SUN 17 - 11 - 2019
Dec 10, 2018
The Daily Star
Adultery law favors men: activists
Abby Sewell| The Daily Star
BEIRUT: A man cheats on his wife. A woman cheats on her husband. Theoretically, these two situations are equal under the law.
In practice, however, women face harsher punishments than men do under Lebanon’s anti-adultery legislation, activists say.
Progress has been made.
Until a few years ago, the law imposed more severe penalties on a woman convicted of cheating on her husband than it did on a man found to have been unfaithful to his wife, and the standard of proof required to convict men was higher than it was for women.
In 2014, with the passage of the country’s first domestic violence law, the code on adultery was also amended, and men and women convicted of adultery now face the same potential punishment - at least on paper.
But an analysis of court cases in 2015 showed that in practice, women continued to be arrested at higher rates than men, says Lara Saade, a policy adviser to MP Sami Gemayel, who in 2016 proposed the removal of adultery from the criminal code altogether.
“What we have seen in the tribunals is that this law, despite the fact that it talks about equality in sanctions now, it’s being used against women to punish women and put them in jail and take their children,” Saade says.
“Because usually it’s men who go against women before the tribunals, and they imprison them if they commit adultery, while women ... will just ask for divorce.
“So basically, even though in the text there is equality, in the results, in the outcome and how this law is used, because of the patriarchy and the perception of society, it’s still used against women.”
Gemayel’s 2016 proposal, which would have removed adultery from the penal code but left it in the personal status law as a cause for divorce, never moved forward.
Saade says she has not looked at the gender balance of adultery cases since then.
An Internal Security Forces representative did not respond to a request for statistics on the number of women and men arrested under the adultery law.
But advocates say that they have continued to see an imbalance in its application. Zeina Daccache, founder of Catharsis, an NGO that runs drama therapy programs in both men’s and women’s prisons, says that she had noticed the discrepancy in her prison work.
“You never see a man entering prison for adultery, but you see a lot of women entering for adultery.”
Daccache says she has never seen a woman serve the full sentence, which can last from three months to two years for adultery committed within the family home and from one month to one year if the act took place elsewhere. The crime can be prosecuted only if the spouse of the alleged cheater files a complaint.
“What happened when I was working in Baabda, for example, I saw women coming [to the prison] and it would be, like, for a couple of days and then [the husband] would come and pick her up,” she says.
“Why? Because he’d say, ‘Khalas, I gave her a lesson.’ But I’ve never seen someone staying for six months or three months for adultery.” Still, she says, “it’s a very, very silly law.”
Layla Awafa, an attorney for the women’s rights group KAFA (enough) Violence & Exploitation, says that in many cases women are prosecuted without hard evidence of an illicit sexual relationship.
“When a woman is making an application for divorce or for a protective order, we find that the man may use this law, and it may be just because he has doubts, without there being proof of a sexual relationship, but just because he read something on WhatsApp and suspects that she has a relationship with someone,” she says.
KAFA is pushing for an amendment to the law that would remove adultery completely from the criminal code.
“Adultery might be a reason for divorce, but not a crime that should lead to jail,” Awafa says.
But Saade says that for the time being, the issue is not a top priority for lawmakers, who have been more focused on other women’s rights issues, such as raising the legal age of marriage and repealing the “marry your rapist law,” which allowed rapists to escape penalties if they married their victims.
The “marry your rapist law” was repealed last year, and legislators are currently discussing the marriage age issue.
Others say that as long as the adultery law remains, both women and law enforcement officials should be educated about it to ensure true equality of application.
Brigitte Chelebian, director of the nonprofit Justice Without Frontiers, recalls a woman she assisted in filing a complaint against her husband for adultery.
“At first [the officers] were surprised that a woman is presenting a case, because usually they are not receiving so many cases like this against men,” she says.
“But they opened it and they made their investigation, and they said, ‘We went through the investigation, but we did not find anything. There is nothing.’”
Chelebian says she is not confident that officers thoroughly investigate charges against men or file charges as they would with women.
“Some of them, they will never think that this is a crime. They think this is normal,” she says. “But men and women are causing the same damage to their partner. It’s not that a woman, if she commits adultery, the damage ... is bigger than the damage of men; no, they are equal.”
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