In the event a legal marriage is concluded between the person who committed [crimes including rape, kidnapping and statutory rape] and the victim, prosecution shall be stopped and in case a decision is rendered, the execution of such decision shall be suspended against the person who was subject to it.
– Article 522 of the Lebanese Penal Code
It truly is amazing how much repulsive inhumanity can be hidden within a contentious law. Ironically, the law in question was, until recently, found in the penal code of an average, so-called democracy.
Article 522 was introduced by the Lebanese government back in the 1940s, a time when the idea of women’s rights was nothing but a silly figment of imagination possessed by the odd feminist. A time when women were looked down upon as nothing but caretakers to maintain the household, prepare meals for the family and while away their time knitting and embroidering.
The Second World War was a turning point for many domestic households in the world. As the men were sent to fight vicious battles against enemies in unknown terrain, national economies grew to becoming increasingly dependent on and controlled by women. Taking up jobs in manufacturing plants, transportation services and public service, the role of women grew to equal that of a man’s. In our modern-day world, the idea that a man and women differ in terms of capability is completely laughable.
But despite what most nations claim about presenting equal opportunities to both men and women in the industry, there is no shortage of horrific policies which hint that the gender gap still has a long way to go until it is fully bridged.
Article 522 was one of them.
Imagine a male rapist who has been convicted of committing sexual assault, abduction or statutory rape against a woman. The only way justice could be dished out to the woman and her family would be through a prison sentence, correct? But now, the crux of the problem presents itself. Picture this man being able to escape the entire prosecution and all the wrong he has committed, with the sole condition that he marries his victim, or at least presents a formal proposal of marriage.
It is difficult to imagine the number of rapists who forced their victims into an official marriage, which guaranteed that they could not only escape punishment, but continue sexually abusing their partner without ever having to face the consequences! Sickeningly, the law was in effect for more than 70 years.
How is it reasonable for a woman to be raped and then sold into a prison?…This Article 522 is from the stone age. It’s not acceptable for people to talk about it anymore!
– Jean Oghassabian, Lebanese Minister for Women’s Affairs
Disgustingly, marital rape is still legal in Lebanon under Article 503, which means that a man can continuously abuse his wife without repercussions. Even worse, judges at Lebanese courts often advised the girl and her family to accept the marriage, rather than lose their dignity! How sickening is that?
Women’s rights advocates had been protesting the law since last year. MP Elie Keyrouz had suggested the repealing of the law back in July 2016, but no one took her seriously. A non-governmental organization known as Abaad MENA, established in 2011 as a medium to promote gender equality, launched ‘The Campaign against the Lebanese rape-marriage law Article 522′ with a series of street protests, a viral video of raped victims turned into unwilling brides, and the famous hashtag #Undress522 through social media.
The official tagline of the campaign was simple yet bold: A White Dress Doesn’t Cover the Rape. However, the movement was met with virtual indifference by most of the populace. Barely 1% of the total population took to the streets in support of Abaad MENA, and the equalists themselves were heckled and ridiculed on the roads of Lebanon.
On November 13, in fact, the NGO’s first public appearance in the Beirut Marathon went virtually unnoticed. Even more disheartening for Abaad was the public completely ignoring one bold activist on November 30th who had locked herself inside a makeshift cage, donning a white wedding dress and bloodstained bandages. The activist had staged herself outside the Parliament building in Beirut, where the MPs were incidentally discussing the abolishment of the Article 522.
As if to rub salt into the wound, the activist did not receive the slightest acknowledgement nor recognition from the politicians. But true to the determination of Abaad MENA, the group did not give up.
The tide gradually began to turn. Several influential figures including Saad Hariri, the prime minister of Lebanon himself, expressed support for the movement through their Twitter and Facebook accounts. On December 6th, at least a dozen women stood silently in front of Parliament, wearing white dresses and sporting bandages covered with fake blood. This was the first public stunt that was covered by state media. The Daily Star and French newspaper L’Orient de Jour both interviewed the directors and producers of campaign videos and organizers, broadcasting their efforts nationally.
Protecting honor should be about ensuring that attackers are punished and promoting social attitudes that support survivors of sexual violence instead of stigmatizing them
– Rothna Begum, Human Rights Watch women’s rights researcher
Furthermore, international media such as CNN and BBC drew extensive reference to the December 6th protest as an epitome of the battle for women’s rights. Abaad MENA celebrated the media coverage with glee. Finally, their perseverance was paying off, and people all over the world were condemning the Rape Culture in Lebanon.
Finally, on August 16, 2017, the Lebanese Parliament scrapped this law which had had been the source of repeated terror for women all over the country. The federal vote, which occurred this past Wednesday, saw a crushing majority in favor of abolition, with virtually no support for the Article being voiced.
Women’s rights groups celebrated the motion as a breakthrough for gender equality, but there indeed is more to be done if the root of Rape Culture is to be weeded out for once and for all. The effects of this campaign have resounded across Africa and the Middle East. Tunisia and Africa have both abolished similar legislation, and other countries hopefully will be inspired to do the same. However, Algeria, Bahrain, Iraq, Kuwait, Libya and Syria have made no indication that they intend to follow Lebanon’s footsteps, but activists worldwide hope that these past few months will mark the beginning of a stronger revolution for feminism.
In other words, although the battle is won, the war still goes on.