August 2, 2017
TSC IntelBrief: Women’s Rights and Violent Conflict Prevention
On August 1, the Jordanian parliament revoked a law that allowed rapists to avoid jail or other criminal punishment on the stipulation that they marry their victims. Such laws placed notions of ‘family honor’ and a woman’s ‘purity’ over the actual rights and dignity of the woman. Defenders of these laws, which remain on the books in countries from the Philippines to Bahrain, claim that avoiding a trial protects the woman and her family from the ‘shame’ of rape, as though the horror of sexual assault only manifests itself in subsequent criminal procedures. In Lebanon, there is a similar push to revoke that country’s ‘rapist shield’ law, with public protests demanding action. Likewise, in 2014, Morocco passed a law that revoked the marriage clause in terms of statutory rape.
Changing such laws is exceptionally important, in that it encourages the underlying social change for women’s rights in environments where violent conflict has been shown to hew closely to gender equality indicators. Putting aside the categorical necessity of recognizing and advancing the dignity and humanity of over half the world’s population, the legal and social push for women’s rights and equality is a powerful tool for building societal resilience to the underlying causes of violent conflict. In most societies that have yet to recognize the full rights of women, waiting on social change without legal impetus and protections has proven inadequate. In such countries, the law can serve as an effective tool to lead a reluctant or indifferent society towards equality and justice.
For example, recent changes in Tunisia’s long movement for women’s rights have gone much further than simply eliminating the legal means of rapists to escape justice by forcing a marriage arrangement on their victims. Significant changes made in late-July 2017 included the very first legislation to specifically address domestic violence. The laws not only make such violence illegal, but pull the issue out of the realm of the family and into the writ and protection of the government and the law. The laws specifically address violence in ‘private’ life as well as in public, helping to challenge the mindset that excuses violence occuring behind closed doors. The legislation also provides for police training on domestic abuse, and allows doctors to inquire about signs of possible abuse.
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