Despite conservative laws hindering gender equality in Jordan, a vibrant civil society has striven to improve women’s legal and socio-economic status.
Female employees of the Jordanian National Commission for Women in Amman, for instance, are committed to enhancing female representation in leadership roles and fostering the implementation of international human rights policies, namely the Convention on the Elimination of Discrimination against Women.
On December 10, Princess Basma Bint Talal, who chairs the commission, urged the media to create a debate on the highly controversial article 308 of the Jordanian penal code.
It stipulates that a rapist can walk free from legal prosecution if he marries his victim for at least five years. He will otherwise go to jail for seven years. The rape of a child under 15 is punishable by death.
In Jordan, when a woman is raped, she has three choices: she can be forced into marrying her rapist to protect her family’s honor. This enables him to avoid prosecution. The victim’s parents or relatives could murder her for bringing dishonor upon the family. In rarer cases, she could stay alive but her family would usually disown her.
Thankfully, Jordan has a vibrant civil society that fights for the abolition of the article. At the Princess Basma Youth Resource Center in Amman, young activists lamented the lack of gender equality in the country in a meeting on December 13.
“…a rapist can walk free from legal prosecution if he marries his victim”
In 2012, Jordanian activists and bloggers organized street protests and circulated an online petition calling the government to eliminate Article 308.
The move followed the rape of a 14-year-old girl for three consecutive days. A 19-year-old man kidnapped her while she was shopping in Zarqa, a city of the north of the country, and took her to the desert.
Data from Jordan’s Minister of Justice found that 159 rapists avoided punishment by marrying their victims from 2010 to 2013. It recorded 300 rapes annually on average.
Getting married to a rapist is accepted in Jordanian society because a woman’s virginity is the crucial factor of her worth. If she is not a virgin, she is not deemed pure and therefore cannot get married.
Jordanian lawmakers hence argue that Article 308 prevents rape victims from being outcasted by society.
Rape is ever more horrific for Jordanian women as, if they get pregnant, the Civil Status Law does not recognize the newborn’s biological father unless there is a legal marriage contract. Islamic law and civil law in Muslim countries discriminate against “illegitimate children”.
The importance of outreach
It is key for civil society and local and international human rights organizations to raise awareness of pro-rapist laws and honor killings in Jordan and elsewhere in the world because it has really made a difference.
In January 2014, Morocco’s parliament voted unanimously to amend an article of the penal code – similar to Jordan’s Article 308 – after activists’ intensive lobbying and protests across the country.
Local and international media shed light on the rape law when 16-year-old Amina al-Filali committed suicide by swallowing rat poison after her parents and a judge forced her to marry her rapist.
Egypt, where women suffer from constant sexual assaults, also cancelled a similar provision a few years ago.
Forced marriages to rapists is not an Islamic practice
There is not any source in the Quran that clearly promotes or refers to forcing girls and women to get married to their rapists. Honor killing is not Islamic either. It is a custom common in the Middle East as well as Afghanistan and India.
Human Rights Watch sets out that honor killings gather “crimes (that) are acts of violence, usually murder, committed by male family members against female family members, who are held to have brought dishonor upon the family, (such as) refusing to enter into an arranged marriage, being the victim of a sexual assault, seeking a divorce – even from an abusive husband – or (allegedly) committing adultery.”
Women are not allowed to defend themselves in courts because honor killing is considered a private issue in Muslim countries. In addition, familial and social pressures usually discourage women from seeking legal remedies.