Thousands of protesters have taken to the streets of Beirut, on the occasion of International Women’s Day, demanding the approval of Lebanon’s first law against domestic violence.
Organisers harnessed popular outrage over the deaths of two Lebanese women in suspected domestic violence cases which struck a nerve in a country where regular car bombs and rocket attacks have desensitised many to violence.
Saturday’s march by some 4,000 women, men and children from the National Museum to the Palace of Justice, was led by mothers and other relatives of women they said had been the victims of domestic violence.
Protesters also chanted slogans criticising judges and forensic specialists whom they accused of falsifying reports on recent murders, according to AFP news agency.
The deaths of Manal Assi, bludgeoned with a pressure cooker, and Christelle Abu Chakra, who was reportedly poisoned with chemicals, amplified public outrage in Lebanon.
Calling for adoption of a bill that would criminalise abuse, demonstrators carried posters that read: “Break the silence”, “We say no to abuse, do you?” and “Speak out, stop domestic violence.”
Many Lebanese took to social media following the deaths of the two women to condemn a seven-month delay in passing the domestic violence law, held up by political disagreements and backlog of bills linked to the Syrian civil war.
Last year’s death of Rola Yacoub, whose family said she was beaten to death by her husband in front of their children, first brought the issue to the fore.
Lebanon is viewed as one of the Middle East’s most liberal countries, but no law protects women from abuse or violence. But one law does save rapists from punishment if they marry their victims.
Rights activists accuse politicians of complicity with religious leaders, who have publicly opposed the passing of a law criminalising domestic violence in all forms including marital rape.