Rapists were once able to escape punishment in Lebanon if they wed their victims for a minimum of three years. After Jordan and Tunisia lifted the same law earlier this year, thankfully Lebanon have followed suit and the law originating from the 1940s has officially been abolished.
However, this law has not been lifted lightly, and was only made possible with strong campaigning from activists all over the country. Lebanese women and campaigners took to the streets with billboards plastered with slogans such as “A white dress does not cover the rape” and often very graphic political statements with women dressed in torn and blood stained wedding dresses. Earlier this year, campaigners also hung wedding dresses from nooses on a popular seafront in Beirut, sending a very chilling message about the living hell these girls are faced with when trapped in these abusive marriages.
Lebanese MP, Ibrahim Kenaan, says that this law, Article 522 of the Lebanese Penal Code, should have been abolished “a long time ago” and “it is necessary not to have such injustice and infringement against women’s rights.” Egypt and Morocco abolished the same law in 1999 and 2014 respectively; however, other countries such as Bahrain, Kuwait and Algeria have yet to take the same action. Yet child marriage and marital rape is still legal in Lebanon, so for Ghida Anani, the founder and director of a women’s rights group in Lebanon, this is just the start of a long struggle towards women’s rights. She says:
“For us it’s the start. Now the awareness and behavioral campaign will start to make women aware that it’s no longer an option: He cannot escape punishment.”
The Lebanese parliament is made up of various religious groups and political parties, and by Lebanese law, domestic issues like marriage, divorce and inheritance are handled by each religious community, the leaders being predominantly male. They all agreed to repeal the law, which is definitely significant considering the largely patriarchal views of Lebanese culture.
Many patriarchal laws such as this are slowly falling one by one in many countries in the Arab world, as women’s education in these countries are rising, and social media access and usage is on the increase providing a larger platform for activism.