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Hanging wedding dresses to protest ‘stone age law’ that lets rapists go free

The macabre wedding dress protest on Beirut's sea front, by Lebanese artist Mireille Honein

Hanging wedding dresses to protest ‘stone age law’ that lets rapists go free

Hanging wedding dresses highlight call to change 'stone age law' that lets rapists escape jail

Hanging wedding dresses to protest ‘stone age law’ that lets rapists go free

Activists campaigning to change Lebanon’s “stone age” law on rape have staged a macabre protest on Beirut’s famous sea front, Le Corniche.

Some 31 white wedding dresses were hung from nooses, strung up between the palm trees.

Lebanese law currently allows a rapist to be freed if he marries his victim.

The activists are pressing to have the legislation, known as Article 522, abolished at a session of parliament on 15 May.

Alia Awada, from the non-governmental organisation Abaad, which promotes equality for women, explained the symbolism of the 31 dresses.

“There are 31 days in a month and every single day, a woman may be raped and forced to marry her rapist,” Awada said.

Awada said when an unmarried girl is raped and her case is taken to court, the judge typically suggests the girl marry her rapist as a way of preserving the family’s honour.

“All three sides – the judge, the girl’s family and her rapist – must agree to the marriage,” Awada said.

Rothna Begum, Middle East women’s rights researcher at Human Rights Watch, said the law violates women and girls a second time by trapping them into life with their rapist.

“Protecting honour should be about ensuring that attackers are punished and promoting social attitudes that support survivors of sexual violence instead of stigmatising them,” Begum said.

Human Rights Watch notes that a growing number of countries have repealed such laws in recent years.

France and Peru repealed such laws in the 1990s, while Costa Rica and Uruguay repealed them in 2007 and 2006 respectively.

Last December, a Lebanese parliamentary committee announced an agreement to repeal the law.

Prime minister-designate Saad Hariri has said he applauded the repeal.

“I applaud the Administration and Justice Committee’s cancelation of Article 522 that exempts a rapist from penalties if he marries his victim. We now await the completion of this civilised step for the upcoming legislative session.”

Women’s affairs minister Jean Oghassabian described the article as being “from the stone age”.

“How is it reasonable for a woman to be raped and then sold into a prison?”

The installation was designed in Paris by Lebanese artist Mireille Honein.

She said Article 522 had left women “without an identity” and was “shameful for those imposing it on them”.

BBC World Service Middle East editor Alan Johnston says the ghostly wedding dresses swaying in the wind beneath their nooses conjure a sense of a brutal snuffing out of life and hope.

That is the sort of impact the controversial law may have on victims of rape, our correspondent says.

Last December, women dressed in wedding dresses made from bandages to protest the law.

ART FOR PROTEST’S SAKE

Mireille Honein’s hanging wedding dresses are the latest in a line of protests using artistic expression to highlight violence against women.

Domestic violence: A group of “guerilla feminists” in China marched up a Beijing street wearing wedding dresses spattered with red paint to highlight the issue, which is little debated in the country. They were detained for more than a month in 2015 on public disorder charges, sparking an international outcry.

So-called honour crime: 18-year-old Tunisian feminist Amina Sboui wrote “my body belongs to me. It is not the source of anyone’s honour” on her chest and published the topless photograph on the internet in March 2013. She had to go into hiding and spent two years in France before returning.

Female genital mutilation: UK playwright Charlene Jones won an award for her play looking at the impact of FGM – some form of which has been carried out on 200m women around the world, the UN says – as seen through the eyes of two 15-year-old girls.

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