Zoya Rouhana Enters the Electoral Battle in the Name of Women’s Rights

Zarifa, Rimie, Malak, Fatima, Rebecca, Nathira, and Yaman. These are not just names. These are 8 victims who recently died at the hands of men,all in a span of one and a half months.These are just the death cases that were documented and reported. These do not include the gender violence cases that didn’t result in the victim’s death. These are the embodimentof were Lebanon currently stands in terms of domestic violence against women.

Family Violence Media Exposure Chart, KAFA Studies Publication

For decades, the issue of Women’s Rights in Lebanon remained undervalued. It was considered a taboo to even dare and ask that women be granted their basic rights. The different faces of gender inequality and the various forms of abuse Lebanese women were subject to, led to the emergence of organizations that spoke out in the name of these women. KAFA (enough) Violence and Exploitation, a feminist Lebanese NGO, was among the pioneers to adopt this cause. Zoya Rouhana, Director of KAFA, has now decided to run for the 2018 Parliamentary elections as an independent candidate, with Women’s Rights issues being at the core of her electoral program.

Zoya Rouhana, Photo Credit: L’Orient Le Jour, Click Here for website

Rouhana spent her adult life fighting for Women’s Rights and demanding the implementation of laws that preserve these rights. Behind the 60-year-old’s calm features and sharp eyes, lies an invincible fighter who trusts that the development of a country prospers with the belief installed in its women and the protection extended to them. Throughout her career, Rouhana was personally involved in drafting many of the laws aimed at protecting women against violence and abuse, and raising them to the right authorities for the aim of having them passed in Parliament. She’d work with victims, judges, members of parliament and fellow organizations. She would even take to the streets alongside the victims’ families to protest against inhumane acts against women. Unfortunately, her quest was always burdened with obstacles imposed by our traditional male oriented society. (Please see the below video about KAFA’s solidarity with victims of Domestic Violence and its struggle to implement laws to protect Women’s Rights).

“It was very clear to me that if we delegate any of the traditional political parties to fight for Women’s Rights, it will not be handled in a serious manner. So it’s best that the people who are fighting for this cause in the first place, to become part of the authority and continue their battle from within,” Rouhana said while she sat in an office decorated with posters yelling out slogans that condemn domestic violence, sexual abuse and gender inequality. In a tone tinted with disappointment, she explained that the reason the laws for Women’s Rights were passed in a way that doesn’t offer full protection to women, is due to the intervention of religious forces to weaken KAFA’s efforts. “They consider these laws as discrimination against men, and as an attempt to limit the role of religious references,” she said. She also believes that the votes of MPs, whether they are men or women, are always subject to bargaining among political parties, which in turn, are greatly influenced by their respective religious and traditional backgrounds.

Another motive that pushed Rouhana to take this step is the growth of the civil society movement in the past few years and the amendment in the Election Law in a way that introduces the possibility of allowing the intrusion of new forces into the authority in place. “While my aim is to raise Women’s Rights issues from within the parliament, I am equally invested in forming a serious alternative for the authority in place,” she said emphasizing that she will never consider running with a political party which offers higher chances of winning. As she works on her campaign, which is funded by individual contributors, she is very hopeful that the civil society will have a high chance to penetrate the authority this time. She advised that she has not yet joined a list, pointing out that she will not be putting down her name unless the civil society forms one joint list.

In addition to encouraging having independent members in parliament who are not affiliated with political parties and are able to make unbiased decisions, Rouhana strongly supports higher representation of women in parliament highlighting that it plays an empirical role in the fight for Women’s Rights. She gave an example of Tunisia as an Arab country that has become very advanced in this field. According to data provided by The World Bank, the proportion of seats held by women in Tunisian parliament increased from 4% to 31% during the period from 1990 to 2017.This came in conjunction with the many strides made ranging from achieving complete equality with regards to Personal Status Laws, up to their recent demand to establish equality in inheritance.

Zoya Rouhana among the women who participated in the Lisbon Forum 2016 Round table, Source: Council of Europe

Lebanese politician and MP Sethrida Geagea also believes that a higher presence of women in parliament will reinforce the capability of ratifying more efficient laws related to Women’s Rights and empowerment, as women are instinctively driven by this cause. “All women MPs will unite in parliament in their fight for this cause despite their different political affiliations,” she added.

Back in 2007, when KAFA drafted the first law to protect women against domestic violence, this law was passed in parliament 7 years later including many modifications and loopholes that weakened the law’s effectiveness and merit. Sethrida Geagea explained that the Lebanese Forces bloc was in full support of this law and was pushing for its ratification in its original form. “A sub-parliamentary-committee was formed to discuss the draft. During the meetings of this sub-committee, we faced reticence from some of the political parties influenced by the reticence of some religious references,” she said, explaining why the law was passed in its modified form. Nonetheless, Geageag believes that had there been a higher number of women in parliament, they would have fought harder and exerted pressure to have the law ratified in its original form.