Is it ‘Black Monday’ in Lebanon?

On ‘Black’ Monday, thousands of Polish women dressed in black took to the streets to protest against a proposed ban on abortion sponsored by the Catholic Church and the conservative ruling party. The protesters were outraged by the state’s encroachment on their reproductive rights and their bodies.

The protests were coupled with a crippling strike, as thousands of women in Poland did not show up for work. There were protests in solidarity in other capitals.

The protests were a stellar demonstration of what women, fed-up with the patriarchy still not going anywhere, can collectively achieve — although it remains to be seen whether the Polish government will scrap its plans.

Women in the Arab world could benefit from the lessons and tactics of Black Monday, especially where large-scale protests and strikes can be replicated, for example in Lebanon.

But that’s not the only reason Lebanon is a prime candidate for its own Black Monday.

Despite all its faux, superficial liberalism, Lebanon is arguably one of theworst places to be a woman. Discrimination against women is institutionalised, from personal status matters, pay equality, reproductive rights to political representation, and everything in between.

Arguably, little progress on gender equality has been achieved since 1952, the year Lebanon extended suffrage to its women.

Meanwhile, anecdotal evidence suggests women in Lebanon significantly outnumber men who still reside in the country, that is, have not migrated permanently or temporarily. It is possible to envisage that many sectors of the economy are therefore dominated by women.

Women in Lebanon have been trying to push for the right to pass their citizenship to foreign spouses and their children, not having this right being one of the many ways they are discriminated against, but their efforts have failed so far to gain traction in the face of government-sponsored racism and misogyny.

There has been some progress made on domestic violence, but murders of women continue with little deterrence.

But there is a bigger picture, one that has to do with social and political representation. The Lebanese government currently has no female ministers, and the female MPs are little more than tokens.

The situation is similar at the level of municipalities and local councils.

In matters of marriage and inheritance, Lebanon outsources the whole affair to religious courts, which are by default anti-women.

In 2014, Lebanon was ranked eighth worst for gender equality, including for its huge gender pay gap. Abortion is illegal, and rape laws punish women for being raped. Single mothers cannot register the birth of children out of wedlock.

There is no glass ceiling in Lebanon, as much as there is a very visible steel barrier for women.

Therefore, a “corrective movement” by women in Lebanon to reform laws and abolish practices that directly harm them is overdue, and they have a lot of leverage to use.

Perhaps if thousands of Lebanese women go on strike, like women did in Poland or Iceland, Lebanon will finally listen, and they will succeed in driving real change where single-issue efforts have failed in the past few years.


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