A draft law to protect women from domestic violence is a Western idea designed to dismantle the Muslim family, rather than improve women's status in the country, a statement released by Lebanon's highest Sunni body said Thursday.
“[The draft law] was presented not to improve women's status, but rather to break up the family similar to Western ways which are foreign to our society and values,” the statement from Dar al-Fatwa said following a meeting between the Grand Mufti of the Republic Sheikh Mohammad Rashid Kabbani and other high level Sunni Sheikhs.
The draft law, which was written by activists and is still being discussed in a special parliamentary committee, has sparked heavy debate, with officials such as Sports and Youth Minister Faisal Karami describing it as a blow to family values.
The 16-point statement from the influential Sunni body said the proposed law prevents women gaining religious and financial rights.
“The draft law hurts the Muslim woman ... [it] prevents her from gaining many rights given to her at religious courts,” the statement said, although it did not specify which rights the law would undermine. It did add that should a woman seek recourse via this law, she would automatically be stripped of her financial rights by the religious court, and said that the law eliminates the legitimacy of religious courts.
The draft law was approved in April by the caretaker Cabinet under former Prime Minister Saad Hariri and was sent to Parliament for a vote. The Parliament is expected to convene once Prime Minister Najib Mikati's Cabinet receives the Parliament's vote of confidence following the release of the policy statement.
The statement also said the law would prevent any chance of reconciliation between a husband and his wife, and would promote individualistic values that are not part of the Muslim community. It also said that the law would not act as a deterrent but would, instead, draw negative reactions by men.
“Based on article 9 of the constitution which respects the private lives of various sects, the Muslim community has the right to reject any law that might harm such independence in religious practice,” it added.
Gender equality activists said Thursday that while a rejection of the draft law from such an influential body may hinder its process through the Parliament, they would continue to work to see the law passed.
“Dar al-Fatwa's statement threatens the law but it does not threaten us … we won't stop pushing for the law to be passed because it would change the lives of many women,” Farah Qobaisi, a member of feminist collective Nasawiya, told The Daily Star soon after the statement was released.
Qobaisi also said that such comments could be expected as many religious institutions attempt to protect certain privileges they experience under the current system.
“This is a struggle between those who demand gender equality and justice and other who want to preserve the old way of thinking about things,” Qobaisi added.
Meanwhile, the group Women's Movement Thursday called on Lebanese citizens to stop working for five minutes next Tuesday at 12 p.m. in protest at the lack of women ministers in Mikati's Cabinet. It also asked drivers to honk their horns and step out of their vehicles.