Women, Traditions and Religion:
Coverture in Lebanon
Lamia Rustum Shehadeh
The idea that individuals and hence women own property in their persons has sparked many feminist endeavours past and present, from attempts to reform marriage laws to the right to vote. This appeal to feminists becomes even clearer when a study of an Anglo-American common law concept derived from the feudal Norman custom, coverture, is made. Coverture referred to a woman's subordinate legal position during marriage; it is defined literally as cover or shelter, and legally as the status of a married woman considered as under the protection and authority of her husband. Prior to marriage a woman could freely transact and execute most of her affairs as she wished. However, once married, she forfeits her legal existence as an individual for the sake of 'marital unity', a legal precept that considers husband and wife as a single entity represented by the husband. Thus, the common law doctrine of coverture proclaimed that wives were the property of their husbands, the rights of the husbands being unlimited and permanent. In some cases, when the wife was coerced into committing a crime, she was exempted from punishment. Women were further deprived of economic independence by the separation of the household from the work place.
In the 19th century, Sir William Blackstone pointed out the consequences of a woman's entering into the marriage contract under the common law doctrine of coverture:
By marriage, the husband and wife are one person in law: that is, the very being, or legal existence of the woman is suspended during the marriage, or at least is incorporated and consolidated into that of the husband; under whose wing, protection, and cover, she performs everything, and is, therefore, called...a femme-covert...; is said to be a covert-baron, or under the protection and influence of her husband, her baron, or lord; and her condition during her marriage is called her coverture. (Blackstone, 1979: 430)
Thus, the wife essentially dissolves into her husband, and becomes civilly dead: She relies for support on her husband and is thus dependent upon his benevolence, her ultimate goal being ensuring a 'good master' by satisfying all his wishes and desires (Pateman, 1988).
The common-law rules of coverture were reformed by states throughout the 19th century beginning in the 1830s. Coverture, in the United States, was first disassembled through legislation at the state level in Mississippi in 1839 and continued through the 1880s. However, the latest amendment of the Mississippi Code on coverture was in 1972 (SEC. 93-3-1). In Florida, although coverture was abrogated in 1943, the husband, as late as 1995, remained liable for the necessaries incurred by his wife. The Married Women's Property Act of 1882 in Britain constituted a great landmark in the effort to end coverture. Thus, ever since the 1840s and the Married Women's Property Act of 1848, in the United States, legislation had been advancing toward complete equality. However, until late into the 19th century, the legal and civil standing of a wife was similar to that of a slave.
At present, coverture has largely disappeared in the Western world, but, despite recent reforms, husbands still own the sexual property in their wife's person and other surviving vestiges such as the loss of the wife's maiden name (Pateman, 1988). In fact, the law of consortium (housework, childcare, love, companionship, and sexual services) was not abolished in Britain until the 1980s. In the United States, only a small minority of states abolished the law (Pateman, 1988). Coverture, however, continues unabated particularly in Eastern cultures, one of which is Lebanon.
Men in Lebanon still assert the conventional attitude that women are not only quite privileged, but are the real masters and wielders of familial authority, albeit behind the scenes. The legal system, however, shows clearly how women are actually subservient to them and how the law of coverture, without such nomenclature, is still practised without abatement. A woman, in Lebanon, undergoes 'civil death', in that her identity is covered by her husband, upon marriage, forfeiting thereby most of her rights and effectively losing control of her life. She is not allowed to choose her domicile, or leave it when she chooses, and her husband effectively owns both her person and her services. The general legal assumption is that marriage is a barter of the female's sexual and domestic services for financial support. Thus, chastity and purity are still extolled and virginity remains a legal prerequisite for marriage. In short, a married woman does not have a separate legal existence from her husband. Thus, when a husband dies, his wife cannot be the guardian to their under-age children unless the religious court orders it.
Lebanon, a country that has ratified the Declaration of Human Rights and Convention of Elimination of all Forms of Discrimination against Women (with some serious reservations) allows husbands, in the Personal Status Code, to subjugate their wives through the laws of consortium, cohabitation and conjugal rights, and deprive them of their children after the ages of seven years for boys and nine years for girls in cases of divorce or widowhood. In addition, civil law goes on to safeguard the right of the husband in case the wife becomes rebellious. She is penalized in cases of abortion, adultery and desertion.
The aim of this paper is to examine the position of women in the Personal Status Code and demonstrate that although the Lebanese Constitution (Art. 7) guarantees equality of the sexes, the law not only flagrantly discriminates against women on different levels, but practices the Western law of coverture, without actually naming it. The focus in this study, however, will mainly be on the personal status codes of the Christian sects, since the codes of the Muslim sects, albeit excellent examples of coverture, based on the shari'ah (Divine Law), are common to all Muslims of the world, and have been the subject of many exhaustive studies though never from the perspective of coverture (Esposito, 1982; Gemayel, 1985; Moghaizel, 1985; Shehadeh, 1998).
While addressing this subject, I met a lot of resistance: we all know of marriages where the husband does not use his rights and in most cases does not even know of their existence. However, this is to confuse particular cases with the institution of marriage and what it entails. Thus Christine Delphy declares that 'the particular individual man (may) not play a personal role in this general oppression, which occurs before his appearance on the scene: but, reciprocally, no personal initiative on his part can undo or mitigate what exists before and outside his entrance' (Delphy, 1984: 116). William Thompson further adds that 'even if a husband renounces his power, his wife's freedom is always contingent on his unwillingness to continue the renunciation' (Pateman, 1988: 158). And John Stuart Mill argues that defenders of existing marriage law rely on the example of those husbands who refrain from using their legal powers. Yet marriage is designed for every man and not only for the benevolent few thereby allowing the abusive husbands to go with impunity (Mill, 1970). Moreover, as all religious court justices, dealing with family law (marriage, divorce, adoption, custody, etc.) are males, and the still emotionally charged issue of gender equality due to the firmly ingrained patriarchal traditions in Lebanese society make judicial decisions inevitably coloured by their personal backgrounds, experiences and ideologies. Thus, the modification of existent sex-discriminatory laws, tantamount to coverture, and the formulation of new ones ensuring gender equality become imperative. For the law plays a vital role not only in establishing regulations but in actually influencing thought and behaviour and defining what is to be acceptable by society. Thus, in as much as the laws dealt with here define what is accepted by society at large, they assume far more serious implications than their strict legal context (Lahave, 1977; Nicholas et al., 1986; Eisenstein, 1988; Smart, 1989; Baer, 1992; Fineman and Thomadsen, 1992; Frug, 1992; Goldstein, 1992; Shanley and Battistoni, 1992) and hence the significance of this study. The purpose of this paper then is to demonstrate that Western coverture, although absent from Lebanese law under this nomenclature, is in effect extant in Lebanon even among the Christian sects, due to the archaic nature of the laws and the highly sensitized patriarchal social order that permeates all levels of society.
Like most Arab countries as well as Pakistan, Greece and Israel, religious courts in Lebanon assume authority in matters relating to what is referred to as Personal Status. The approximately four million Lebanese residing in Lebanon belong to 18 religious sects. To date, however, there are only 16 personal status codes: The Christian, divided into three main groups: Catholic (Maronite, Melkite, Armenian, Syriac, Roman Catholic and Chaldean), Orthodox (Greek, Armenian, Assyrian, Syriac and Nestorian), and Protestant; the Muslim, divided into three groups: Sunni, Ja'fari (Shi'ite) and Druze; the Israelite (Jews). The two sects recognized by the government but with no distinct personal status codes are the 'Alawites and the Ismacilis. Both follow the Ja'fari personal status code. These sects were first recognized officially by the French High Commissioner during the French Mandate on 30 March 1936 in the Legislative Act no. 36. The personal status codes of the Christian and Jewish sects were finally confirmed on 2 April 1951. On 24 February 1948, the Druze sect issued its own personal status code and on 16 July 1962, the final version of the personal status codes of the Muslim Sunni and Ja'fari sects were adopted. The Orthodox Copts were the last to be recognized according to Decree No. 553 issued on 24 July 1996, and they follow the Greek Orthodox personal status code. These legislative acts awarded each religious sect the right not only to administer its own affairs but to legislate, judge and carry out sentences in matters pertaining to their respective congregations (Mahmasani and Mesarra, 1970; Mahmasani, 1981; Bilani, 1984; Hanna, 1995–1998; Yunis, 1996; Jaafar, 1989).
Since the Personal Status Code is the mainstay of this study, an excursion into its history becomes necessary. Personal status or 'status personnel' originated during the Middle Ages in Europe. Although the Roman Law continued to be followed by some states, others preferred to codify their own based on tradition and custom. Anxious to avoid any problems that might be incurred through trade and travel between the different states or provinces, it was deemed wise to have two sets of rules and regulations: Real Status or 'status réels,' derived from Latin res, which dealt with material matters, 'Les biens'; and Personal Status or 'status personnel,' which dealt with personal concerns. It was further agreed that since people travelled frequently, the personal status code of their place of origin would be applied everywhere (Bilani, 1983).
This concept is still practised today by International Law, when it has to deal with individuals outside their own countries, and by states like Lebanon whose citizens belong to a variety of religious or ethnic groups. Thus a Lebanese residing abroad will be subject to the inheritance laws of his Lebanese Personal Status Code, and each sect, religious or ethnic, would follow its own personal status laws. However, we find that while the place of origin of the individual is the determining factor in International Law, in Domestic Law, it is the religious sect. In both cases, however, the International and the National or Domestic, 'personal status' refers to the social conditions that distinguish individuals from each other. In Lebanon, however, 'personal status' refers not only to one's social conditions but to his/her religious laws as well. This is made manifest in Article Nine of the Lebanese constitution which guarantees absolute freedom of belief and worship as well as respect of the various codes of personal status (Gemayel, 1985).
All of the 16 religious sects mentioned earlier had to submit their different personal status codes to the government. The codes dealt with marriage, divorce, guardianship and custody of children, adoption of children as well as inheritance. Although the personal status codes of the Christian sects were issued on 2 April 1951, they have not been ratified by the government to date consequent to the demonstrations and strikes carried out against them at the time. Lawyers objected to the new law claiming it extended the jurisdiction of the clerics too far, and the clergy objected to the limitations of the new law asking their jurisdiction be extended even further (Bilani, 1983).
Lebanese law defines marriage as a bilateral contract concluded in public, whereby the couple agree to live together for the sake of reproduction and support. As under coverture and the law of consortium, the husband and wife assume their respective obligations and identities with the husband being the head of the household and the wife assuming the role of femme couverte. Christian sects, with the exception of Protestants, consider marriage a holy sacrament rendering divorce very difficult if not impossible. A Christian Lebanese girl may, thus, get married with the approval of her father or guardian at a minimum age ranging between 13 and 16 years depending on the sect she belongs to. One sect even allows her to be represented at the wedding by proxy, thus, depriving her of her right to refuse marriage in public and before the priest. In such cases where the bride is underage, her husband if of age becomes her guardian, or if he is not his father or guardian would become ipso facto the guardian of the bride (Personal Status Code, 'PSC', Greek Catholic, Q 57, Q 59; Greek Orthodox, Art. 5; Evangelical, Arts. 2,79; Armenian Orthodox Arts. 3, 15; Syriac Orthodox, Arts. 4,5). Although Christian sects do not allow any conditional attachments to the marriage contract, exceptions abound. Thus, specification of the mahr, dowry, and other financial arrangements, as well as assertion of the virginity of the wife, and the severance of all premarital relations of the husband, are permitted (Bilani, 1983).
The mahr (the amount of money, property, or presents the prospective husband pays or gives to the bride) and the dowry (the amount of money or property given by the bride's family to the husband to administer) are optional. However, should they be required by the parties concerned, they should be specified in the marriage contract before it is finalized (PSC (Catholic), Arts. 39, 40, 43, 45–47, 58–59, 63; PSC (Syriac), Arts. 42–45, 48; PSC (Greek Orthodox), Arts. 40, 49, 52; PSC (Armenian), Arts. 79, 90, 92–93). This automatically turns marriage into a business transaction where, as under coverture, the woman, the commodity in question (body services), is literally bought or sold. This commodity status of the woman is further illustrated by losing the mahr and/or dowry to the husband if separation occurs due to any wrongdoing on her part. It is further amplified by the legalized ability of the prospective husband to break off the engagement with impunity if his fiancée is disfigured in an accident. However, should the woman break the engagement for previously known defects in the prospective husband (impotence, castration, and severance of male organ), she would have to pay twice the mahr value to her fiancé. Should the prospective husband deflower his fiancée and then break off the engagement, he would have to compensate her for the loss of her virginity, the amount to be determined according to her social standing (PSC (Greek Orthodox), Art. 9; PSC (Syriac), Arts.14–16).
Once the couple get married, they share certain rights and duties as specified by the Church they belong to. Thus, the husband is considered the head of his wife and the family. As such, it is his duty to procure a standard of living commensurate with that of his peers. As under coverture, it is the duty of the wife to live in the domicile of her husband and to follow him wherever his work may take him. Should she refuse to do so, the court, on the basis of the law of cohabitation (musakanah), may return her to her husband by force. She also has to bear his name even after his death unless she remarries. Should the wife be financially well off, while the husband is not, it is her duty to support him (PSC (Greek Orthodox), Arts. 28–29, 31; PSC (Catholic), Arts. 139–140, 153, 155; PSC (Evangelical), Arts. 30–32; PSC (Armenian), Arts. 46–47; PSC (Syriac), Arts. 33–35).
The husband, as under coverture, is in charge of administering the monies or property brought by the wife as a dowry. He is in total control of the dowry, such that the wife would need his permission to give some of it to her children on getting married, or make donations to charity, if she is without children and over 50 years of age. As mentioned earlier, all income incurred from the dowry is the sole property of the husband to help him defray family expenses. However, should the court direct him to refund the dowry to the wife or her heirs, he or his heirs may deduct all expenses incurred while administering the dowry as well as the wife's funeral and burial expenses (PSC (Catholic), Arts. 58–59, 63–65, 67–69; PSC (Greek Orthodox), Arts. 40–41, 49; PSC (Armenian), Arts. 79, 86, 90, 92–94; PSC (Syriac), Arts. 43–45).
During marriage, coverture is best demonstrated when it is the duty of the wife to bear her husband's name, live in his domicile and obey him in everything. Legally, the husband has the right to forbid his wife from working outside the home or frequenting certain areas he deems to be of ill repute (PSC (Greek Orthodox), Arts. 71, 29; PSC (Evangelical), Arts. 31–32; PSC (Armenian), Arts. 46–48; PSC (Syriac), Art. 33). She is to act as housekeeper limiting household expenditures to the budget assigned to her by her husband. Should the couple be separated or divorced as a result of her behaviour, she would have to pay her husband the salary of a maid plus whatever expenses are incurred due to her absence (PSC (Catholic), Art. 162; PSC (Evangelical), Arts. 32–33; PSC (Syriac), Art. 52).
The wife does not 'own' her body, whether in sexual relations or in reproduction. It is, in effect, the property of the husband. Thus, should she not be a virgin on the wedding night, the husband has the right to return her to her family as 'damaged goods' and retain the dowry or mahr or both as compensation for not having been privy to this information prior to the consummation of marriage. She can also be summarily sent back home if she refuses to have sex with her husband on demand or 'destroys his seed' through any form of contraception or abortion without his permission (PSC (Catholic), Art. 160; PSC (Greek Orthodox), Art. 71; PSC (Syriac), Art. 54).
Once she has children, and although motherhood is still extolled as sacred in Lebanon, as under coverture she has no authority over them except that delegated her by the husband. The father has absolute tutelage over the children in all things material or spiritual just as the children of the female slave belonged to her master (Pateman, 1988). The only domain that freely belongs to the mother is nursing. But, even here, she is required to nurse the baby until the age of two years. Should she be incapable of that, it is the prerogative of the father, or in his absence his own family, (but never the mother) to choose an appropriate nurse for the child. In case of separation, the mother is granted custody of the children until the ages of seven years for boys and nine years for girls. Thereafter, they revert to the custody of the father unless the court rules otherwise. Even while still married, if she is considered disobedient, or incapable of raising her children, or if she changes her sect or religion, she will be prevented from caring for the children (PSC (Catholic), Arts. 123–125; PSC (Greek Orthodox), Arts. 33–34, 64, 99–101; PSC (Evangelical), Arts. 71, 73–75,80; PSC (Armenian), Arts. 128–130,151; PSC (Syriac), Arts. 61, 63, 80).
Guardianship of the children is not a natural right of the mother. Should her husband die intestate without granting custody or guardianship of the children to the mother, it automatically reverts to the paternal grandfather, brother, uncle, cousin, and mother, respectively, or as specified by the courts. Moreover, should the mother remarry, she automatically loses custody or guardianship of her children (PSC (Greek Orthodox), Arts. 100–103; PSC (Evangelical), Arts. 81–85; PSC (Syriac), Arts. 80–82; PSC (Armenian, Art. 166; PSC (Catholic), Arts. 183–187).
Once the wife is considered recalcitrant, her husband has the right to stop paying her expenses (food, drink, clothes, shelter) and to desert her sexually. Furthermore, excepting Catholics, a husband may ask for separation, divorce or annulment in case the wife is discovered not to be a virgin, Arabic thayyib (deflowered), thus damaged goods, on the wedding night, or if she 'destroys his seed' with premedication. She may also be summarily divorced or separated from her husband if she socializes with people or frequents places claimed by the husband to be of 'ill repute' despite her husband's repeated admonishment. The husband may also obtain a divorce or separation if his wife spends the night in a place of 'dubious repute' without his permission, even if he himself had thrown her out of her marital home. She should have sought lodging at her parents', relatives', or friends' home instead. The husband may also divorce her if the court should require her to follow her husband to his place of residence and she refuses, or she has been required to go back to her marital home and she refuses. She may also be divorced if she had had committed adultery at the age of 14 years or older and kept it from her husband, or if she continues entertaining men without her husband's knowledge, despite having been rebuked by the parish priest three consecutive times without desisting.
While the husband may separate, divorce, or have his marriage annulled for the above-mentioned reasons, a woman may do so only if the husband forces her to commit adultery and she refuses. If, however, she submits to his demands out of fear or otherwise, she forfeits her right to divorce. She may also divorce him if he commits sodomy with her, or commits adultery in his marital home. However, should he commit adultery outside his marital home, he is exempt of any punishment. Finally, she may also divorce him if he accuses her of adultery without any proof, or allows his mistress to live in his marital home (PSC (Syriac), Arts. 50, 54; PSC (Greek Orthodox), Arts, 71–72).
Subordination of women does not stop here. It becomes even more flagrant when a woman loses her husband either through separation, divorce, annulment or death. If divorced because of adultery, a woman is forbidden to remarry. If the cause of divorce is impotence, castration, or severance of the male organ, and she had previous knowledge of it, she has to forfeit her trousseau and mahr. However, if she is deemed the guilty party, she is not only deprived of alimony, but is required, as mentioned earlier, to pay her husband the monthly salary of a 'maid' or whatever expenses had been incurred by the husband due to her absence, and she forfeits her mahr, trousseau and dowry as well (PSC (Syriac), Arts. 51, 57, 60; PSC (Catholic), Arts. 160–162). Her losses, unfortunately, are not only material, for she would also lose the custody of her children. Furthermore, a divorcee forfeits all rights to her children the minute she remarries (PSC (Armenian), Art. 31; PSC (Evangelical), Arts. 73–75, 79–85; PSC (Greek Orthodox), Arts. 64, 99–103).
Finally, a woman, who has lost her husband either through divorce or annulment or through death, may not remarry for a period of 3–10 months in an effort to authenticate paternity in case of pregnancy and/or until delivery (PSC (Syriac), Art. 11; PSC (Greek Orthodox), Art. 79; PSC (Evangelical), Art. 49; PSC (Armenian), Art. 19). However, should she claim pregnancy herself, she has to do so within a period of not more than 30 days (PSC (Greek Orthodox), Art. 83).
In view of the above survey, one is reminded of John Stuart Mill's description of marriage as 'the primitive state of slavery lasting on' having 'not lost the taint of its brutal origin' (Mill, 1970: 130). For, it is evident that a woman in Lebanon undergoes 'civil death' upon marriage, forfeiting almost every human right including the most basic – the right of self-determination. This is clearly demonstrated by a cursory look at the marriage certificate which does not require the signature of the bride; it provides one space designated for the signature of the bridegroom. From the day a Christian woman is born, she is under the tutelage of her father, who can marry her off, and in her absence, at the age of 13 years to an older man, who then assumes guardianship, or to an underage young man whose own father would assume responsibility of the underage bride until the groom is 20 years of age and can then become the official guardian of his wife (PSC (Syriac), Art. 7). On her wedding night, should she be found thayyib (without a hymen), she is summarily sent back home as damaged goods and loses whatever money was transacted at the finalization of the marriage contract. On reaching legal age, such paternal controls vanish and she becomes a full-fledged 'individual' and citizen with full rights and privileges.
Her freedom and independence, however, are short-lived. For once she is married, she loses the right to her maiden name even if widowed. She also loses her right to vote or run for office in her own district because her residence is the domicile of her husband wherever that may be. She loses her basic human right to move freely, socialize with whom she pleases or even seek employment or work outside the home without the approval of her husband. In the absence of all admission, or reference, to marital rape in the law, a wife loses control of her own body in her submission to her husband's sexual whims, and his desire for progeny. Refusal to submit may be considered recalcitrance, which could result in her being summarily sent home through the acts of separation or divorce. Although her only domain in this relationship is nursing (breast-feeding) the children, she is once again obliged by law to breastfeed the child for a period of not less than two years. The father alone is the legal guardian of the children in material and spiritual matters. Thus, among other constraints, a mother may not open a bank account in the name of her underaged children, file for passports for herself or her children, or travel with them abroad without the approval of their father.
In case of separation, divorce or annulment, the mother is custodian of the children until the ages of seven years for boys and nine years for girls unless her husband or the court appoints her as their permanent guardian. If not, the children will revert to the husband, and in case of his death or incapacity, to his father or relatives. If widowed, the wife retains custody of her children only if her husband's will specifies it or the court rules in her favour. A divorcee or widow may also lose all rights to her furniture and/or other household objects unless she can prove they were bought with her own money. If she had her own career and shared in the household expenses, she would still have to prove ownership of anything she claimed. If she is unable to do so, the court would allot the disputed belongings according to accepted conventions: thus a woman would be given the dishwasher and the man the computer (PSC (Greek Orthodox), Art. 55).
In 1996, 17 years after the declaration of the Convention on the Elimination of all Forms of Discrimination against Women, the Lebanese government finally ratified it with serious reservations regarding Article 16, among others, dealing with personal status (Moghaizel, 1993). This leaves the married woman a femme couverte completely under the control of her husband who literally owns both her person and services. The Personal Status Code is not, apparently, enough to subjugate the wife. Thus, the civil law is also co-opted to safeguard the rights of the husband in case the wife becomes rebellious: she is penalized in cases of abortion, adultery and desertion (Shehadeh, 1998). This reflects Edward Mansfield's observations upon writing the first major American analysis of the Legal Rights, Liabilities and Duties of Women in 1845: "It appears that the husband's control over the person of his wife is so complete that he may claim her society altogether; that he may reclaim her if she goes away or is detained by others; that he may use constraint upon her liberty to prevent her going away, or to prevent improper conduct... In most respects she loses the power of personal independence, and altogether that of separate action in legal matters." (Freeman, 1989: 372).
The right of men to control the female body is a cornerstone of patriarchy. It is expressed in their efforts to control sexual relations, pregnancy and childbirth. Male opposition to abortion or contraception is rooted in opposition to female autonomy and the belief that once married the woman's body becomes the property of the husband. Violence and the threat of violence against females represent the need of patriarchy to deny that a woman's body is her private property and that no one should have access to it without her consent. This is further highlighted by the monies the male pays or receives for her upon marriage and divorce: The sum paid reflects her worth and virginity. And this is why some sects prefer marriage at an early age and Jews and Shicite Muslims at birth or the age of nine respectively to insure virginity (Shehadeh, 1998). Once a sum of money is paid, the object paid for becomes the property of the buyer, and thus rape, which originally was a violation of a father's or husband's property right, could not be attributed to a husband, for how could he rape his own property?
Rape is legally defined, in Lebanon, as sexual intercourse by a male with a female, other than his wife, without the consent of the woman and effected by force (Penal Code, Arts. 503, 504). Thus, a husband cannot be guilty of raping his wife even if he forces himself upon her, the implication being that rape comprises illegal sex and excludes maritally unwanted or violent sex. In other words, violence in legal sex is not punishable since the wife is considered the property of the husband (Finkelhor and Yllo, 1985; Herman, 1989; Shefield, 1989; Reiss, 1990; Hassan, 1995). Actually, according to Lebanese law, should the rapist agree to marry his victim, all charges against him would be dropped. Thus William Thompson rightly called marriage the 'white-slave code', and John Stuart Mill argued that 'no slave is a slave to the same lengths, and in so full a sense of the word, as a wife is'. A husband can enforce 'the lowest degradation of a human being' by turning his wife into 'the instrument of an animal function contrary to her inclinations' (Pateman, 1988). Thus, the marriage contract in Lebanon is still far from fulfilling Elizabeth Cady Stanton's definition of marriage in 1860, namely, 'a contract made by equal parties to lead an equal life, with equal restraints and privileges on either side' (Pateman, 1988: 154).
Looking at the personal status codes of all Christian sects in Lebanon, one is intrigued by the fact that, although they were issued in 1951 under a secular government that allowed complete freedom in their formation, and following the directive sent by Pope Pius XII in 1936 to all Catholic sects in Lebanon emphasizing complete equality between husband and wife (another was issued in 1991), they represent the most recent edition of the law of coverture. All Christian personal status codes, with the exception of matters of inheritance and dogma, are based to a large extent on the Muslim personal status codes, which are in turn based on the sharicah (Islamic Divine Law). Thus we find that such practices as mahr, guardianship and custody of children, and the waiting period for authentication of paternity in cases of pregnancy, and the controlled movements of the wife outside the home are not only borrowed in toto from the sharicah, but often exceed its stipulations. This could be due to the fact that both Christians and Muslims of this region have been following the shari'ah for centuries, thus instilling the practice of the subordination of women into the customs and traditions of Christians themselves. Yet, such practices as requiring a dowry of the bride, or requiring a wife to help her husband financially, or requiring a wife separated from her husband to reimburse him for 'lost services' run counter to both the sharicah and Christian dogma. Such practices may therefore be the direct influence of French law, which at the time, was quite discriminatory against women, and the influence of patriarchy itself which has been the moving force behind the sharicah, French law and all other codes of law known to man. Finally, inasmuch as the study of the origins of the Christian personal status codes is important and valuable in shedding light on the understanding of such laws, such a study is beyond the scope of this paper and should be the mainstay of an independent effort.
Many may object at this point, that the described discrimination against women in Lebanese law does not reflect the true social status of women, who enjoy a great deal of freedom and are very well treated by their husbands. This is certainly true in general, but while most women are well treated and cared for, they remain dependent upon the benevolence of their husbands without specific rights. Accordingly, they have to favour their husbands' good will to ensure his continued care. According to Thompson, even 'if a husband chooses to forego all his legal powers, his wife still has 'but the pleasures of the slave, however varied', because her actions are always contingent upon the permission of her husband' (Pateman, 1988: 159). Moreover, while on the surface the marital equation in Lebanon seems on a par with contemporary Western standards, one needs to remember that Lebanese law follows the French textual codification system rather than the English Common Law, which is based mainly on the principle of precedence. Thus, the judicial system in Lebanon finds very little room for manoeuvering and interpretation and unless the law is actually changed, very little can be done to help married women in need of the law. Also, laws are intended to be imposed not on the 'good' loving men, but on the 'bad' or 'wicked.' Men are not and cannot be required to prove their fitness for the absolute power to be exercised over women after marriage. This form of 'dictatorship' is shared by good and bad men alike, rendering the formulation of protective, non-discriminatory laws a matter of priority.
Unfortunately, although there are many women organizations, especially after the Fourth World Conference on Women held in Beijing (1995), who are decrying the legal discrimination against women, none of them lobbied to change any part of the Personal Status Code. Yet, they have succeeded in repealing several secular laws such as the penal law against contraception in 1983; the difference in the age of retirement between men and women in 1987; the prohibition of testimony in real estate matters in 1993, and the prevention of married women from having their own businesses unless approved by their husbands in 1994; the prohibition of women of the diplomatic corps, stationed abroad, from marrying in 1995; and the absolution of crimes of honour in cases of flagrantae delectae in 2002 (Shehadeh, 1999). Although some NGOs raised awareness regarding the personal status codes and recommended they be replaced by an optional and uniform civil law, none of them took any serious measures to bring this about. In view of the multi-sectarian Lebanese society, many find the question of the Personal Status Code a highly sensitive politico-religious issue and is best left alone.
It is interesting to note that while the personal status codes of the various Lebanese denominations diverge in various areas, they all unite in suppressing and controlling women. This phenomenon may be contributed to by a number of factors: The fact that Lebanon and the Middle East are deeply religious and life is, to a large extent, moulded by religious teachings and influenced by the clergy. Both Christianity and Islam meet in pronouncing the husband the head of the family and instructing his wife to obey him. Furthermore, Christian personal status codes derive mainly from the sharicah. This may be due to Christian insecurity being a minority in an overwhelming Moslem region, and having been subject to long-standing Ottoman rule, where Islamic laws and values were the norm. Lebanon, like the whole region, remains fiercely patriarchal with all that entails in considering women passionate, emotional, weak, and therefore in need of male guidance and supervision. Finally, the use of French law as the basis of Lebanese jurisprudence at a time when it was itself quite discriminatory against women.
Although the role of women in the Arab world has not, historically, been so different from that of women in other societies and cultures over the centuries, women elsewhere have gradually liberated themselves from total subordination to men. In Lebanon, however, they still live in a system that has barely changed. While religious laws and prescriptions were well suited to patriarchal society centuries ago it is time, with current economic, political and social changes, that women in Lebanon become viewed and treated as equal to men. Unfortunately, women, used to being subsidized, are wary of liberation and the burdens and responsibilities that freedom brings with it. Unless, therefore, women themselves are convinced that liberty at any cost is far better than slavery, it will be a long time before laws are modified in their favour (Minces, 1982).
The reformation of the abject legal status of women in Lebanon should be the objective of both women and men if Lebanon is to take its place among the developed nations. Patriarchal law will never surrender readily or gracefully. It should probably be amended piecemeal and laboriously. The psycho-political tactic practiced here is the pretext that the indulgence with which upper-class women are treated is the happy lot of all women. The equality of married men and women before the law is absolutely necessary, not only for their own happiness and well being, but as conducive to the foundation of a society of equals. Thus, John Stuart Mill said in 1861,
We have had the morality of submission, and the morality of chivalry and generosity; the time is now come for the morality of justice.... The moral training of mankind will never be adapted to the conditions of the life for which all other human progress is a preparation, until they practice in the family the same moral rule which is adapted to the normal constitution of human society (Mill, 1970: 212)
The young middle class woman is easily intimidated into conformity, both social and sexual, by the spectre of cheap labour or prostitution hanging over her head. She is, thus, left to dream of becoming a 'lady', enjoying a good social and economic status by attracting a suitable male and becoming his chattel. Therefore, when the only known freedom is that attained through the generosity of a wealthy male, there is little motivation to fight for liberation (Millett, 1988).
The required changes will necessarily be laborious and fraught with difficulties such as the support by women, in general, of the role of the dominant husband as provider and protector. This is essentially a safety valve obviating the specter of responsibility and the market place. As such they will not perceive their status as unjust until they are made to realize that often options exist; until they desire true liberty and self-determination as inevitable and inalienable rights. Moreover, these changes cannot and will not be effected through religious reform. The clerics involved guard their power and influence too jealously to allow that. As such, any change will have to be through secularization of the status codes by the government. However, this too is proving to be quite difficult since governments are also influenced and pressured by the clerics – witness the changes attempted by the Tunisian government (an Islamic state) under Bourguiba, which had a brief lifespan and quickly met its demise under intense religious pressure. The situation in Lebanon is much more complex. The country has a Christian overtone and any attempt to modify existent status codes, especially the Islamic, will be looked upon as religious interference and suppression. Indeed, when a feeble attempt to secularize status codes (legalization of civil marriages), albeit on an optional basis, was proposed by then President Elias Hrawi, it was met by such an uproar by Christian and Moslem clerics alike that it had to be quickly shelved.
Thus to arrive at gender 'equality' in Lebanon, the various personal status codes should be unified into one cohesive legal body applicable to all sects alike, providing absolute equality in rights and privileges for men and women alike. This, however, necessitates separating the religious from the political spheres, and these, for the time being at least, are too entwined to disentangle. As such, both men and women, convinced of the current injustice to women, should keep hammering away at the legislature to effect the required changes piece-meal, until a sweeping change is made possible by general public awareness, and the increasingly more insistent winds of change. Only then would the marriage contract, as described by Hegel, create a meaningful relation based on 'love, trust, and common sharing of their entire existence as individuals' (Pateman, 1988: 174).
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