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Renowned journalist speaks of decades of women’s activism in Lebanon

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The challenges are many and the most important struggle today is for a civil state, says Allaw.

October 27, 2015—

Students of LAU associate professor Hassan Hammoud’s sociology class enjoyed a talk about women’s civic engagement by journalist Saada Allaw this Monday. Titled “Protests, Garbage and Gender,” the talk was organized by the Institute for Women’s Studies in the Arab World (IWSAW) as part of its monthly speaking series “Food 4 Thought,” which aims to generate activism for social change.

Allaw has worked at the As-Safir newspaper for 22 years and has reported on Lebanon’s various civic rights initiatives over the years. In her view, women’s active participation in the current You Stink movement should come as no surprise. “Women have been engaged in demonstrations and demands for civic and gender rights since 1953,” she said, referring to the year in which women in Lebanon won the right to vote and political participation.

The students in the audience agreed and acknowledged that women have been particularly active in the media. “There’s no stigma in Lebanon regarding women being on the streets participating in protests, so it should come as no surprise,” said one student. Still, “the government’s aggressiveness at recent protests did mean it was somewhat surprising to see women actively engaged on the ground,” said another.

Aggression is something women have faced and fought for decades, said Allaw, both as civil activists and citizens. “Before the current protests, the main movements in recent decades have been related to gender rights,” she recalled, noting calls and protests related to matrilineal citizenship and gender-based violence. “The civil society coalition that brought about the new domestic violence law faced many challenges but stood up in the thousands to push back against bigotry and challenges,” she explained, noting the great difficulty of passing new legislation in Lebanon.

During the 1970s, an era of liberalism and political plurality, women did not benefit from the active engagement they expected of political parties in the gender equality movement, Allaw said, but they made progress nonetheless.

The journalist, herself a civil society activist, proceeded to reel off a list of legislative amendments that resulted from active lobbying by women. Included in the list were the legalization of contraception (1983), the entitlement of women to own property in their own name (1993) and to travel without permission of a male guardian (1974). Until 1994 women were not allowed to register businesses in their own name without male guardian approval, nor were they able to be beneficiaries of life insurance policies until 1995.

Up until 1999, it was possible for a man to use the word honor to get away with killing his female relative without punishment. Temporary insanity laws however are still used today by men who kill their wives and sisters, Allaw lamented. “The challenges are many and the most important struggle today is for a civil state. A secular state will strip religious men — our country’s 18 dictators — of their power and enable us to be citizens, not wards of sectarian factions.”

Allaw will give a similar talk in Byblos on Thursday, October 29 (Science Building 406. All members of the LAU community are welcome to attend.


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