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Deeply Talks: Ending ‘Marry-Your-Rapist’ Laws

Women & Girls speaks with Lina Abirafeh of the Institute for Women’s Studies in the Arab World and Jordan-based reporter Elspeth Dehnert on recent battles won by campaigners against gender-based violence in the Middle East and North Africa.

Written by Jihii Jolly, Megan Clement Published on Read time Approx. 1 minutes
An activist from the Lebanese NGO Abaad celebrates the end of Article 522, which allowed rapists to escape punishment by marrying survivors. AFP/Patrick Baz

Within weeks of each other this summer, Lebanon, Jordan and Tunisia all closed legal loopholes allowing rapists to escape criminal convictions by marrying survivors. It marks a huge victory for feminists in the region who have long campaigned to end the practice, which was supposed to restore “honor” to survivors’ families after an assault.

Lina Abirafeh, director of the Institute for Women’s Studies in the Arab World at the Lebanese American University, joined Women & Girls reporter Elspeth Dehnert and Women & Girls’ managing editor Megan Clement, for a discussion on how activists achieved these victories and what battles lie ahead for gender-based violence campaigners.

“Activists in these countries have been working to abolish marry-your-rapist laws for well over a decade,” Dehnert said, adding that Tunisia’s decision on July 26 spurred on campaigners in different countries across the region. “Tunisia’s repeal of its rape laws definitely did push them to continue fighting until the very end.”

Before the repeal of these laws, women were often faced with a choice: marry their rapist, or be killed.

“In a convoluted way of thinking, this idea of a marry-your-rapist law could be viewed as a form of protection for women,” Abirafeh explained. “Having been raped, you’re dishonored, you’re perhaps no longer a virgin, no one is going to marry you.”

“You can be ostracized from family and community, your family could even kill you. So rather than killing the survivor of this horrible crime, some might resort to marrying her off as a perverse means of protection.”

This arrangement is no longer legal in Tunisia, Lebanon and Jordan, but that doesn’t mean it won’t happen. Policing the law to prevent families coming to private rape-marriage arrangements will be essential, Dehnert and Abirafeh said.

Listen to the 30-minute call here:

Deeply Talks is a regular feature, bringing together our network of readers and expert contributors to examine the latest developments on issues affecting women and girls in the developing world. To join future Deeply Talks, make sure you are signed up to the Women & Girls newsletter.

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