BEIRUT: The parliamentary subcommittee studying the draft law to protect women from domestic violence is likely to come to a compromise soon over key clauses, particularly the marital rape clause an MP in the committee told The Daily Star Tuesday.
The committee, made up of eight MPs, met Tuesday to discuss the draft law, which has undergone serious amendments since entering committee stage, particularly the removal of the clause outlawing marital rape.
Zahle MP Shant Janjanian, from the Lebanese Forces bloc, told The Daily Star Tuesday that while the meeting had not been as productive as he had hoped, the draft law was now in the “final push” and said he was positive the committee would make progress on the marital rape clause.
Last week, Janjanian’s colleague, Bsharri MP Strida Geagea, released a statement decrying the changes, in particular the marital rape amendment, saying the party would pull Janjanian from the committee if the amendments were not reversed.
The day before the meeting Janjanian told The Daily Star that members in the committee, particularly Beirut MP Imad Hout, from Al-Jamaa al-Islamiya, had become “more flexible” in their approach to the clause. Hout in December told The Daily Star there was no such thing as marital rape.
Activists have been vocal in their objection to the amendments. In February, hundreds of Lebanese gathered in Downtown Beirut to protest the removal of the marital rape clause. Janjanian said NGO and activist work had played a key role in the re-evaluation of the clause. “The demonstrations and all the pressure have made an impact,” he said Monday.
MPs at the meeting also heard from Myrna Azzar Najjar – from the government’s National Committee for Lebanese Women’s Affairs – who after the meeting said she was “optimistic” about the potential for the marital rape clause to be amended satisfactorily.
“They told me they are working to find a new clause to solve the problem of marital rape and they’re not going to stop the discussion at this point, they’re going to talk more about it,” she said.
It was not clear Tuesday what the compromise over the amendments might be, and Janjanian said he was less sure that other amendments which have faced criticism, including the change of the title of the bill from “protecting women from family violence” to “protecting the entire family,” would be reversed.
Tripoli MP Samir Jisr, the head of the subcommittee, released a statement following the meeting saying that MPs had prepared a plan of action that would be “in line with the Constitution, Lebanese Law and international agreements, especially the United Nations Declaration on Human Rights.”
Women’s rights activists have also criticized the committee’s inclusion in the bill of Article 26, which ensures personal status laws that govern family relations and override laws in the domestic violence bill.
“We are not against the idea of the protection, but we are trying to make the protection match the position of Lebanese law,” Hout told The Daily Star. In reference to the marital rape clause, Hout said the MPs on the committee “all agree that such violence is condemned,” but appeared to maintain his stance that “marriage” should not be associated with the crime of rape.
He added it was important that the draft law not be rushed. “There is a part of public opinion that is pushing to have the text as soon as possible, even if it’s not practical, or not applicable.”
He also said he was sure the current version of the draft law would better protect women than its original draft.
Zoya Rouhana, the director of women’s rights group Kafa, which was instrumental in the drafting of the original law, told The Daily Star that if the committee’s amendments remain in place, the legislation could never be as effective as the original draft.