. As of today, a civil code for personal status remains missing.

Advocacy and Organizational Endeavors

On their end, women’s rights activists, journalists, non-governmental organizations and political and feminist organizers have played a notable role in shedding light on the issue. 

Last week, a conference titled “Jin, Jiyan, Azadî” kicked off in Beirut including women from 11 different countries and focused on violence against Yazidi and Afghan women, as well as emphasizing a joint struggle against femicide.

Annual recurrences of International Women’s Day and the 16 Days of Action Against Gender Based Violence witness significant organizational endeavors by a number of different groups in Lebanon. Outside of these campaigns, constant attention and highlighting of the issue is imperative.

Earlier this month, a study by KAFA recommended a comprehensive approach to “changing public opinion on patriarchal masculine stereotypes” and increasing awareness and education on issues related to gender equality and the role that beliefs around masculinity and femininity have in contributing to gender-based violence. The study also recommends the legislation of a unified Civil Personal Status Law in the country.

On a legal and enforcement level, Lebanese authorities and lawmakers need to implement a comprehensive strategy to deal with gender-based violencen – femicides included. The country also needs preventative educational and awareness-raising campaigns on the issue, in addition to the critical provision of support and resources for survivors and their families.

Political will, grassroots efforts, resource-endowment, awareness-raising, legal steps and adequate enforcement are some areas to consider moving forward.