Diana Moukalled’s film Latifa and Others presents an eloquent and painful testimony about violence against women in Lebanon. The stories of the film’s three women – of Latifa Qassir and Amina Beydoun, who today reside in marble tombs, and of Almaza Hourani, deprived of her rights and liberty in spite of all that she has endured from the hell of her husband – summarize the oppression that threatens women, potentially and actually, and that annually strikes some of them.
This matter, which is linked to violence and barbarism in the behavior of many men, is also linked to a legislative, cultural, political, and economic system that enables the trampling of girls and women who fall victim to domestic violence, and also chokes attempts to resort to the law as a way of salvation.
Escaping beating and rape within the family – and the great majority of such cases do in fact occur within families – is not an easy matter in Lebanon. Help from the family is not guaranteed, nor do the police guarantee safe havens or systems of effective control in such case. Nor do the courts provide trustworthy places of survival, restore victims’ rights to them, or punish the criminals. The religious shariah courts are automatically biased in favor of men. Cases to the contrary are rare, and are due more to the work of individual men of religion rather than to texts or legislation. As for the civil courts, taking a case to them is a difficult affair – it requires forensic doctors, security reports, and evidence that is usually difficult to obtain.
In addition to this, there are other pitfalls linked to the penal code and to child custody laws that, for most of the sects, favor the man (the only differences are to do with the age at which the child is transferred to the father’s custody). Obstacles are also present in women’s economic conditions and their frequent inability to obtain financial independence. When we take these facts into consideration, we find a situation of oppression and injustice which cannot just be fought with changes in the culture and behavior of the new generation’s sons and daughters, nor merely with sudden improvement in their education and health care.
What is needed to confront dangerously sick phenomena such as violence against women is new legislation that sternly criminalizes these acts, as well as civil personal status laws based on relevant international agreements and treaties.
There must be community approaches that start by addressing specific cases, then eventually change the view of women as a “lesser citizen” – as a citizen who is not granted equality with men in rights and duties by texts, conditions, mentalities, and legal punishments.
There is also a need for campaigns, such as the “Enough,” “My Citizenship Is My Right and My Family’s,” and “The Quota in the Elections” campaigns and others. These campaigns offered much in 2010 and must be supported so that they can continue in 2011 and achieve (some of their) goals.
Diana Moukalled’s film, with its grim images and the powerful worlds of Fatima’s son and daughter, reminds us that we are surrounded by deadly problems – ones outside the political arena. These things kill Latifa Qassir and others, and they kill our humanity whenever we are silent before them and overlook our duty to speak and act to stop them.
This article is a translation of the original, which appeared on the NOW Arabic site on January 4, 2011.