“Hanaa is dead.” It is with these words that the uncle of Hanaa Khodr, a young woman allegedly burned alive by her husband on Aug. 10, shared the news with L’Orient-Le Jour, before hanging up, unable to continue the conversation.
Hanaa, 21, mother of two children and five months pregnant at the time of the terrible attack, succumbed to her injuries at al-Salam hospital in Tripoli, after losing the child she was pregnant with.
Meanwhile, another woman from Akkar, Ghinwa Alawi, almost lost her life, allegedly after years of domestic violence. Ghinwa, a mother of three, tried to end her life on Sunday. A few days earlier, her husband had filmed his wife as he started beating her up and humiliating her. Then, he sent the video to his in-laws.
Women’s rights associations denounced an “unprecedented” degree of violence that hit Lebanon through these incidents of unbearable aggression.
“Hanaa was burned alive because she was pregnant and her husband did not want to keep the child,” said Leila Awada, a lawyer with KAFA, an association campaigning for the protection of women.
“Ghinwa tried to end her life after years of humiliation. She was saved, but she suffered from amnesia for several days due to the shock. She had no recollection of what had happened. It was only yesterday that she started to recover her memory. She is currently being followed by a therapist,” she added.
A few days ago, another woman from Akkar, Nabila Aidan, 35, mother of four, was taken to the hospital by her husband several hours after her death, wrote activist Alia Awada on her Twitter account.
“The husband called his wife’s family to tell them she had died and asked them to meet him at the hospital. He has been on the run ever since,” she wrote.
Women: victims of the crisis
According to Awada, the growing number of femicide and domestic violence cases is a direct consequence of the worsening economic and social situation in the country.
“Women are the first to pay the price in these times of crisis. Violence has exacerbated and women are the weakest link,” she said. She called on the authorities “to sound the alarm.”
“When it hits the point of setting fire [to the spouse], it means that conjugal violence was already taking place. We must encourage women to express themselves and denounce violence from the beginning. Yet, the civil servants’ strike and the judicial strike have complicated the follow-up on the cases. This makes it difficult for us to make progress in protecting some victims,” she added.
“We are witnessing the emergence of unprecedented behaviors since the economic, political and social crisis has worsened,” said Ghida Anani, director of Abaad, an NGO focusing on women’s rights and gender equity.
“We have never seen in Lebanon extreme cases such as that of Hanaa who was burned alive. As for Ghinwa, she will need time to recover from these years of abuse,” she added.
Speaking to L’Orient-Le Jour, an official at the Internal Security Forces (ISF) said that the police was quick to arrest the husbands of Hanaa and Ghinwa. “These men were arrested the same day. We do not tolerate any laxity when it comes to security and we are on the ground constantly,” said the official.
“We are sorry to hear about such tragic incidents. It is a very sensitive issue. We are following up on this type of case with trained police officers,” he added.
He recalled that the ISF hotline, 1745, is available to people who are victims of domestic violence. He noted that he does not have any figures on the growing cases of violence.
Enforcing the law
In order to counter this trend, which is increasing, women’s rights associations are calling for a firm application of the law. “The laws on the protection of women exist, they must be strictly applied. Unfortunately, the collapse of the state and the resulting lack of resources do not make our task any easier,” said Anani.
Awada also calls for “the strict application of the law to curb this kind of behavior.” She said there has been an increase in cases of domestic violence, which has become widespread. “Usually, in August, domestic violence cases were less frequent. It usually increased in September because of the back-to-school pressure. But lately, we have been receiving constantly women who are victims of domestic violence,” she said.
This violence, which the associations denounced, is not only perpetrated by the husbands. “Some are abused by their fathers or brothers. We have many cases where unmarried women contacted us because they are victims of men in the family,” Awada said.
This article was originally published in French on L'Orient-Le Jour.