On August 1st, the Jordanian government voted to repeal Article 308, a provision of the law that allows rapists to avoid punishment if they marry their victims and stay with them for at least three years, as long as the victim is between the ages of 15 and 18, of course.
Though the motion must also be approved by the country’s upper house and signed by King Abdullah II, the decision marks a progressive step forward for the majority-Muslim country. Salma Nims, the Secretary-General of the Jordanian National Commission for Women, remarked that “this is a historic moment not only for Jordan, but for the entire region.” On the day of the vote, hundreds of protesters staged a sit-in outside the parliament building, demanding the law be abolished. Article 308 has been protested for years as a violation of human rights and for giving impunity to perpetrators but has been a part of Jordanian penal code since the 1960s. “The article is not based on a logical or legal rationale. It is not justified and it does not stand in line with our culture, knowledge and logical thinking,” said Asma Khader, a leading women’s rights activist who heads the organization Sisterhood is Global Institute. Her and other non-government organizations worked hard to contact parliament members and give them accurate information about the law and its victims, she told Al Jazeera. And though she claims that “we managed to reach many of the parliamentarians and worked with them over a long period of time to get to this point,” it is also reported that many lawmakers were still undecided before the vote on Tuesday.
Many parliament members were hesitant to vote for abolishing the law because they saw it as a way for victims to avoid “the societal discrimination that comes with the stigma of being raped”. In Jordan and many other conservative countries, the first concern when a woman is raped is not her well-being, but her and her family’s honour. Having a family member who has been raped is thought to be extremely shameful, especially since much of a woman’s honour pertains to her chastity. By allowing the victim to marry her rapist, Article 308 was seen as a means of expunging such shame. While giving women a way to avoid such societal discrimination is a noble notion, the solution lies not in allowing or forcing them to marry their perpetrator, but in changing the very fact that being raped comes with such severe stigmatization as to need a law for it in the first place.
Jordan, a country whose median age is 22.3, is seen as a relatively pro-western country with a close relationship with the U.S. (whose median age is 37.9, for comparison). Its king, Abdullah II, has sweeping powers and appoints the upper house through which the repeal must pass. Despite having immense authority over the small country, in 2016 he established a royal committee to “reform the judiciary and review the entire penal code.” The committee then suggested abolishing Article 308, a suggestion which the Jordanian Government endorsed in April and has now formally voted for. The government has indeed been reforming their penal code, having closed a loophole earlier this week that have “the discretion to impose sentences of as little as six months on those who killed female relatives in the name of ‘family honor.’” Jordan’s adjustment to their law in the name of women’s rights follows right behind Tunisia, which passed a law that protects women against domestic violence just last week. Both Morocco and Egypt had passed similar reforms in 2014 and 1999, respectively.
Despite the forward progress of these nations, marry-your-rapist clauses still exist in many countries, including Iraq, Syria, Lebanon, and Palestine. Recently, protesters in Lebanon have created a powerful public awareness campaign that includes torn wedding dresses in nooses on an oceanfront promenade and billboards declaring, “a white dress doesn’t cover up rape.” Hopefully, the progressive decision in Jordan will convince Lebanon to make a similar decision, who, according to Human Rights Watch, has been considering repealing their version, known as Article 522. While the Middle East remains in turmoil, Jordan’s step in the right direction for women’s rights marks a spot of hope for a complicated and often conservative region.
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