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Shane Farrell

The fight for the right to beat your wife

“He used to beat me for eight years,” Jana said of her ex-husband. “Sometimes he would use a chair. Sometimes he would beat me so hard I thought I was going to die.”

Jana, who asked that her real name not be published, is not alone in her ordeal. According to a study conducted by the Euromed Gender Equality Programme (EGEP), between 40 and 75 percent of women in nine countries in the Middle East and North Africa, including Lebanon, have been subjected to domestic violence.

After six years of abuse Jana decided to act. She sought counseling from KAFA, a Beirut-based NGO that assists women who are subject to physical abuse. Through KAFA’s guidance, Jana kept records of instances of violence—including forensic evidence—and managed to get a divorce and custody of her three children. Her ex-husband, however, served no sentence.

The issue of domestic violence is currently under the spotlight in Lebanon following the opposition by religious groups to a proposed bill that aims to grant rights to victims of abuse. If approved, the Law to Protect Women from Family Violence would criminalize physical, mental and sexual abuse, marital rape, and so-called honor crimes. It would assign a public prosecutor in each of Lebanon's six governorates to receive complaints and investigate cases of violence, and it would establish specialized family violence units within Lebanon's police force. Punishments for offenders would be specified, including fines and prison terms.

Furthermore, healthcare centers would be required to report cases in which they treated women who bore evidence of abuse, and women could file restraining orders against offenders.

The bill was approved by the previous cabinet in early 2010 and has been with a parliamentary committee since May of that year. With the new government about to start acting on legislation, the debate over the draft bill has resurfaced.

Both Dar al-Fatwa, the country's highest Sunni Muslim authority, as well as the Higher Shia Islamic Council, opposed the draft law late last month on the grounds that it contradicts Islamic Sharia, which they said is enough to protect women.

Dar al-Fatwa criticized the draft law as being “Western” and for “encourage[ing] the breakdown of the family.” It also slams a clause in the bill that criminalizes marital rape as "heresy," accusing those behind the draft law of "inventing new types of crimes."

A similar view was held by the office of the late leading Shia cleric Sayyed Mohammad Hussein Fadlallah. When contacted by NOW Lebanon regarding forced marital sex in Islam, an office representative said that “In terms of forcing sex, yes, [the wife] has to provide [her husband] with this service, unless there are reasons behind why she’s withholding.” These reasons include sickness, extreme tiredness and when she is menstruating.

When asked how Islamic law protects women from their husbands in cases of violence, Khaldoun Oreimet, secretary general of the Islamic Religious Higher Council at Dar al-Fatwa, told NOW Lebanon that they could seek redress in Islamic courts.
 
A victim of domestic abuse can “ask the Islamic judge to punish her husband or divorce her,” he said. “It is the judge’s job to convince her many times that she should reconsider her complaint. If she really insists, then the judge will have to issue a religious court decision to divorce her from husband.”

Women’s organizations say religious figures rejected the draft law because they feel threatened by it. Zoya Rouhana, director of KAFA, told NOW Lebanon via email that “religious figures who oppose the law have either not studied it in detail or are dealing with it from a patriarchal background, saying that this law threatens [a] man's power over his family, and break the rules on which the family's unity is preserved.”

“Unfortunately,” Rouhana wrote, “they do not see or they want to ignore the fact that the use of violence within the context of familial relationships is the real cause that destroys the family's unity and well being.”

Some religious figures, however, such as Maronite Patriarch Bechara al-Rai and Orthodox Archbishop Metropolitan Georges Khodr, support the bill. The patriarch had no objections to the bill when it was presented to him, and Archbishop Khodr called for violence to be “overturned by the justice and equality that God wants to be universal among us” in an article published in An-Nahar on July 6.

“I do not at all see anything in the Quranic revelation that would permit domestic violence,” Khodr wrote.

Diana Moukalled a women’s rights activist, was more explicit in her criticism. She told NOW Lebanon she was “ashamed” of Dar al-Fatwa’s statement, especially the section relating to forced intercourse during marriage. “Dar al-Fatwa doesn’t want to approve that there is such thing as a man raping his wife… The statement is really a disgrace,” she said, adding that religious courts opposed the draft law because they are not willing to cede authority and influence over the family.

On July 6, Human Rights Watch added its support to the bill, calling on Lebanon to “set a standard for neighboring countries to follow" by passing the bill.

Hundreds of Lebanese have also weighed in on the debate. A Facebook group that was created in response to Dar al-Fatwa’s statement has, at the time of writing, over 1,300 fans.

Nadine Elali contributed reporting

  • Tricia

    saaf, by saying "no smoke without fire" and explaining nagging as a possible cause of violence, are you suggesting that women get abused for good reasons? subhanallah

    July 18, 2011

  • ali daoud

    I support the Draft Law, actually i hope we cancel the backward sectarian political system we have, that is our real shame.

    July 17, 2011

  • 1984

    Dar al-Fatwa: what a disgrace! Dar al-Fatwa criticized the draft law as being “Western” and for “encourage[ing] the breakdown of the family.” This statement is both racist and hypocritical. Do they consider undivided families where the husband is beating the wife healthy ? The minute a husband abuses his wife, the family has already been broken. This law won't encourage the breakdown of families; it will only encourage the truth to be made known to society. This is the biggest fear of every Lebanese: family scandal...better live in hell & smile rather than live well & be looked down on. Why should Dar al Fatwa decide for us women anyway? Why does it take more than 1 year for the government to put this through? They can declare a war in 1 day, but can't officialise a common sense bill in a year?! What a waste of money

    July 13, 2011

  • `saadeldine almekari

    although everybody against domestic violence and now women's campaign against it i would like to add my opinion that as we say no smoke without fire it goes both ways when a man can't or wouldn't want to reveal the truth behind these confrontation with his wife he try another way to express his feeling or anger those increasing violence must be stopped but its not in our nature to let the women wear the trouser's or take advantage of the situation domestic violence become increasingly worried but has anybody thought of the real reason behind obviously not because neither men's or women's would specifies nagging+unfaithful+dirty+trouble making+making decisions without the other party's consultation+story fabrication's= on and on take one of these reasons and think how much your brain could hold from pressure beside the media are not much of a help especially the television program's giving the wrong massage's which makes family divided from one another

    July 13, 2011

  • The Truth

    As long as religious councils decide on issues of gender equality there will be none. All the major religions were founded in times where men had complete control over women and as sucfh they aer all patriarchal in nature and unfair to women.

    July 12, 2011

  • Me

    COOL!

    July 12, 2011