In a victory for women's rights in the Middle East, Lebanon's Parliament on Wednesday repealed a law that allowed rapists to avoid punishment if they decided to marry their victim. This "marry-the-rapist" law is not unique to Lebanon, and with this move, the small country joins the company of other Mediterranean and Middle Eastern nations that have chosen to remove the law, including Jordan and Tunisia.
Before its repeal, Lebanon's version of the law, called Article 522, said that a rape conviction can entail a seven-year jail sentence, and even more if the victim is disabled. However, the law, which was put in place in the 1940s, said that criminal prosecution would be dropped if the rapist marries the victim.
For the activists, the clause's repeal signaled a small but significant step in the right direction. "We cannot but say thank you to the Lebanese parliament for this achievement and victory for women and girls in Lebanon," said Danielle Hoyek, the founder of an advocacy organization called Abaad. "We should be sending a clear message to Lebanese public opinion, especially women and girls, that any sexual violence and rape will be punishable from now on."
According to Al Jazeera, activists campaigned for over a year to get the repeal passed, often posting images of women in bloody, ripped wedding gowns that featured the caption: "A white dress does not cover the rape."
Despite this victory, there is still work to be done in Lebanon with regards to marriage and women's rights, according to the NGO Human Rights Watch (HRW). "The repeal of article 522 is an important and overdue step to protect women's rights in Lebanon," said Human Rights Watch researcher Bassam Khawaja, told the Associated Press, referring to the so-called "marry-the-rapist" law. "Parliament should now follow this up by passing pending legislation to end child marriage and marital rape, both of which are still legal in Lebanon."
According to HRW, a monitoring agency, many countries still have laws that lessen rapists' punishments if they marry victims. These countries include: Algeria, Iraq, Kuwait, Libya, Syria, the Philippines, and Tajikistan.
For at least one member of Lebanon's Parliament, the marry-the-rapist law's repeal reaffirmed what he holds as a self-evident truth: that men and women are equal. Member of Parliament Ibrahim Kenaan told the Associated Press that "a woman has the exact same rights as the man" and the law should have been abolished many years ago.