Under the patronage of Her Excellency Mrs. Hala Bisiso Lattouf, Minister of Social Development, the Coalition of Women MPs from Arab Countries to Combat Violence against Women, in collaboration with Equality Now, the Arab Women organization and the Westminster Foundation for Democracy held a strategic meeting entitled: “The Strategic Meeting: Towards Repealing the Articles that exempt the Rapist from Penalty in Arab Countries”
During the opening session, MP Wafa’ Bani Mustafa, the Chairperson of the Coalition, referred to the draft Arab Convention to Combat Violence against Women and Girls and Domestic Violence, which was submitted to the Arab League in December 2016 and distributed to a number of parliaments in the Arab countries. She also pointed out that the convention was sent to the Arab Inter-Parliamentary Union and said: “Currently, the coalition has gained an observer status over the Arab Inter-Parliamentary Union Meetings.” She pointed out to the success of the coalition’s latest conference in Tunisia entitled ‘Combating Violence against Women in the Arab Region between Scripts and Implementation’ and stressed that the articles that exempt the rapist from punishment in the Arab countries carry the same content, but with different numbers.
As for the repealing article 308 in Jordan, she pointed out that the coalition has started a campaign in Jordan in cooperation with the CSOs, and that the political will was there. She also added that the Royal Commission for the Development of the Judiciary recommended that the article be completely repealed. She pointed out that while the Jordanian parliament voted on the complete repealing of Article 308, civil society organizations exerted great efforts and played a role in mobilizing the Jordanian public opinion in this regard. “We as parliamentarians have a legislative responsibility and we hope to work with civil society organizations more effectively,” she said.
Jackie Hunt, Director of Equality Now’s Europe Office, said: “We must think that we should not work alone, but work together (as civil society organizations and parliaments) to change the region. It is really impressive to witness a coalition in this region that is working on this change. But beside this advancement, we can see groups that are trying to take us backwards”
“Despite the security and political turmoil in the region, this has not hindered women’s movement and women have made progress,” said Ms. Hasna Mansour of the Westminster Foundation for Democracy. “We are proud of the members of the coalition who led the legislative process in repealing such shameful articles.” She elaborated that the coalition held a conference in Lebanon in which it contributed in mobilizing public opinion; as it sent a letter to Mr. Nabih Berri in this regard. About repealing Article 308 in Jordan and Article 522 in Lebanon she said: “These achievements took long steps and civil society organizations have worked jointly with the parliamentarians to fulfill this great achievement, and we are here to share lessons learned and come up with recommendations to submit them to the concerned parties.”
“We are proud of the presence of H.E. Hala Bseisou Lattouf as Minister of Social Development due to her permanent support for women’s issues,” said Laila Nafaa, Program Manager of the Arab Women Organization. She noted that the Arab Women Organization had worked closely with the Jordanian National Commission for Women on a plan to repeal Article 308 and said: “We have celebrated repealing it despite wars and conflicts in the region.” She added: “Since 2011, conflicts, wars and refugees have increased, and it prevailed among governments to give security and peace a priority at the expense of women’s rights.” In that regard, she urged that a dialogue should be opened with officials in terms of how women rights can enhance security. She pointed out that the Arab Women Organization is currently working with Equality Now on demanding the right of citizenship for the children of Jordanian women.
The opening session ended with H.E. Hala Lattouf saying: “I send a tribute to the Palestinian, Yemeni, Syrian, Iraqi and Libyan women. I thank the Westminster Foundation, the Coalition of Women MPs, Equality Now and the Arab Women Organization, I welcome women from Arab countries.” She added that Violence against women of all forms is totally unjustified and must be eliminated in various ways, including laws and legislation. She stressed that the marriage of the rapist to the victim is not to form a family, but it is rather to escape penalty and said: “This is the logic by which we were able to persuade those who were against repealing Article 308.” She referred to the system of social services provided by the Ministry of Social Development to provide advisory services and accommodation services to victims “We are sheltering those at risk in a special shelters instead of prisons,” she said. “We are in the process of concluding an agreement to integrate civil society organizations into the social services system.” she added.
The first session dealt with local, regional and international mechanisms to protect women and girls from violence and rape and was chaired by Her Excellency Mrs. Asma Khadr. The second session dealt with the legislative initiatives and what is necessary to cancel or introduce in laws: the experience of Jordan, Iraq, Palestine and Lebanon where the session was chaired by MP Khalid Ramadan. The third session dealt with the experiences of civil society organizations regarding the opportunities, challenges and solutions proposed in countries on the elimination of marry-your-rapist articles. The session was chaired by Suad Abu Dayyeh, Equality Now Advisor in the Middle East and North Africa, in which research papers were introduced by Civil society representatives from Jordan, Palestine, Lebanon, Libya, Kuwait, Bahrain, Algeria and Iraq.
The second day focused on challenges, opportunities and proposed solutions to repeal marry-your-rapist articles in penal codes. Mr. Nasser Al Rayes, an international legal expert, spoke about the opportunities, the challenges and the development strategies. Journalist and activist Rana Husseini talked about the media’s role in repealing marry-your-rapist articles. The countries were divided into two groups: the first group consisted of: Lebanon, Libya, Iraq and Algeria; the second group consisted of Jordan, Palestine, Bahrain and Kuwait. The groups then engaged in an open debate on challenges, opportunities and solutions.