Each month, NAYA’s Woman of the Month series honors one pioneering Lebanese woman who has created change in her field. The series introduces you to these women and highlight their stories. For nominating Lebanese women for this series, you can contact NAYA Editor Sally Farhat: [email protected]
BEIRUT: In a country where patriarchy still prevails, women tend to linger in the shadows afraid of being heard. Zoya Rouhana, a lionhearted activist, longed to change the reality Lebanese women live in. She strives to create a safe zone for women where they can express their concerns and fears without being judged, misunderstood, and blamed.
In light of this, she founded KAFA in 2005, a nonprofit and nongovernmental organization, that seeks to end all violence and sexual exploitation women face each and every day. As KAFA delved into domestic violence cases, Rouhana was shocked by the magnitude of women being victimized and abused in silence.
“The problem we have is a lack of education and effective laws when it comes to women's rights. Many girls grow up in an abusive environment thinking it’s normal because they were raised that way,” Rouhana explained.
Rouhana has previously participated in many traditional activities that encourage women living in rural areas to work by displaying their handiwork in exhibitions in Beirut.
“Even though I have enjoyed participating in these activities, I believe change takes place when you deal with the core of the problem," Rouhana told Annahar.
That being the case, Zoya Rouhana worked on providing a law that supports and protects women from domestic violence.
“I would say that the law on ‘Protection of Women and Family Members from Domestic Violence’ is my biggest achievement to-date. We were keen on including the word ‘women’ in the law itself as we wanted to portray reality as it is- the reality that women face physical abuse and struggle to stand against their abusers,” she added.
In addition, she noted how her and KAFA’s biggest obstacle has been to annul the sectarian laws that dominate personal status in Lebanon.
“We have 18 different sects in Lebanon and accordingly, 15 different personal status laws that discriminate against women on the religious spectrum,” she said.
Rouhana then elaborated on the issue revealing that she and her team have worked on a bill for a unified vision of personal status in Lebanon.
“People, and especially the youth, want a unified personal status law that applies to all individuals regardless of their sectarian backgrounds,” she told Annahar.
Moreover, she emphasized that with such a unified law, it is the state that would be safeguarding the rights of all Lebanese citizens and not sectarian or religious clergy.
In honor of her achievements, Rouhana was presented with the U.S. Secretary of State's International Women of Courage award in March 2007.
“It is amazing when your work is acknowledged and recognized, but I wish my own country had awarded me such an accolade,” Rouhana said.
Rouhana then added that the tangible results she has accomplished through KAFA to protect Lebanese women are way more valuable than any award. She also urges the Lebanese population, and especially the emerging youth, to prioritize their nation and Lebanese identity over any sectarian affiliation or ideology.
“From the moment one is born, a sect is attributed to that person, and I hope that with a unified personal status law we can renounce that sectarian mentality and all become equal Lebanese citizens, men and women, in the eyes of the law,” Rouhana explained to Annahar.
She believes working on Lebanese legislation is essential, for “modern laws can generate a change in culture and mentality, and even make women fight for their rights and independence regardless of their patriarchal families.”
Rouhana’s estimable career is a victory to every woman who desires to abolish sexism and patriarchy and is a triumph to every individual working to combat the oppression of women in Lebanon.
Welcome to “NAYA”, the newest addition to Annahar’s coverage. This section aims at fortifying Lebanese women’s voices by highlighting their talents, challenges, innovations, and women’s empowerment. We will also be reporting on the world of work, family, style, health, and culture. NAYA is devoted to women of all generations-NAYA Editor, Sally Farhat: [email protected]
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