By: Yara al-Wazir
Sometimes people need to die in the process of their protest in order to make change happen, other times, strong research and simple silent protests over a prolonged period of time are what it takes for action to happen. The Lebanese government’s response to the protests against Article 522, which absolves rapists from punishment if they marry their victim have been prolonged, but eventually parliament has reacted. Earlier this week, following numerous protests and movements from civil society NGO’s such as ABAAD, a motion to repeal article 522 has been set in place, with further debates planned to take place December 14.
The dangerous part, both for the public and for the government, is that civil society may not realise just how much power they had before this day. Successful campaigning against Article 522 is not the end; rather merely the beginning of a long fight to secure basic rights for women.
According to ABAAD, a non-profit NGO based in Lebanon, 60 per cent of the Lebanese population is in favour of repealing Article 522 with 84 per cent considering that it protects the rapist from prosecution and punishment. While these numbers are staggering, they showcase the large dichotomy between parliamentary law that exists in countries such as Lebanon, and modern-day thinking. Article 522 for example dates back to the 1940s. The premise behind the law is partly related to the probability of giving birth to a child following the rape, only to have the father imprisoned and unable to provide. Unfortunately, the idea has further perpetuated with a patriarchal approach of the “shame” brought on to a family’s honour through rape. Yes, rape is shameful; the rapist is the one who should feel ashamed and humiliated, not the victim. For decades, women have had to deal with increased pressures to marry their rapists because of what society may or may not say about their “purity.”
As if the physical trauma and emotional trauma, such as PTSD, that haunts women following a rape weren’t bad enough, having an exception to absolve rapists of punishment merely increases pressure on women to accept blame. This was mirrored by research by ABAAD, which showed that 73 percent of people believed that the existence of the law pressures women to marry their rapists. What happens when a woman is in fact forced to marry her rapist? In Morocco, where a similar exemption existed in 2013, this lead to several suicides.
Let’s not drag religion into this
While it is important that we continue to share stories like this – stories that showcase the strength and impact of public opinion on government and parliament – it is also important to understand the origin of these laws. While users on social media have used this story to spew racist and Islamaphobic remarks, there is no such ruling.
Laws and articles regarding marital rape were not brought in by politicians in recent times – in fact, some may argue that this particular clause was inherited from French law in the 1940’s (later repealed in 1994).
We must not allow celebration to cloud judgement
Hundreds of hours of hard work and effort go into campaigning for any given cause. When the results are as successful as they have been this week, it is only natural to celebrate. However, as a region, we must not let celebration cloud our judgement or slow down our desire to achieve change. There are still many issues, penal codes and articles that have been designed by patriarchal institutions to deliberately make women’s lives difficult. While women across the world fight for equal pay, women in this region must continue to fight for basic laws that protect them against domestic abuse, sexual harassment and the right to pass citizenship on to their children. These issues are not limited to women in Lebanon, rather they extend to women across the region.
Yara al Wazir is a humanitarian activist. She is the founder of The Green Initiative ME and a developing partner of Sharek Stories.