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Women demonstrating Women demonstrating against the "rape law". Photo: Patrick Baz

A victory for women's dignity

"The repeal of article 522 of the Lebanese Penal Code is a victory for women and girls’ rights in Lebanon," says Roula Masri att Diakonia's partner organization ABAAD.

9/27/2017

With its campaign “A white dress doesn’t cover a rape”, the MENA non-profit organization ABAAD succeeding in attracting a great deal of attention concerning the rights of women and girls and in exerting pressure to achieve a change in the law regarding Article 522 of the Lebanese penal code. Women’s organizations in Lebanon have been fighting to repeal the “rape law” for at least fifteen years, according to Roula Masri, Director of programmes – Gender Specialist at ABAAD.

Wedding dresses stained with blood

But it was only in 2016, when ABAAD and several other Lebanese organizations – supported by the UN and Diakonia, among others – launched their campaign that the issue really ended up in the media spotlight and on the political agenda. ABAAD’s initiatives include several demonstrations with women dressed in snow-white bridal gowns and bandages stained with blood to show how “a wedding can neither erase nor conceal the crime committed”.

“The repeal of Article 522 of the Lebanese penal code is a victory for women’s and children’s rights in Lebanon, as it shows that legislators want to support the victims of crime and put an end to the culture of impunity,” says Roula Masri.

Paradoxical law repealed

Article 522 has existed in Lebanese penal law since the 1940s, but there are no statistics to show how many rapists have actually avoided punishment in this way. Defenders of the law consider that marriage preserves the “honour” of the raped women and her family, and one aim of ABAAD’s campaign has been to expose the paradox of legislation that symbolically condemns a rape victim to lifelong “imprisonment” while the perpetrator is rewarded with marriage.
Before the campaign was launched, a survey conducted by ABAAD showed that only one percent of the Lebanese population were aware of Article 522’s existence. The work of ABAAD and other organizations has now resulted in over 20 million people being informed about the legislation.

“Our advocacy strategies have proved to be extremely successful in that they resulted in the historic vote in the Lebanese Parliament and repeal of Article 522,” says Roula Masri.

“Crucial piece of the puzzle”

In Lebanon, however, opinions have been divided among women’s rights organizations regarding the implications of the repeal. Some organizations claim that more is required, pointing to the need for further changes in legislation to safeguard the rights of women and girls. Roula Masri says that this is a complex issue, and that the repeal of the legislation is a step in the right direction. At the same time, she stresses that the lack of knowledge about women’s rights and gender-based violence (at societal and institutional level) must be tackled in order for the repeal to have an effect.

ABAAD is therefore continuing its work on raising awareness among women and men in the most marginalised groups in society (refugees and migrant workers) on applicable legislative frameworks, legal aid and reproductive health. Also, ABAAD will continue training prioritised groups, including the police, in how they should work with victims of sexual violence in order to undermine the existing culture of victim blaming.

The struggle continues

“Amending discriminatory and oppressive legislation is a key piece of the puzzle in the struggle to achieve gender equality,” says Diakonia’s Gender Advisor Jenny Enarsson.

She emphasises that the work that ABAAD and the other Lebanese women’s rights organizations carry out makes a difference. But this work is not over, says Roula Masri:

“The struggle continues. ABAAD and its partner organizations will be uncompromising towards laws and practices that call into question the dignity of women and girls in Lebanon.”