Up until yesterday, a law in Lebanon exonerated the rapist if he marries his victim (Article 522 of the penal code). Although the law was kept from the public eye, it was still in effect and countless of tragic stories have been registered. Over only the timespan of 2010-2016, more than 2615 rapes have been recorded (Abaad, 2017). An alarming number, given that very few women actually come forward on such a taboo considered topic. Abaad, WILPF’s partner organisation in Lebanon, has been working hard and long to abolish the law which finally took place on Wednesday 16th of August by the parliament.

WILPF has been working with Abaad from early 2012 both to map women’s issues and concerns in relation to 1325 as well as to offer aid in leading national consultation process on Women, Peace and Security. This fruitful campaign of Abaad’s; shows once again that by challenging national laws, democratic changes can happen in the direction of more gender justice. This is much needed especially across the MENA region that is still fighting gravely outdated gender unequal laws.

After the abolishment, Abaad celebrated by the gathering of activists and feminists’ organisations in Beirut where Abaad stated: “After today, no rapists can escape punishment by marrying his victim”.

Caption: Abaad’s  video campaign #undress522 by Leo Burnette.

The campaign started early in December 2016, under the slogan of “A White Dress Doesn’t Cover the Rape”, and through the hashtag #undress522. It spread rapidly across social media at a national, regional and even on an international level. That pressured the government to assign a commission to study the law, who then drafted the amendment to abolish it and eventually required the parliament to ratify it

Wedding dresses displayed in April in Beirut by the Lebanese NGO Abaad to protest Article 522 in the Lebanese penal code that stipulates a rapist is absolved of his crime if he marries his victim. Credits: Hussein Mall/ NYtime

Abaad, alongside with other feminist organisations, organised street protests, a play on the topic as well as an installation of hanged wedding dresses in public areas. This opened the eyes of the Lebanese public on the issue and strengthened Abaad’s position.

At the international level, the campaign was a success and it was discussed extensively on various international journalism platforms such as NY times, CNN and BBC. Its hit is evidenced by receiving 5 prestigious Lions Awards in the Cannes Festival of Creativity, making it the most awarded MENA campaign this year.

Installation by Mireille Honein and Abaad Credits: Abaad

Congratulations to all the women and girls of Lebanon, here’s to this victory and many more to come for women’s rights movements in Lebanon and the whole region!