On December 7, 2016, Lebanon's Parliamentary Committee for Administration and Justice repealed Article 522 of the Lebanese Penal Code, which enabled a rapist to avoid punishment by marrying his victim. The committee's decision is now awaiting parliamentary approval.
The decision follows several years of campaigns by women's rights organizations in Lebanon for legislation to improve the status of women and ensure their rights – for example, legislation that will increase penalties for husbands who murder their wives and that will grant Lebanese citizenship to children whose mothers are Lebanese but whose fathers are not, in addition to stricter laws against domestic violence and sexual abuse. These campaigns sparked a media and public debate on the issue of women's status and rights, and seem to have contributed to more vigorous action on this front on the part of the authorities.
The committee's decision to repeal Article 522 was a significant milestone in the organizations' struggle and a notable achievement for them, given that many of Lebanon's personal status laws still discriminate against women and impose lenient penalties that do not sufficiently deter men from committing offenses against women, and even effectively encourage them.
Prominent in the campaign for the repeal of Article 522 in the last few months was the Aba'ad Resource Centre for Gender Equality, which tackled the issue on its Facebook page and launched several hashtags related to it, including "abolish Article 522," "no to rape [against women]," and "no to violence [against women]." It also initiated and participated in several public events designed to raise awareness of the issue.
In early November, Aba'ad organized a women's football match in which the players wore shirts printed with the message "Abolish [Article] 522." On November 13, organization members ran in the Beirut marathon wearing tunics bearing the same message. According to the organization, "women who have been raped have the right to refuse to marry the rapist, and society must not blacken their reputation [for being a victim]... Public opinion must be harnessed to support this cause by drawing a distinction between the crime of rape and what society calls 'the woman's honor.' Forcing a woman to marry her rapist is an act of oppression which sanctifies the rape of women on a daily basis. Therefore, families must recognize that marrying the victim off to the rapist is not the solution and does not protect women. Rape is a crime and the criminal must be punished."
Women's soccer match organized by Aba'ad (image: Facebook.com/abaadmena, November 9, 2016)
In late November, Aba'ad launched a campaign titled "A White [Wedding Dress] Does Not Cover Up Rape," as part of which women staged silent demonstrations in front of the parliament building while the Administration and Justice Committee was discussing Article 522. The protestors wore wedding "dresses" made of bloodstained white bandages, to symbolize the injustice done to women forced to marry their rapists (see photo below).
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Women protesting in front of the parliament building (image: Al-Mudum, Lebanon, December 8, 2016)
Much of the campaign was carried out on social media, especially on the Aba'ad Facebook page. For example, the organization posted on its page a powerful video symbolically showing the victims' distress and the iniquity perpetrated upon them when they are forced to marry their rapists. In the video, a bruised and battered woman is gradually swathed in white bandages that eventually form a wedding dress. The organization also circulated on its Facebook page a petition demanding the repeal of Article 522. The campaign, and particularly the video, evoked many supportive responses inside and outside Lebanon, and was extensively covered in the Lebanese and Arab media – which may have contributed to the parliamentary committees' decision to repeal the article.
View the MEMRI TV clip about the Aba'ad campaign here or below:
Lebanese Journalist: Article 522 Is A Black Stain On Lebanese Legal System
In her column in the Lebanese daily Al-Mudun, Rima Ibrahim wrote about Article 522 and Aba'ad's campaign against it: "The shocking video [circulated as part of the campaign] makes the viewer feel as though he – not the bride, the victim – is being smothered. In less than a minute, the video manages to make the viewer experience the tragedy undergone by any woman who [finds herself] in such a situation, caught between the hammer – the rapist – and the anvil – her family – a rapist who violated her body, and a family that perhaps does not realize that it is about to rape its daughter's spirit [by forcing her to marry her rapist]. It is time for such families to understand the meaning of their act. Forcing a woman to marry [her rapist] is [a crime] no less severe than the rape itself. In fact, it complements the rape, allows it to recur, and destroys what remains of the victim's spirit. The worst aspect of this is that it is done with the blessing of the [legal] system that is supposed to protect [the victim, but instead] makes it legal [for the rapist] to avoid punishment."
She continued: "The motto of the [Aba'ad] campaign is 'White does not cover up rape.' On the face of it, [this motto] sounds simple, but on a deeper level it shakes up our slumbering social conscience that has long been quite willing to sacrifice women on the altar of preserving the phony [concept of family] honor. Where is the honor in reducing a woman to... a torn hymen, that is, to damaged goods that must be tossed over to the one who damaged her? She is handed over to the one who damaged her dignity and humanity, who violently raped her, coercing her into an act that is supposed to be an act of love...
"It is time for the legislator to realize the horrific [nature] of Article 522, which is a black stain on [our] legal system..."
 Facebook.com/abaadmena, November 9, 2016.
 Facebook.com/abaadmena, November 13, 2016.
 Middle-east-online.com, December 7, 2016.
 Facebook.com/abaadmena, November 29, 2016.
 Facebook.com/abaadmena, November 29, 2016.
 Facebook.com/abaadmena, December 11, 2016.
 Al-Mudun (Lebanon), December 8, 2016.