By Sara Obeid
Last Saturday, March 8, while the world was celebrating the manifold achievements of women on International Women’s Day, many Lebanese women were demonstrating in the streets of Beirut to demand the ratification of a law to protect women from domestic violence. The draft of a law was created in 2010 but, tragically, it has caused much controversy and currently remains stuck in Parliament.
Two days before the demonstration, I was personally celebrating my engagement to a Godly man who takes Kingdom values to heart. Although I feel very safe marrying this man, I am deeply troubled for all the women in my country who are being abused, even murdered with impunity in their own homes.
The news is full of stories about women murdered by their own brothers for the sake of “family honor,” of men beating their wives to death, and of talk shows hosting “survivor women” who happened to “make it out of the hands of the beast” and into a shelter for abused women. According to Leila Awada, a lawyer working with the association KAFA–Enough Violence and Exploitation,
“Our tally [used to be] one woman killed each month as a result of domestic violence; today, we are talking about two women being killed each month.”
These are women from all religious and social backgrounds. This is very sad, but unfortunately not surprising. When a woman is beaten up by her husband and manages to escape him, she often seeks help from her family. Yet, her family is likely to blame her for “provoking him” and send her back for the sake of “family honor.” “A good wife,” they say, “never sleeps outside the house.” Or, the family might send her back home out of fear that the husband might take the children away, yet another patriarchal absurdity in Lebanon.
Not finding shelter at her parents’ house, this aching woman might finally seek help from the nearest police station to only hear the officers reply, “This is a family matter. Go back home!”
Compared to many of our neighbors, Lebanon may legitimately be viewed as more liberal and democratic than most. However, Lebanese civil society still struggles to develop a formula capable of convincing the ruling authorities (both political and religious) to pass the most basic of humanitarian laws.
For years, non-governmental organizations have been working to pass a law for the protection of women against domestic violence; the latest efforts include the Bill for the Protection of Women and Family Members against Domestic Violence.
The bill itself is perfectly logical, respectful of both men and women, and also very applicable in our Middle Eastern cultural context. However, the opposition always seems to find an excuse for not ratifying the law. To “the powers that be,” such apparent evils as marital rape and domestic abuse are considered “family matters” that take place behind closed doors and cannot therefore be regulated.
The worst part, however, is when religion is invoked as an excuse for maintaining this untenable status quo.
Abusive men are using religion as an excuse for their abuse of power and are misusing scripture to cover up their acts of murder and hate. The most popular statement against the law is the claim by Dar Al fatwa – the highest religious legislative authority of the Sunni community in Lebanon – that passing the law would give it the power to regulate family issues. But this is a realm that has traditionally been the domain of the religious courts, and they fear that such a law could cause women to revolt against their husbands, daughters to rebel against their fathers, and families to ultimately break apart. In reference to marital rape, the religious leader featured in the video linked above was saying,
“If a woman refuses to provide her husband with what he wants, she is considered sinful.”
It may be easy to look at the Dar al Fatwa response and to point my finger and say that Islam is the problem. But, this is not a “Muslim issue.” Far too many Christian men, in spite of the many Biblical injunctions for men to cherish theirs wives as does Christ His church, still manipulate and abuse scripture to terrorize their wives and cause them to feel sinful, especially when they happen to say no.
In my advocacy I do not seek to challenge religious authority and I, as an evangelical, am certainly not denying that heavenly values must remain central to our social ethics. But simply affirming this is not enough!
In my experience it is clear to me that all of us, indifferent and selfish human beings, are the problem. I used to think that sin was the result of doing evil, but reading the definition of sin in James 4:17 causes me to rethink this assumption:
“Anyone who knows the right thing to do and fails to do it, commits sin.”
In other words, as the Lebanese say,
“He who is silent before injustice is like a mute (akhras) devil.”
If the “true measure of any society is the way it treats the most vulnerable,”  then Lebanon must surely start taking the issue of violence against women seriously.
If we Christians claim to be “salt and light” and to have the “truth in us,” then why aren’t we crying out against such injustice? I have a friend who has been a social activist all her life, and who has continued to be an activist since following Christ. As we were getting ready for last weekend’s protest, we spoke of inviting our churches to join us. With a sorrowful tone in her voice, she said,
“I do not dare to invite them, for they will bash me.”
And the Spirit inside me cried “I wish Jesus was here!”
Why are churches restricting their mission to “verbal” evangelism, yet failing to address the everyday needs of those very same people they seek to evangelize? Evangelism involves bringing the good news of Jesus to the world. But evangelism must be done in the way of Jesus. Is it acceptable for those “saved from the world” to leave behind others to suffer? Is verbal proclamation enough to save these women and protect their families? Jesus did not leave the woman who had been bleeding for 12 years by the side of the road to die of her illness after she became his follower. She’d go to heaven after all, right? So why bother?
But as scripture teaches, God’s wrath comes as a response to the cries of those most vulnerable: the widows, orphans, children…and women being raped by their own husbands!
We live in a broken world of broken relationships. But the Kingdom of God encompasses the restoration of our fragmented lives and communities, a restoration impossible without the redress of gross imbalances in power. Our mission, therefore, is to cry out against injustice and to be a voice for the voiceless. For as,
“The creation waits in eager expectation for the children of God to be revealed… creation itself will be set free from its bondage to corruption and obtain the freedom of the glory of the children of God” (Romans 8:19-21).
This is our hope and that towards which we struggle.
 A popular saying commonly attributed to Gandhi. Though most likely apocryphal, it is still very much worth repeating.
Thanks Sara for this wonderful, compelling, and truthful piece.
Thanks Ayman for reading our blog and giving feedback! Let us pray that God moves us towards His mission!
It is nice to see that finally we have some activity going on from the women side in Lebanon. A big part of our problem is that we as women do not ACT. We are so proud -as women- to be living in the liberal side of the Arab world, yet we look around we can see that in so many different Arab countries, a woman is getting far more rights than what we think we have. A Tunisian mother can give her nationality to her son. She can easily get by law the custody of her kids. Polygamy was abolished in 1956 in Tunis and not allowed in Morocco. This is just to show that it is NOT the Mulsim state who can force the law, it is the will of its women to change…
I admire your passion! Yes, we are way behind other Arab women in terms of actually ACTING! Religion will not be an obstacle unless we want it to be!
thank you for your comment Sarah!
Well written Sarai 🙂 God bless you
Thanks Sandy, you inspire me! God bless you too!