In Lebanon, Violence Between the Sheets Is Legal

Friday, December 9, 2011

Lebanon's parliament recently dropped a bill to criminalize violence against women. Paola Salwan Daher says activists have pursued the matter as part of the 16 Days of Activism Against Gender Violence that culminates on Dec. 10, Human Rights Day.

BEIRUT, Lebanon (WOMENSENEWS)--If street fashion is considered a gauge, Lebanon might be mistaken for an oasis of emancipation for Arab women.

Given the dominant stereotypes that prevail in most Western countries towards Arab societies, people are often surprised to see that the dress code in Beirut is diverse and that women cover up in various ways.

Dress code, however, is not the same as legal rights.

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Here in the Land of Cedar, no law criminalizes violence against women; our constitution is widely interpreted as sanctifying domestic privacy. All this means no real possibility exists in Lebanon to intervene to protect a woman in her home, which is where women the world over are most at risk of violence.

The Lebanese women's movement is working to change this.

A bill that proposes criminalizing physical, mental and sexual abuse of women, along with marital rape, recently came up for discussion in Parliament, which created an outcry from state religious leaders who prevented the bill's passage. These opponents assailed the bill as an attempt to "destroy" the Lebanese social fabric, an attack on the family unit that minimized the authority of a father.

Religious authorities resorted to the much-used argument of calling the bill an imposition of the West, even though it's been supported for years by a Lebanese coalition of 41 legal and women's rights groups.

Not only does the criminal code not protect women from violence, articles 507 and 508 do not consider marital rape as a crime. In fact, Article 522 stipulates that the state will not prosecute a rapist and will nullify his conviction if the rapist marries his victim.

An article that allows for lenient treatment of perpetrators of so-called honor crimes--where women are slain by family members to protect or clear a family's honor--was only recently erased from the criminal code.

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A resource that may be of help in demonstrating the acute harms, physical and psychological, of marital rape is the web course Intimate Partner Sexual Abuse: Adjudicating This Hidden Dimension of Domestic Violence Cases, developed by Legal Momentum's National Judicial Education Program. The web course is available FREE at
www.njep-ipsacourse.org. You can also access a description of the web course and its 13 modules at http://www.legalmomentum.org/our-work/vaw/njep-reports-and-resources/ips...

Lynn Hecht Schafran
National Judicial Education Program
Legal Momentum