BEIRUT, Lebanon – The Lebanese parliament has voted to abolish Article 522 of its penal code, which allows rapists to escape punishment by marrying their victims. Lebanon follows Jordan and Tunisia, which recently repealed their own “marry-your-rapist” laws.
It’s a great step forward for women’s rights, and a testament to the activists who have long campaigned to overturn this archaic legal loophole, which violated human rights and compounded the trauma of survivors.
But there is much more work to be done to reform the legal and political climate to improve the lives of women and girls in Lebanon.
In 2016, Lebanon ranked 135 out of 144 countries on gender equality according to the Global Gender Gap Index. The United Nations Development Program ranks Lebanon 83 out of 188 on the Gender Inequality Index in terms of reproductive health, gender empowerment, education and economic status.
Gender-based violence is the most obvious manifestation of gender inequality in Lebanon, and though the repeal of Article 522 removes some of the impunity enjoyed by perpetrators of violence against women and girls, there are still legal barriers to equality for women.
While the Lebanese legal system does include some protections against gender-based violence, consistent and equal enforcement of such laws is sorely lacking.
Article 5 of the Lebanese civil code, which guarantees legal protections against trafficking, was adopted in 2011. And yet in 2016, security forces unveiled the biggest sex-trafficking ring in Lebanon, known as Chez Maurice, where Syrian women were abducted and forced into sexual slavery. Imad El Rihawi, the man who ran this operation, was released from jail on July 21, 2017, after serving only one year.
Intimate partner violence and domestic abuse are another form of widespread gender-based violence in Lebanon. The women’s organization KAFA receives more than 2,600 reports of intimate partner violence each year, and frequently supports family members trying to get justice from the judicial system as a result of honor killings.
For many years, activists lobbied to pass the Law on Protection of Women and Family Members from Domestic Violence. In 2014, Law 293 was adopted by the Lebanese Parliament, but this new law failed to recognize marital rape as an offense. Personal status law, which covers matters such as marriage, divorce, child custody and inheritance, has precedence where there is conflict between the two laws in cases of marital rape and other abuses.
Religious authorities also take precedence over civil law in relation to marriage laws. Despite several campaigns, no law exists that prohibits child marriage in Lebanon, leaving the power within the hands of the religious courts.
This issue is exacerbated in the case of refugees: rates of child marriage among Syrian refugees are increasing, and girls forced into marriage do not have access to legal protections from the Lebanese government.
Women in the Workplace
Women’s economic participation in Lebanon is estimated at 24 percent, in comparison with 70 percent for men. Low labor force participation is magnified by the absence of protective measures for working women, such as the provision of discrimination-free work spaces, equal pay and health benefits, including standardized maternity leave with proper compensation.
Many Lebanese women in the labor force are not aware of their basic rights, and no legislation exists to prohibit sexual exploitation and harassment within the workplace. These challenges are particularly acute for rural women and women in the informal sector, who are exposed to poor working conditions.
Similarly, Article 7 of the Lebanese Labor Code – not updated since 1946 – does not extend to non-Lebanese women. This omission is particularly detrimental for migrant domestic workers.
Women in Politics
In June 2017, parliament turned down the proposal for a 30 percent women’s parliamentary quota in Lebanon.
This is particularly disappointing given the fact that women occupy only 3.1% of parliamentary seats. Women’s political participation in Lebanon ranks 143 out of 144 countries.
There are currently only four women MPs in a Parliament of 128 seats, and it is commonplace for women to enter politics “in black”, that is, as widows of former politicians, rather than representing themselves.
Our Work Continues
With an active civil society, a network of NGOs dedicated to women’s equality, and a long roster of powerful feminist activists, it is disappointing that the political and legal climate in Lebanon continues to stifle women’s empowerment and the movement for equality.
Activists can rightly celebrate the end of an appalling law that has oppressed women and allowed men to escape punishment for serious crimes. But our work to change the rest of Lebanon’s discriminatory social and political landscape continues.
The views expressed in this article belong to the author and do not necessarily reflect the editorial policy of Women & Girls.