From Lebanon to Chile, the patriarchal state must fall

From Lebanon to Chile, the patriarchal state must fall
Comment: For revolution in the Arab world to be truly successful, women's rights must be at the forefront of reform, writes Malia Bouattia.
5 min read
12 Dec, 2019
Lebanese women are protesting against a corrupt patriarchal system [AFP]
"The revolution is a woman", say protestors in Lebanon.

Indeed, the impact of women in mobilising and taking the fight to the state, as well as the gender-based demands for liberation are a significant element of uprisings currently taking place across the Arab world, Africa and South America. 

A recent protest organised by women in Lebanon showed thousands taking to the streets against sexual violence.

Inspired by the 'Un Violador En Tu Camino' (A Rapist in your Path) mass flash mobs that took place in Chile, women in Lebanon have been
taking a stand against sexist policies and social practices.

The protest song, which started spreading in late November, accuses the state, its legal institutions, government and forces as all being complicit in violence against women.

"The oppressive state is a macho rapist" has been chanted across the continent and is resonating strongly with the women in Lebanon who, for too long have endured a judicial system that works against them on questions like child custody upon divorce. Furthermore, women who are raped or experience domestic violence often receive little or no support, let alone justice, from the state.

Since the 17 October demonstration in Lebanon following the announcement of new austerity measures - most strikingly the proposal to tax WhatsApp calls - the people have been demanding the fall of their government over ongoing issues of corruption, repression, sectarianism and unemployment, as they suffer the economic crisis which has plagued the country.

For too long, Lebanese women have endured a judicial system that works against them on questions like child custody upon divorce

Their demands are not dissimilar to those being made around the world, especially in the most recent wave of uprisings across the MENA region. However, despite the resignation of the Prime Minister Saad al Hariri, the people have continued to occupy the streets with tents and banners; they are all too aware that real change requires more than a few figureheads leaving their positions of power. 

Aside from the fact that it would be impossible to ignore the considerable presence of women leading, organising and mobilising the demonstration, they are making it clear that a new Lebanon must include civil rights for all. 

The right for women to pass their citizenship onto their children and husbands if their partners are not Lebanese, closing the gender pay gap, ending sexual harassment and violence are some of their key demands. 

Women in Lebanon have also been addressing the sectarianism which has dominated the country's political system, and created long lasting disunity, social ruptures and undermined possibilities for common political organisation. Women activists have worked tirelessly for reconciliation in order to maintain unity in their struggle.


Lebanese women are not alone in the region.

In Tunisia, women were also recently protesting against gendered violence. They came with broomsticks, and banged their pots and pans, demanding that the state take a more serious stand. A #MeToo (#EnaZeda) movement erupted after video emerged of an MP behaving indecently was shared on social media.

In Sudan, women were key - and visibly so - in the mass movements that sought to, and succeeded in taking down their former president. They were also able to overturn a law which restricted women in Sudan from participating fully in public life. From controlling their dress, to those they speak to, the public order law was deeply repressive and sexist. 

A few months ago, Palestinian women of the 'Taliaat' movement organised protests following the death of 21-year old Israa Ghrayeb who was beaten to death. They demanded an end to gender-based violence and oppression across Palestine, in Haifa, Ramallah, Gaza and Nazareth. Their calls were echoed by women in other countries and cities around the world, under the banner "No liberated homeland without liberated women."

This included Algeria. Leading their own uprisings since February, Algerian women extended solidarity with their Palestinian counterparts on the streets, opposing violence against women physically, psychologically and politically. Rejecting the popular dismissal of gender-based oppression as something that will be dealt with after liberation, Algerian women demand equality for all – here and now.

These movements are of utmost importance to the region. Following the wave of demonstrations and mass organising against corrupt regimes, we have seen heightened repression.

Women, become key targets of the state, and assaults against their involvement in politics are used as a symbol for returning to public order and 'appropriate morals', as the case of
Radwa Mohamed in Egypt demonstrates. After she criticised the Sisi regime for its repression, poor record on human rights and corruption, she was arrested.

Algerian women demand equality for all - here and now

While this question has recently come to the fore in across the MENA region, it represents a much more international reality.

action by women of Chile may have gone viral across every corner of the world, but this is because the violence, repression, oppression and inequality are deeply rooted in all our societies.

Lebanon, Mexico, France, Spain, the UK and so many more are taking part in similar actions because of the collective understanding that the state enables and recreates gender-based oppression.

It therefore must be held accountable, and its sexist systems must be uprooted. 

Malia Bouattia is an activist, a former president of the National Union of Students, and co-founder of the Students not Suspects/Educators not Informants Network.

Follow her on Twitter: @MaliaBouattia

Opinions expressed in this article remain those of the author and do not necessarily represent those of The New Arab, its editorial board or staff.