Due to the efforts of Westminster Foundation for Democracy and the Coalition in supporting repealing the articles that exempt the rapist from penalty if he marries the victim, a conference was organised entitled: (Towards Repealing the Articles that Exempt the Rapist from Penalty in Penal Codes in the Arab Countries) in cooperation with the Arab Women Organisation and Equality Now. The latter works on protecting Human rights pertaining to women and girls in different parts of the world through working with women organizations, human rights organisations, and activists from 1992. Equality Now works on documenting violence and discrimination against women and it works on mobilizing the international community to support its efforts to stop such violations.
MP Magda Al-Nuaishi, the Vice chair of the Coalition said in the opening session: ” It’s my pleasure to start with the opening speech representing the coalition and one of the countries (Egypt) which is a pioneer in cancelling one of the shameful articles in the penal code that exempts the rapist from penalty if he marries the victim.” She stressed on the efforts of the coalition regarding combating violence against women including the seminar that was held at the Lebanese Parliament in cooperation with the women committee and MP Gilbert Zwein, who is a member in the coalition, about article 522. She added that the Administration and Justice Committee recommended cancelling the article and it is now waiting to be passed by the parliament. She added Also that in Iraq MP Intisar Al-Jabbouri submitted a memo to cancel article 398 from the Iraqi penal code which protects the rapist if he marries the victim. The memo was sent to the Speaker of the House who sent it to the Law and Justice Committee to review it. She added saying:”Arab women in Jordan, Iraq, Syria, Libya, Bahrain, Algeria, Tunisia, and Mauritanian are still suffering from such codes.” She also pointed out to the conference: ‘Toward a Convention to Combat Violence against Women in the Arab Region,’ which was held at the Arab League in Cairo, and which achieved a strong impact on the regional level, the legislative level, and the media level. she added that during that conference many parliamentarians, experts, lawyers, and statesmen from all Arab countries participated and she said: “We will work hard to get this convention ratified, and history will remember that we submitted an Arab convention to combat violence against women, which is fair, adheres to the Arab traditions, and copes with the worldwide development of women’s rights and international accords.”
Su’ad Abu Dayeh, the Consultant of Equality Now in the Middle East and North Africa, welcomed the guests and said: “We value the efforts of the coalition in drafting the convention and we are glad to cooperate with them as well as with Westminster Foundation for Democracy in convening this conference.” Regarding article 522 of the Lebanese Penal Code, she said: “I wish that the Lebanese Parliament take a courageous step and cancel article 522.” She added that there should be a focus on the assaulter and the rapist equally, because assault can take many forms. She added that we should learn from the experience of Morocco, as article 574 was cancelled, and from Egypt where the same article was cancelled.
Henry Richard, the Program Manager of Middle East and North Africa at Westminster Foundation for Democracy, said: “I would like to thank Ms. Su’ad from Equality Now and the representatives of Civil Society organisations, and I would like to assert that Westminster Foundation is glad to support the coalition in the field of cancelling the articles that exempts the perpetrator from penalty.” He also said that the coalition has been working on a convention to combat violence against women in cooperation with Westminster Foundation for Democracy.
Mrs. Laila Nafa’a From Arab Women Organisation said: “Undoubtedly, these rules remind us that the equality rights for women are on the brink now due to the conflicts, the culture that is based on gender violence, and the government that represents the patriarchal relations, and reflects the intermarriage between the extremist religious movement and the tribal society.” She added: “Arab Women try to promote equality and combat violence based on gender and extremism. These efforts were fruitful when the Administration and Justice Committee in the Lebanese Parliament issued its decision to cancel article 522.” “Here the role of parliamentarians in confronting unfair legislation appear.” She added.
Asma Khader pointed to the fact that the origin of such codes is French and that in Italy this article was canceled by the end of the eighties and in France in the nineties, and that the society is affected by such offensive actions because individuals may feel insecure while the constitution provides for the right to feel secure. She also pointed to the necessity of integrating the public right with the personal right because the perpetrator should be punished. She added: “I want to highlight the responsibility of the country as it is the entity that should provide the necessary help and this is the main factor in combating violence against women.”
MP. Khaled Ramadan spoke about the experience of Jordan in its pursuit to cancel article 308 and said: “The women’s issue is not the nation’s issue, but the nation is the women’s issue.” “Activists for justice worth respect because they are fighters struggling for their cause” He pointed out to the roots of exempting the rapist from his penalty once he marries the victim saying:” This is due to the legislative and the judiciary systems through which the controlling elite prefer being attached to the past as backwards to fulfill their own benefit. Thus, it’s neither the patriarchal societies nor the customs and tradition that lead to such article.” Here he pointed to the importance of converting Jordan to a civil state to deal with all the economic, social, and political problems saying: “The civil state is not against religion, it respects religion but politics is impure and that is why we have social problems and that is why we should separate religion from politics.” He pointed to the initiative dated April 17, 2016 where 20 MPs submitted a memorandum asking to repeal article 308.
Hasna Mansour, the Program Manager at Westminster Foundation for Democracy, spoke about the regional steps in the Arab world to promote equality and combat violence against women. She pointed out to the phenomena of violence against women which is not only an Arab phenomena, but an international phenomena too, about which societies complained and are still complaining. She spoke about the problems of violence against women in the Arab world including minors’ marriage, female gentile mutilation, forced prostitution, and sexual harassment. She pointed out as well to the problems in some articles in the penal codes in the Arab countries as they are shameful and insulting for women. She said: “Among those articles are those exempting the rapist from his penalty should he approve to marry the victim, and that makes her a victim twice.” She also highlighted that some countries are not taking action regarding honor crimes and that is through the mitigating excuse privilege granted to the perpetrator.” “This reflects the approval of criminal acts which is a dangerous issue.” She added.
MP Intisar Jabbouri pointed out to the girls and women in Iraq who are suffering especially with the rising of the sexual harassment problem, and said: “Iraqi women have suffered for a long time from losing their basic rights including their personal freedom to choose their partner, the future father of their children, under the umbrella of religion, customs, and traditions.”
Dr. Fawziah Al Bayed from Morocco spoke about the experience of Morocco in canceling the ‘marry-your-victim’ article and pointed to the fact that exempting the rapist from penalty is a multiple raping of rights, a stigma, a deviation, and an encouragement for spreading escaping-penalty culture. She also pointed to the conservative rural areas where women who lose their virginity are stigmatized and considered unsuitable for marriage.
Salma Al Nems, the Head of the Jordanian National Commission for Women stressed on the idea that the conference should come up with different mechanisms for implementation saying: “We have a legislative problem and an executive problem. Our focus should be on public deterrence. Thus, the legislation will not alone bear the responsibility for changing the society views. The challenge to cancel article 308 completely is the social discourse predominance over legislation, and the latter is the tool to change the society.” She added: “The state should be committed to apply the legislation and there is a gap between the discourse and its application.” She wondered about the efforts being taken by the state whether in curricula or in the media to establish for a positive ideology. She added that there is a decision from the Council of Ministers which gives the national commission the power to review the legislation, and yet it faces many challenges. She also pointed to the problems in the penalty code through two points: 1- considering the violation as a violation of honor and not the body.2- there is still discrimination against women in the penal code.
Laura Sfair, the chairperson of the Lebanese Council to Resist Violence against Women said: “the Lebanese Council participated in meetings, workshops, and conferences that were held in Britain and Amman in cooperation with Westminster Foundation for Democracy in which the exchange of experiences took place with Arab countries and which yielded the coalition of women MPS. On another level, the council was dedicated to be active in Lebanon through coordinating with the secretariat general of the parliament and a number of MPs. Moreover, many workshops were held that targeted CSOs, activists, lawyers, and media professionals to spread awareness regarding the disadvantages of the article that allows the rapist to be exempted of his penalty once he marries the victim and the necessity to repeal it.”
Mr. Muneer Dua’ibes presented the study that the Civil Alliance to Cancel Article 308 from the Penal Code has conducted. He pointed that lately there was an increasing demand to cancel article 308 and that the only obstacle is that the civil society had no statistics at all regarding whether the society is with or against cancelling article 308 and said: “For that reason, we decided to conduct a study that includes all of the governorates in the kingdom and we found that there are cases were applying article 308 can be impossible like: if the victim is already married, or if the victim and the perpetrator are of different religions. We issued a position paper and submitted it to the Prime Ministry and after a month the article was discussed by the Council of Ministers. At the end, the article was amended but not repealed, and we are looking forward to repeal it completely.”
Liza Hido, the Chairperson of Women of Baghdad’s Society presented a paper in which she said: “Iraqi women suffer from varied types of violence that include all of their life aspects. This is considered a violation of their rights that may deprive them from their human rights. This is resulted from the discriminatory practices which are based on gender at a time were gender equality should be achieved to fulfill human rights.”
Fatima Abu Idris, the chairperson of Bahraini Women Union, spoke about the civil society movement to cancel article 353 from the Bahraini penal code and she said: “Raping is one of the crimes that is characterized by the utmost degrees of violence against women and it affects the victim, the family, and the whole society.”
Mr. Raji Al-Hussaini from Al-Karama Spring Alliance spoke about the women movement in Morocco and he said that the demand for Women’s rights is not a new thing within the Moroccan society and it didn’t emerge as a result of international charters and said: “What Morocco is living now is a dynamic and a momentum movement within the civil society organisations and this goes back to the demands for equality before Morocco’s independence.
Mr Jihad Harb, presented a paper about the forms of cooperation between the parliamentarians and the civil society and he said: “The civil society should overview the parliamentarians constantly, and leaders in political parties should be involved to support women’s rights.” He added that the religious people who are advocate for women, the media, and the decision makers should be involved as well. He stressed that the the civil society should classify parliamentarians into proponents, opponents, and neutral parliamentarians and work on lobbying them. He pointed to the necessity of attending hearing sessions at the parliament by the civil society and that the existence of social media should give the parliamentarians and the civil society the opportunity to spread the awareness across the nation. Finally, he said that signing conventions and charters is of a great importance.