Women are at the Forefront of the Lebanese Protests
Female activists, however, note that old-fashioned attitudes can still prevail, such as one Saudi newspaper that emphasized the ‘beauties’ behind the barricades
Women are storming the streets of Lebanon to protest against the current government – but also to demand more rights for themselves.
On Sunday, they marched in Beirut to honor the women who are participating in and leading the rallies, and to remind the public that any new reforms must include changes in the status of the country’s females.
Lebanon ranks in the bottom 10 of the 149 countries surveyed by the Global Gap Report, which measures gender inequalities.
Nation-wide demonstrations began several weeks ago, initially over taxing free internet services. They quickly morphed into anti-corruption marches and rallies against a deeply sectarian government.
The protests have brought Lebanon to a halt, leading to the resignation of Prime Minister Saad al-Hariri. The country’s banks reopened only a few days ago.
Women assuming leadership roles in the Lebanese protests appears to be a new phenomenon.
“Despite being second-class citizens, women in Lebanon have always been taking part in protests and rights movements across the country,” Shaza Bassal, a protester and student at the Lebanese University, told The Media Line. “However, it is the first time we see them taking a more front-line role by gathering together and acting as buffer between protesters and security forces.”
Hayat Mirshad, a feminist and head of communications and campaigning for the Lebanese Democratic Women’s Gathering (RDFL), a secular nongovernmental organization that seeks to advance the cause of equality, agrees.
“Women in this revolution are taking leadership roles in different spheres: in blocking the streets, organizing the protests, chanting and preparing chants and [even] leading the protests,” she told The Media Line.
Women in Lebanon must contend with personal-status laws governed solely by religious courts. These include areas like divorce and child custody, with the decisions based on religion and denomination.
According to Bassal, the country’s nationality law is one of the most oppressive of all, particularly for women married to noncitizens, their spouses and offspring being “denied many rights of a Lebanese citizen.”
Mirshad contends that the biggest problem facing Lebanese women is the “patriarchal mentality” that permeates the culture and the way that women are depicted in the media, including social media.
There have been documented cases of female reporters being verbally and physically assaulted as they cover the protests. The general welfare of female protestors has also been a cause for concern, especially as women act as go-betweens with the security forces.
Mirshad says there have been cases where bystanders have hurled insults at female protesters regarding their bodies and general appearance.
An apparent overemphasis on physical appearances can be seen internationally, too. Okaz, a Saudi Arabian newspaper, has displayed photos of female protestors in Lebanon under the headline: “The gorgeous women of Lebanon … all of the beauties are revolutionary.”
Despite all this, Mirshad is confident that the protests will lead to positive change.
“The role women have played in these protests will help further women’s issues and women’s rights because, at this point, I think it will be very hard to leave women behind,” she stated.
“We have big hopes for a better future, not only for women, but also for men,” she continued. “And for all Lebanese citizens, we are aiming to reach a civil state that respects citizenship and gender equality.”