January 19, 2015 / 5:49 PM / in 3 years

Lebanon's religious courts are failing women, HRW says

LONDON (Thomson Reuters Foundation) - Women trying to escape domestic abuse and unhappy marriages face systematic discrimination in Lebanon’s religious courts, Human Rights Watch said on Monday, as it urged the Middle Eastern country to reform its judicial system.

Women’s rights are violated across the religious spectrum in Lebanon’s system of 15 separate, religion-based personal status laws, the rights group said.

“Not only are Lebanese citizens of various religions treated unequally under the law, but women are treated unfairly across the board, and their rights and security go unprotected,” said Nadim Houry, deputy Middle East director at Human Rights Watch.

“Passage of an optional civil marriage code, alongside badly needed reforms to existing personal status laws and religious courts, are long overdue.”

While Lebanon’s legal code is largely secular, the personal status laws give country’s Muslim, Christian, Jewish and Druze authorities control of many civil affairs, including marriage, divorce and children’s custody.

Lebanon’s parliament approved a law last April designed to curb domestic violence but activists said it had been watered down so much it would provide only limited protection for women.

The report, which looked at 447 recent legal judgements by religious courts, found that women often face legal difficulties when they seek divorce, protection from domestic violence or the guardianship of their children after divorce.

One women, Mireille, told HRW she had suffered years of physical abuse as she feared losing the custody of her daughters due to discriminatory custody provisions.

“I forced myself to bear beyond what a human being can take, all the injustices and violence,” she said.

Another women interviewed in the report, Nur, said the judge had advised her to change her clothing and lifestyle and reconcile with her husband who had beaten and raped her.

Campaigners have for years called on the government to adopt a civil status law.

Although Lebanon offers women freedoms denied to many in the Arab world, it was one of the worst performers in the global gender gap index last year, ranking 135th out of 142 countries.

Reporting by Liisa Tuhkanen; Editing by Ros Russell

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