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Not Backing Down Against ‘Marry-Your-Rapist’ Laws

Thanks to years of advocacy by women’s rights groups, civil society and policymakers, laws that allow rapists to escape punishment by marrying their victims are being repealed across the Middle East and North Africa.

In a huge step towards eliminating violence against women and girls, Tunisia, Jordan and Lebanon have all repealed discriminatory laws that protected criminals and turned marriage into a prison for rape victims. The momentum speaks for itself – all of these so-called ‘marry-your-rapist’ laws fell within a span of three weeks!

On 26 July Tunisia repealed the law when it passed a bill aimed at eliminating violence against women, on 1 Aug Jordan fully revoked the law by repealing Article 308 and on 16 Aug Lebanon moved forward towards honoring its international commitments to women’s human rights by repealing Article 522.

“Today Parliament sent a message that rape is a crime and will be treated as a crime. This message should be made loud and clear with public and legal education to ensure that violations no longer occur under the pretext of protecting “family honor”.”  – Samira Atallah, Equality Now Senior Advisor

These kinds of marriage loopholes in rape cases have been seen all over the world and are perpetuated in the name of preserving family “honor”. These laws further traumatize women and girls who have been raped by forcing them to marry the very person who violated them and denies their chance for justice.

Equality Now is thrilled to see governments repealing these blatantly discriminatory – and violence promoting – laws across the Middle East and North Africa (MENA) region.

“Every step you take towards revoking any law makes a difference,” said Equality Now’s Suad Abu Dayyeh, Middle East and North Africa Consultant“Changing laws is not an easy process. Women’s groups have been calling for change for so many years.”

Abolishing these kinds of laws has been part of Equality Now’s longstanding global campaign to end sexism in the law.  Almost two decades later we are encouraged to see the increased political will to end them across the region.

Persistence Pays Off

We first started seeing these laws fall in 1999 when Egypt became the first country in the MENA region to repeal it’s ‘marry-your-rapist’ law. A few years later in 2005, Ethiopia followed suit. Then came Morocco in 2014, followed most recently by Tunisia, Jordan, and Lebanon.

Strong local women’s coalitions have refused to accept violence against women and girls as the status quo. In Jordan, the unrelenting advocacy of the 110 member-strong “Civil Coalition to Revoke Article 308” coordinated by Sisterhood is Global Institute, the Arab Women Organization, and strong parliamentarians led to success. In Lebanon, we congratulate our campaign partners, the Lebanese Council to Resist Violence against Woman (LECORVAW) and the ABAAD-Resource Center for Gender Equality, who we are continuing to work with to make sure that no other gaps in sexual violence laws remain.

Last December, Equality Now, the Coalition of Women MPs from Arab Countries to Combat Violence Against Women, Arab Women Organization, and the Westminster Foundation for Democracy brought together civil society leaders and current and former parliamentarians from across the MENA region to strategize on ways to end these ‘marry-your-rapist’ laws.

Just seven months later, we have seen incredible progress! Living in Amman, Jordan  Suad has seen first-hand the local activism and campaigning that has led to this moment. She said the involvement of so many different people across all levels, especially on social media, spurred parliamentarians to finally fix this broken law.  

She is confident that revoking these ‘marry-your-rapist’ laws is laying the groundwork for a more comprehensive overhaul of discriminatory laws across the MENA region. “The impact of this is going to be huge. Lawmakers will really start to think about other discriminatory provisions in the penal code.

Right now, Iraq, Bahrain, Kuwait, and Palestine have similar ‘marry-your-rapist’ laws. These countries need to follow their neighbors and stand up for women and girls so that future generations will not experience this kind of cruelty and re-victimization!