Earlier this week, Jordan’s cabinet finally moved to abolish a law that exempts rapists from prosecution if they marry their victims. The proposal was endorsed by King Abdullah and is a result of years of campaigning by women’s rights groups. Although the proposal must now be debated in parliament before the article is abolished, a process that can take months, it is a major step forward for Jordan and is setting the precedent for the region.
Jordan has truly pioneered in the region by setting the standard in abolishing this rape law. Similar articles exist in the law in Algeria, Iraq, Kuwait, Lebanon, Libya, Palestine and Syria. While the root of the law stems from colonial rule by the French, which saw French law adopted, the article is outdated. Some argue that marrying the rapist actually protects women form possible honor killings that their families may undertake if the law didn’t exist. There is nothing that rips honor straight out of a woman than marrying her rapist.
Two further steps are needed for this law to be effective
Abolishing the law is only the first step in reform and protecting women’s right to exist. There are two major steps that must follow suit. The first step comes through abolishing the exemption clauses that give lenient sentences to murders in the cases of honor killings. The second step that must follow suit is reforming society and public opinion and perception of victims of rape.
Article 340 of Jordan’s Penal Code reduces the penalty if a man kills or attacks a female relative if she commits adultery. This is a further extension under article 98 of the penal code, which reduces the penalty for murder if the killer is in a “state of great fury”. These two articles are prime examples of abominations to women’s rights. Further to the vilification that women receive from society for adultery, the law is fundamentally designed with loopholes that would allow their partners and family to literally get away with murder.
The region’s obsession with “honor” is outdated and easily misconstrued. There is honor and pride in a woman achieving her dreams, purchasing her first home, and seeking education – the honor of a woman is not a currency, and is most definitely not a function of her ‘purity’ or ‘virginity’, at least it shouldn’t be in this day and age. If society continues to value a woman by her virginity, then society needs a major reality and priority check.Yara al-Wazir
The region’s obsession with “honor” is outdated and easily misconstrued. There is honor and pride in a woman achieving her dreams, purchasing her first home, and seeking education – the honor of a woman is not a currency, and is most definitely not a function of her ‘purity’ or ‘virginity’, at least it shouldn’t be in this day and age. If society continues to value a woman by her virginity, then society needs a major reality and priority check.
According to Human Rights Watch, 2016 saw a 53 per cent increase in the rates of honor killings. Addressing Article 340 and 98 in conjunction with Article 308 (which addresses this rape law) is key to creating a safe environment for women.
No precedent for rape or honor killing under Islamic Law
Fundamentally, a killing is a killing. The Quran quotes a monumental verse ‘if anyone killed a person not in retaliation or murder… it would be as if he killed all of mankind”– the same is true for honor killings: murder is murder, regardless of the context. Honor killings must be treated for what they are: murder.
From an Islamic Law perspective, there is no Islamic-legal precedent to forgive a man if he marries his victim; cases of sexual assault during the life of the Prophet lead to the punishment of the man, with no mention of an exception being made if the rapist marries his victim.
Jordan has taken the first major step in protecting the rights of women to exist and live freely; this step must be heavily encouraged so that other countries follow-suit. Jordan must now continue this great plight and work to abolish outdated clauses that protect murders. Given enough time, this will inevitably lead to societal reform and allow women to regain control of their lives and ensure they have the right to live and love as they wish.
Yara al Wazir is a humanitarian activist. She is the founder of The Green Initiative ME and a developing partner of Sharek Stories. She can be followed and contacted on twitter @YaraWazir
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