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Activists Call For New Domestic Violence Laws in Lebanon

This girl lost her mother, and the woman her sister to domestic violence. The Lebanese documentary, 'Latifeh and Others,' was presented in Beirut by activists who are pressing Parliament to pass a new law against family violence

In Lebanon, there are no laws specifically designed to protect women from domestic violence, and rights groups say abusers are rarely brought to justice. Today, Lebanese rights activists began a 16-day campaign to push parliament to approve a new law they say would protect women from violence inside their homes.

In the front row of the movie theater, a woman in a black veil, revealing only her face, weeps softly. The documentary shows two small children laying roses on their mothers' grave. Their mother was beaten to death by their father last April, after years of violence. Women's rights activists say crimes like this are all too common in Lebanon because the law does not adequately protect women from domestic violence.

The film, called Latifeh and Others, details the abuse of three women, and begins a 16-day campaign Lebanese activists hope will convince parliament to adopt a new law that will encourage women to report crimes, and protect them from abusers. Film producer Diana Moukalled says she knows of five women who were killed by their husbands in the past year, including the two in her documentary.

"As I was working on the story, three other murders happened," said Moukalled. "Three other women were killed by their husbands. In Lebanon. I'm just talking in the year 2010."

If adopted by parliament, the new law will encourage victims to come forward, by allowing them to report abuses and seek justice privately. Ghida Anani, program coordinator for women's rights group KAFA (Enough) Violence and Exploitation, says her organization has been working on crafting and advocating for the law for three years.

Currently, she says, domestic violence cases are heard in public courts, and women are often afraid to come forward. The law, she says, could change that.

"Everyone can come and listen to the woman when she's talking with the judge about family issues," said Anani. "So, it's really giving back the family its secrecy and privacy."

The new law also allows for court-ordered rehabilitation for perpetrators, can force abusers to provide victims with financial compensation, and allows women to file for protection orders against their husbands.

Anani says the law first met with opposition from people who feared it would undermine religious authority in Lebanon. Activists say the country can continue to recognize religious law, while enacting civil laws that protect human rights.

The campaign is also seeking to engage men in women's rights issues in Lebanon. Anthony Keedi, who also works with KAFA, says that, while men are often interested in human rights issues, women's rights struggles are usually a female affair.

"I think they care but they, to a certain extent, might feel that it's not their particular fight," said Keedi. "Whereas, if you put it in terms of human rights, they're for it altogether."

Keedi says that he plans to spread the word to men in Lebanon, and then take his campaign across the Middle East. His work in Lebanon to convince men that violence against women is an issue for both genders, he says, is only the beginning.

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