On August 1st, the Jordanian government officially abolished a law that legalized marital rape. Article 308 of Jordan’s 57-year-old Penal Code permitted a pardoning for rape perpetrators if they married their victims and stayed with them for at least three years. Last October, Jordan’s King Abdullah II created a royal committee to review the entire code. Now, almost a year later, Jordanian women have finally been liberated of the legal loophole.
“The article [was] not based on a logical or legal rationale. It [was] not justified and it [did] not stand in line without culture, knowledge, and logical thinking,” said Asma Khader, a leading women’s rights activist and lawyer.
Since being put into place in 1960,the code has caused the people of Jordan to be divided between those who thought the law was necessary to protect the “honor” of women and others who saw it as a violation of women’s rights. The inequality in the law has been reflected in Jordanian society for many decades, but the country is now celebrating the beginning of a new era – one free of the fear this article aroused.
“It’s a huge step on the part of the government. It shows commitment. Usually, women’s issues in Jordan are shoved to the back, but the government showed some seriousness with this vote. This is a very important and long-awaited step,” said women’s rights activist and writer Rana Husseini.
Hundreds of activists staged a sit-in on that Tuesday to show their support for the abolishment, which was approved by the Jordanian Parliament’s upper house and signed off by the King the next day.
“We are celebrating today,” said Salma Nims, the Secretary General of the Jordanian National Committee for Women. “This is a historic moment, not only for Jordan, but for the entire region. This achievement is a result of the concerted effort of civil society, women’s rights, and human rights organizations in Jordan.”
Many other activists and parliament members, like Khaled Ramadan, agree that this is a historic moment.
“Today we are sending a message to every rapist that your crime will not be overlooked and we will not let you get away with it,” said Ramadan.
Jordan follows Egypt, Morocco, and Tunisia, all of whom have also abolished this law in the past 20 years (Egypt in 1999, Morocco in 2014, and Tunisia just last week). Now, Jordan is setting an example for the many other countries in the region that still have these discriminatory legal codes, including Algeria, Bahrain, Iraq, Kuwait, Lebanon, Libya, Palestine, and Syria. Some countries in Latin America and Asia also have similarly discriminatory laws.
The laws that still exist in these countries allow rapists off the hook, which denies justice to victims, and sends a message that rape is not a serious crime. If the highest level of society is signaling that it is okay for women and girls to be violated, how it the mindset of the people suppose to steer towards equality?
Over a lifetime, one in three women will suffer from sexual or physical violence. Overturning laws that promote sexual violence against women in countries, like Jordan, is just one step towards ending the worldwide abuse of women and girls.
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