BEIRUT: The Lebanese Forces will withdraw its member from the parliamentary subcommittee studying the domestic violence draft law if it goes through in its current form, MP Strida Geagea said Wednesday.
“We confirm the party’s decision to withdraw our representative in the committee, MP Shant Janjanian, if the final draft of this law develops without the ambitions of the Lebanese women,” the Bsharri MP said in a statement.
Geagea confirmed reports of amendments to the draft law which activists have said would render the bill much less effective in protecting women’s rights.
Discussed amendments to the draft law to protect women from family violence, which has been in parliamentary subcommittee stage since April 2010, have so far been kept under wraps by the committee.
In her statement, Geagea confirmed that amendments have moved the draft law from its focus on violence against women to general statements on violence within the family, a matter of particular concern within women’s rights groups.
“The draft law was developed in order to protect women from domestic violence, and any change of its title by turning it into ‘protecting family from violence’ is ignoring a bitter reality and ignoring women’s right to protection,” she said.
Zoya Rouhana, director of Lebanese women’s rights NGO KAFA, which helped draft the law, welcomed Geagea’s reaction to the proposed amendments.
“We wanted the state to declare that they are against violence against women, specifically. Now they have camouflaged the issue,” she said. “We wanted to confront the culture in Lebanon through this law.”
She voiced hope that Geagea’s statement would be the first of many voices of dissent against the proposed changes.
“Maybe it’s the first step. We expect all the MPs who are against the changes to take a stand,” she said. “If they don’t agree, let them speak loudly.”
Activists have also campaigned against the reported removal of the clause in the bill which would outlaw marital rape in Lebanon, with one group running advertisements that show a woman with a black eye, beneath the words: “Legally, he can still abuse you.”
In news welcomed by women’s rights activists, the subcommittee had met Monday to discuss the draft law, including addressing the reintroduction of the marital rape clause. The MPs had agreed on trying to reconcile between religious codes that give marriage partners the right to sex and the need to punish spouses if that right is taken by force.
Speaking Wednesday, Geagea said the Lebanese Forces parliamentary bloc supported the draft law in its original form, including the clause outlawing marital rape.
“In the 20th century, at a time when we are seeking to achieve gender equality, we should not have to be concerned with protecting women from abuse by those closest to them, especially as this abuse is increasing to an unacceptable limit, that is the rape of the wife by the husband,” she said.
The LF member’s withdrawal would be largely symbolic, as the subcommittee’s work could continue nonetheless.