Tunisia passed a law to combat violence against women on July 26, while Jordan abolished the use of marriage to avoid rape prosecutions on August 4.
In just three weeks time, two Arab countries adopted major steps to combat violence against women, with Jordan abolishing a law allowing rapists to avoid prosecution by marrying their victims, while Tunisia adopting its first national law to prevent gender-based violence and provide support to survivors.
In the case of Jordan, the law until now allowed a rapist to avoid prosecution by marrying his victim for a minimum period of five years. However, the parliament of Jordan on August 4th voted to abolish the so-called “rape law” of the penal code.
“The abolishing of article 308 is an important victory for the women’s movement in Jordan,” said Wafa Saed Bani Mustafa, a lawyer and MP, currently serving as head of the Women’s Caucus and chairperson of the Coalition of Women MPs to Combat Violence against Women, the UN specialised entity reported.
“My engagement began in 2013, when I started advocating for the abolishment of this article, along with a group of other parliamentarians while serving in Jordan’s 17th parliament. I started this action because of my strong belief in the need to eliminate all forms of discrimination against women in our national laws, as I believe that Jordanian women are citizens with equal rights and duties.”
In recent years, the advocacy to abolish Article 308 has been growing into a strong front, led by national and international organisations, justice sector professionals, journalists and women’s rights activists, adds the UN entity dedicated to gender equality and the empowerment of women.
‘Continued Drama, fear and abuse’
Emphasising the “continued trauma, fear and abuse that rape survivors endure when forced to marry their rapists,” civil society, parliamentarians and other actors formed a dedicated coalition in 2015. Together, they demanded the adoption of better legal measures to protect survivors of rape, sexual assault and harassment, and to punish the perpetrators to end impunity, adds UN Women.
“It is important to introduce the concept that marriage is not the only option for rape survivors,” added Mustafa. “Survivors should know that they can receive adequate physical and psychological support, that they can become financially independent and be reintegrated into the society.”
More than 200 activists and representatives of the civil society attended the discussion in parliament on August 2nd and circulated an online petition, which gathered 5,000 signatures from the public in one day, in support of this legislative reform, according to UN Women.
“Also invaluable was the contribution of the Jordanian National Commission for Women, the national women’s agency, headed by Princess Basma bint Talal, who is as well the UN Women’s national goodwill ambassador in Jordan.”
“The unfailing advocacy efforts of the Jordanian National Commission for Women, the joint action of the civil society and the continuous commitment of the women’s movement at all levels in the past years have paved the way for this historic reform, and continue to sustain the advancement of the women’s empowerment in Jordan,” said Ziad Sheikh, UN Women representative in Jordan.
UN Women has been a steadfast supporter of the Jordanian National Commission for Women and Jordanian civil society in their advocacy efforts.
In 2016, it also organised a dialogue on the issue between Jordanian and Moroccan parliamentarians, since Morocco had successfully abolished similar discriminatory provisions from its laws.
Violence against women in Tunisia
For its part, Tunisia made new strides by passing its first national law to combat violence against women, on July 26th this year.
The long-awaited legislation, which passed with 146 votes out of 217 and zero abstentions, takes a comprehensive approach by combining measures for prevention of violence and support for survivors, UN Women reports.
“As a Tunisian woman, I am very proud that this law has been adopted. This is the climax of the steps that began through the adoption of the code of personal status in 1956,”said Naziha Labidi, minister of women, family and childhood.
The new violence against women law adopts a broad definition of violence. In addition to physical violence, the law recognises other forms of violence against women and girls, including economic, sexual, political and psychological.
It also provides for new protection mechanisms that will enable survivors to access the necessary services and legal and psychological assistance.
No impunity for perpetrators
Furthermore, the law eliminates impunity for perpetrators of violence, for example, by amending the Article 227 of the penal code, which pardoned a perpetrator of a sexual act with a minor when the perpetrator married his victim.
The passing of the law follows several years of advocacy efforts led by Tunisian civil society and national institutions, in collaboration with international organisations, including UN Women.
“Prior to this law, the only progressive legislation that promoted gender equality was the code of personal status, which abolished polygamy, established the minimal age for marriage, introduced the requirement of mutual consent of both parties for a marriage, and created a judicial procedure for divorce.”
UN Women supported the development of advocacy tools, including guidance for parliamentarians on the international standards to combat violence against women and an article-by-article analysis of the draft law, which was then submitted by the UN system to the assembly of people’s representatives (Tunisian parliament).
Fifty percent of Tunisian women experienced violence
Pointing to several recent studies, including the national survey on violence against women in 2010, which estimated that nearly 50% of Tunisian women have experienced violence in their lifetime, MP Bochra Belhaj Hmida said: “This is why the establishment of a legal framework against violence was needed.”
She also stressed on the importance of education within the family and from an early age to prevent such violence, adds UN Women.
“UN Women Maghreb is proud to have contributed to every step of this great success—from the very first drafting [of the law] in 2014, to the challenging debates that ensued. The law marks a major step towards achieving gender equality in Tunisia,” said Leila Rhiwi, UN Women representative in Maghreb Multi-Country Office.
“I would like to stress the incredible mobilization, tenacity and perseverance of Tunisian civil society in this process. The sustainable and long-term dialogue and partnerships that we built with them since 2014 is undoubtedly a key factor of this success, ” she added.
While passing of the law marks a significant step in the right direction, translating it into practice through appropriate implementation measures and resources will be key to making a tangible difference to women’s lives, according to the UN Women.
“Some mechanisms are already in place to assist the process – for example, five Tunisian ministries (social affairs, justice, women, family and children, the interior and health) adopted and signed multi-sectoral protocols in December 2016.”
These protocols constitute a set of procedural guidance and mechanisms to improve coordination among frontline service providers under these sectors to better serve survivors of violence, whose needs often encompass a full range of services, from justice to health and housing. Representatives from the five ministries also meet every month to jointly follow up on individual cases of women survivors.