Lebanon: Women's groups call for amendment of Penal Code

The Daily Star - Lebanon
Coalition raises awareness of outdated laws permitting murder and rape.
The Lebanese Penal Code "cruelly discriminates" against women and desperately needs adjustment, according to women's rights activists speaking at the Lebanese Press Federation.
The Lebanese Women's Network, a coalition that includes most major women's groups in the country, gathered in the presence of media representatives in a bid to raise awareness of the "unfairness" and "cruelty" of the Lebanese Penal Code regarding women.

"The Lebanese Penal Code greatly differentiates between both sexes when a punishment has to be administered," said Nour Melhem, the Lebanese Women's Network legal advisor. "It was last modified in 1943, but the clauses regarding female punishments remained unchanged and biased."

To illustrate this point, Melhem noted that Law 562 of the Penal Code permits men to kill female members of their family if the women have compromised the family's honor.

Similarly, Law 522 pardons a rapist or kidnapper if he marries the victim.

Melhem also cited Laws 487, 488 and 489 as examples of gender bias. These laws recognize adultery as a crime for women but not for men. Melhem asked her audience: "Now is it fair for a man who commits adultery not to be punished while women who commit it are? Why not rule out this entire law regarding adultery?"

Calling the current Penal Code "sick" and "discriminatory," Melhem said: "It desperately needs to be changed."

In his address, the head of the Lebanese Press Syndicate, Mohammad Baalbaki, supported Melhem's call for action. He declared that it is time for this country to "witness equal treatment of men and women in all issues, because without this equality we will have a crippled society." Baalbaki said: "Neither of the two sexes is superior to the other; both are equal, and this society cannot be complete without the active participation of both of them."

He added: "Both genders have to be subjected to the same rules and have the same duties. We are through with ancient times where each of the sexes was given a different kind of treatment."

Baalbaki concluded that "it will be shameful for all of us if the society we live in remains as such," without legal reform.

Echoing the other speakers, Dr. Iman Chaarani, Women's League Coordinator, asserted that "Unfortunately, the Penal Code as it is right now is greatly unfair towards women."

However, civil society groups are seeking to address this problem.

Chaarani described the women's movement in Lebanon as having been recently revitalized. She observed that women's organizations that had formerly viewed each other as competitors have recently "recognized they have a lot to gain by working together."

She said: "This has led to the formation of the Lebanese Women's Network, a coalition that includes most of the significant women's groups in the country, a total of 14."

The network is working to raise awareness of women's issues and advocate for reform.

Chaarani added that "equality among men and women can only be achieved through the law, which should not distinguish between men's and women's rights, duties and methods of punishment."

By Jessy Chahine
Daily Star staff
Friday, July 22, 2005