On Why We Are Demonstrating

I read an infuriating article today, a blog post that was so patronizing it made me feel sick to the stomach. The writer referred to our action as “delusional” and while he deemed our struggle as “righteous”, he did not see it going anywhere for the moment. But Behold! For his was kind enough to provide us with an alternative solution, with other priorities and other actions.

The author’s intention was probably not to minimize our struggle, or be patronizing or anything: he probably did not notice that his sickly sweet rhetoric merely felt like a paternalistic pat on the head, like someone telling you you’re cute but naïve. Like someone not really believing you had serious reasons to be angry and to demonstrate.

Which got me to think: what are we fighting for? Why are we demonstrating?

First and foremost, there’s of course the issue of rights. We are demonstrating because the state has duties towards us, obligations it has signed on in an International Convention (CEDAW), voluntarily binding itself to respect, protect and fulfill them, rights that we can see are not being respected, protected and fulfilled. Hence, by making ourselves heard we are simply putting into action our democratic rights. We are neither demonstrating because we are spoilt brats, nor because we don’t have anything else to do or because we are delusional naïve nymphs living in Lala land. Rather, our carefully thought-out collective action is our weapon to put our government in front of its obligations. Its obligations is our rights, and it is our responsibility to demand them, to claim them, for the shameful rape laws are not going to be cancelled by themselves; and neither is the Violence Against Women Bill ever going to materialize and be adopted out of thin air. We demonstrate because the numbers 478, 488 and 489 (criminal code provisions imposing higher sanctions on women found guilty of adultery than on men) 503, 504 and 522 (laws pertaining to rape) cannot be read without a shudder. We demonstrate because of the large Violence Against Women Bill-shaped gaping hole within the Lebanese legislative apparel. We demonstrate because religious authorities are playing deaf and blind to that very simple fact: there are women in Lebanon, and we are not walking wombs. Rather, we are human beings who saw evil, heard evil and witnessed you speak your evil.

So we’re taking to the streets, armed with an international Convention, armed with laws and principles and a whole set of values that we think are worth sharing. Several people and bloggers seem to think that we’re ahead of the game, that before obtaining a change in the laws we need to establish a civil state in Lebanon then we’ll be able to see what we can do about women’s rights. It’s the same old song: women are selfish for demanding what is theirs, they should wait until the whole system changes until we can tackle women’s rights. To which I answer 1) Women Won’t Wait 2) why not think of changes in laws with regards to women as an opening door to a wider change in the system? Advocating for women’s rights is advocating for a more egalitarian society, it doesn’t mean favouring one injustice over another. The way I see it, turning Lebanon into a civil state will take longer than adopting the Violence Against Women law: what are we supposed to do until we reach that point? Sit around and pray?

The demonstration however even goes beyond obtaining our rights. It has become a question of reclaiming our very streets, each corner of our city until we find that we can walk around without fear or of uneasiness because of stares, glares, insults, offensive comments or unwanted physical contacts that is just plain sexual abuse. We’re demonstrating now because our cup is full: we’re tired of unlit zawarib where even the less sporty of us turns into a sprint champion until we reach our cars, we’re tired of feeling as if we’d like our breasts to be invisible, we’re tired to be harassed just because we are women. By pounding the streets of Beirut we’re making a strong statement to those who would like to see us off them, tucked away in our homes that sometimes are more dangerous that battlegrounds, as if under house arrests: look at us, we’re women and human, we want our dignity and safety.

We’re demonstrating because this way we get to say our stories, with our words, our chants, our actions, with no self-appointed authority (religious or otherwise) telling us we’re asking too much, too soon, too aggressively.

Our bodies are ours, and no one but us gets to dictate what we should do with it or whom and when we decide to give it to. Our voice are ours too, and no one but us dictates when and how we should use it.

So on Saturday the 14th, I will pick up my banner and I will shout for my rights until my voice gets hoarse. But I promise that if you see us on the streets, and still have questions, then I will use it to talk to you.

And maybe then, you’ll walk with me too.

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