By Olivia Alabaster
BEIRUT: Amendments to the draft law against domestic violence, including the removal of the criminalization of marital rape, were slammed by the gender rights organization KAFA (Enough Violence and Discrimination) Wednesday.
At a news conference held at the Press Federation in Beirut, director of KAFA, Zoya Rouhana, said that a patriarchal mentality was shaping attitudes toward the draft law, rather than a respect for international human rights.
There is currently no legislation to protect women from domestic abuse, and neither is marital rape outlawed.
A draft law on domestic violence was passed by Cabinet in April 2010 and is currently being debated by a parliamentary sub-committee, established around four months ago.
Rouhana warned that the members of the sub-committee would be judged harshly if the amendments were carried out. A media campaign was also launched Wednesday, addressing the members of the sub-committee, warning: “MPs, marital rape is also a crime!” and “The law is a reflection of you: do not distort the law.”
Amendments to the draft law, which were leaked to the media, remove the criminalization of marital rape and render the law no longer specific to women.
“With this stance they have trampled on woman’s humanity and dignity. They have allowed for the humiliation and oppression of women,” the KAFA director said.
The draft law has faced fierce criticism from several sectors, including the two highest Muslim bodies in the country, which said the new law would lead to the breakup of the family. Domestic violence is currently covered by religious courts.
Maya al-Ammar, media officer in the exploitation and trafficking in women unit at KAFA, told The Daily Star that she believed the alleged amendments are due to religious pressure.
The MPs in the committee, she said, “are really influenced by religious leaders [and] the usual patriarchal traditions that lie beneath.” Also, she said, the amendments are being made via consensus, rather than through a democratic vote within the committee.
Metn MP Ghassan Moukheiber, a member of the sub-committee debating the draft law, told The Daily Star that he was “extremely concerned” about the removal of the marital rape clause, but that a majority of members, of which there are eight, wanted it withdrawn.
The sub-committee will continue to discuss the issue, he said, before the draft law goes to a joint committee for discussion – which is so far unscheduled – and then on to a plenary debate within Parliament.
Rouhana urged all members of the sub-committee, and also all other MPs, to review studies on the issue of marital rape which, she said, reveal it has a deeper impact than rape carried out by strangers.
“Marriage is supposed to provide security and trust and be based on love and mercy: not force and violence,” she said.
At KAFA, she said, staff members have seen firsthand the effects of marital rape. “We see the state of abused women who have sought our help at our centers. These women have confirmed that rape carried out by their husbands is an additional means to oppress and humiliate them.”
The amendments to the draft law have also removed the women-specific element.
“We want a law focused on women and which includes all forms of abuse that women specifically are subjected to,” Rouhana said Wednesday, citing sexual, economic and mental abuse, as well as physical.
When originally drafting the law, campaigners wanted “a law which does not compromise on women’s rights to live, and to live decently, that does not turn a blind eye to one form or another that women are subjected to.
“A law that ensures the protection of the weak from subjugation and which compensates women for some of the patriarchal privileges that allow violence from one gender against another,” Rouhana added.
“Violence against women is being ignored,” Ammar said. “And that’s a major problem and we can’t be silent about it.”
However Moukheiber defended the removal of this aspect of the draft law. “This actually reinforces the law. It covers women and children, but also, in rare cases, other members of the family who are subjected to abuse.”