Draft Law on Sexual Harassment Approved by Parliement, Retroactively Rejected Few Minutes Later
During the January parliamentary sessions, Members of Parliament voted to pass “the draft law aiming to criminalize sexual harassment and racial discrimination” only to withdraw approval after a member complained stating “will every Whatsapp message allow for a sexual harassment complaint? If so, we are opening upon ourselves a door that will not shut”, as several MP’s repeated similar concerns. The Minister of Women’s Affairs Jean Ogassapian asked for the law to be examined by the ministry and the government that was given 10 days to study it and send it back to parliament.
Two months later, on the 8th of March which coincided with International Women’s day, the Council of Ministers passed another version of the law, one proposed by Minister Ogassapian and still awaiting a vote in Parliament. This was the third draft law to be proposed in the past decade, after the 2012 draft law by the grassroots feminist initiative The Adventures of Salwa in collaboration with the Legal Agenda, and MP Mkhayber’s 2014 draft that was voted on and then repealed earlier in the year.
Several uncoordinated efforts have been made on the issue.
In September 2019, the Parliament’s Commission for Women and Children headed by MP Inaya Ezzeddine approved a different draft law criminalizing sexual harassment and voted to submit it to the Administration and Justice Committee.
On 3 March 2020, the National Commission for Lebanese Women (NCLW), chaired by Claudine Aoun Roukoz, presented yet another bill criminalizing sexual harassment to the Administration and Justice Committee, this one as an attempt to join previous drafts and in cooperation with academic and civil society organisations as well as the World Bank’s Mashreq Gender Facility.
None have passed into law yet.
Aside from Articles 503 and 507 of the Lebanese penal code, which penalise individuals who force others into sexual intercourse or indecent acts outside of wedlock on the condition of presenting witnesses, there are no current references made regarding sexual harassment. This left a huge gap in the Lebanese legal codes – a gap that is reflected in the state’s lack of commitment to protect its citizens from such risks.
Civil society organisations such as Kafa, and the Lebanese Council to Resist Violence Against Women, and grassroots initiatives such as Harasstracker provide support, care, counseling, and/or safe shelter to women who experience violence, particularly marital violence, and who have no access to sufficient legal assistance.
Initiatives and national campaigns fighting sexual violence and harassment have been ongoing over the past decade, almost on a yearly basis.