I have a complicated relationship with International Women’s Day (IWD). On the one hand, it vexes me greatly that we have only one day a year – designated by the United Nations General Assembly in 1977 as March 8 – to celebrate the many contributions of women around the world. On the other hand, we still need to focus attention on the fact that women, who make up half of the world’s population, still face almost incomprehensible inequality in societies throughout the world. Not just inequality, but inexcusable pain and violence.
One in three women in the world still experience violence (including rape and marital rape, spousal abuse, and child abuse) in their lifetime. The numbers are closer to one in four in the West – numbers that are still shockingly high.
Even before birth, preference for male children leads to feticide and infanticide in many parts of the world. Millions of girls and women around the world face obstacles to education, access to health, freedom of choice in marriage and divorce, land ownership and political participation. Even in the West, women continue to face inequality, including professional obstacles.
The UN theme for IWD 2014 is “equality for women is progress for all”. And there is no question that that statement is true. As UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon said in a statement for IWD 2014:
“Countries with more gender equality have better economic growth. Companies with more women leaders perform better. Peace agreements that include women are more durable. Parliaments with more women enact more legislation on key social issues such as health, education, anti-discrimination and child support. The evidence is clear: equality for women means progress for all.”
IWD means different things to different people around the world. For some, it is a day to celebrate the strength of personal relationships with mothers, grandmothers, daughters and friends. Some choose to celebrate the overall contributions of women; in 2014, I noticed a particular interest in celebrating the “bad ass” women in our collective history (which I do applaud). For others, it is the opportunity to highlight all that still remains to be done.
For me, IWD is all these things. It is also about wanting a world where my daughter and my sons are treated equally without thought or legal requirement. It is about teaching them that this is what they – both boys and girl – should expect in their future. But it is also about celebrating the strong community of women that has brought us this far.
I took this photo of a painting that hung in the stairwell of a hotel I stayed in last year in Yaounde. It was dark in the stairwell, but I paused every time I passed it. The painting appeared original, but there was no name given to it. No artist was listed. But for me, it captures the spirit of International Women’s Day. We still have a ways to go, but we are together in this effort. We learn from each other and we support each other. Here is my perspective on International Women’s Day 2014:
It may take us time, but when women work together, nothing can stop us.
In Morocco, a 15 year old girl experienced constant harassment and threats from a 35 year old man in her town. He waited for her each day outside of her school and on several occasions told her, “I will force you to marry me.” One day, he abducted and raped her at knifepoint. The victim made a complaint to the gendarmes, who arrested the man. In his statement to the police, the rapist admitted his crime, declaring that he did it “because it was the only way I would be able to marry her.” In order to avoid scandal, the victim dropped out of school and married him. “I am raped now every day,” she told members of the local association that works with women survivors of domestic violence.
This tragic story is one of many included in a joint submission The Advocates for Human Rights and our Moroccan partner Mobilising for Rights Associates (MRA) made recently to the United Nations’ Committee on the Rights of the Child. The submission draws attention to the serious human rights violations resulting from the application of Article 475 of the Moroccan Penal Code, which provides that whoever “abducts or deceives” a minor, without using violence, threat or fraud, can escape prosecution and imprisonment if (i) the abductor marries the victim, and (ii) those persons who have a right to request annulment of the marriage do not file a complaint.
Organizations and news reports from Morocco indicate that Article 475 has been applied in cases of sexual abuse of minors in order to preserve the “honor” of the victim and her family. Notably, this issue has received widespread coverage following the 2012 suicide of Amina Filali, a sixteen year-old girl who killed herself after being forced to marry a man – ten years older than her – who had raped her. Additional news reports confirm that the use of Article 475 continues. Further, associations working at the local level in Morocco report that girls married under Article 475 continue to suffer rape and domestic violence after the marriage.
Information from our Moroccan partners illustrates the extent of the problems with the application of Article 475. One local association that works with women reported that, of 11 cases involving rape of a minor that they handled in 2013, Article 475 was raised in 6 cases; the age of the victims ranged from 14-17, while the age of the rapists ranged from 23-28. In one case, a 14 year old girl was raped by her 28 year old cousin, and she became pregnant as a result. She sought help from the association to file a criminal complaint, and there were several court hearings. DNA testing established that the accused was the rapist. Under Article 475, the two families agreed on a temporary marriage between the rapist and the victim to avoid shame, with a predetermined divorce date after one month of marriage.
Associations working at the local level in Morocco report that the young victims experience tremendous pressure to abandon criminal prosecution and agree to the application of Article 475 from law enforcement, justice system personnel, as well as the families of the perpetrators. Even their own families pressure them to agree to marriage under Article 475 in order to avoid shame. Because all sexual relations outside of marriage are illegal under the Moroccan Penal Code, victims also fear prosecution and imprisonment under Penal Code Article 490. In fact, one Moroccan association reported several cases of rape victims who filed complaints to initiate criminal prosecution but were prosecuted themselves under Article 490.
In one instance, a 15 year old girl was raped by a 25 year old man. She became pregnant as a result of the rape, which is considered proof of illicit sexual relations. She did not want to file a criminal complaint because she feared prosecution under Article 490, so she fled her home and sought shelter through a local Moroccan association. The rapist’s family made threats against the victim’s mother, however, and she was pressured to not file a criminal complaint and to marry the rapist under Article 475 instead.
Article 475 must be understood in the context of early marriage in Morocco. While the legal age of marriage for both men and women is now 18 in Morocco,the Family Code allows the marriage of minors when “justified” and after substantial control by the Family Affairs judge.Both the number of petitions for authorization to marry minors and the approval rate are high and increasing. In 2007, 10.03% of marriages were of minors, and 86.8% of the 33,596 petitions were authorized. In 2011, the rate had risen to 11.99% of all marriages and 89.56% of 46,927 petitions for authorization to marry a minor were granted. 33.58% of petitions in 2011 were for minors ages 14-16. The overwhelming majority of the minor spouses, 99.31%, were girls. The Family Code provides no threshold minimum age below which authorization to marry may never be granted. Local NGOs report marriages of girls as young as thirteen, fourteen and fifteen.
In practice, judges often issue authorizations based on their own cursory visual examination of the minor girl’s physical appearance and determination that she is capable of assuming “marital responsibilities,” rather than resorting to the required expertise. Reasons advanced by judges for authorizing underage marriage include saving family honor, avoiding scandal, protecting the girl’s chastity and preventing her from debauchery. Some even cite marriage as a solution to poverty. At times judges do not even substantiate their decisions in writing. Corruption among public actors and the ease by which medical certificates attesting to the minor girl’s “maturity” can be obtained are also factors allowing circumvention of the law.
In spite of the reality of early and forced marriage for young Moroccan girls, the Moroccan Government made statements in recent United Nations submissions that Article 475 does not apply to, and has not been applied in, cases of sexual abuse of minors. For example, in response to the most recent concluding observations of the Committee Against Torture, the Moroccan Government stated that Article 475 does not apply in cases of sexual abuse and that there is no statutory text in Morocco that exempts the “perpetrator of child rape from punishment when he makes the child concerned his wife, because anyone who commits rape is punished in all instances, even when he marries the victim of rape.” The Moroccan Government further stated that Article 475 “is not applicable to rape but rather to the crime of the abduction of a minor who leaves the parental home to be with someone and agrees to marry him.”
In other words, in the Moroccan Government’s view and in contrast to the many reports originating from Morocco, Article 475 is intended to address situations involving marriage without the consent of the family where the prosecution for abduction of a minor can be dropped if the victim’s family withdraws the complaint to “maintain good family relations and to protect the make-up of the family if arresting the husband could lead his minor wife to lose any chance of a normal life.”
On January 22, 2014, Morocco’s Parliament voted to abolish paragraph 2 of Art. 475. While this is a positive step, and certainly a victory to be celebrated, the bill that was approved unanimously this week only abrogates the exoneration through marriage provision. It does not change the rest of Art. 475 which provides that a man convicted of statutory rape in Morocco is still only subject to a few years in prison and a small fine. It does nothing to impact the larger problems faced by minor girls who experience sexual abuse or early marriage in Morocco.
The Moroccan government must go further to protect the rights of women and girls. Given the factual situation on the ground in Morocco and the clear violations of Morocco’s obligations under the Convention on the Rights of the Child, the Moroccan government must:
Amend Morocco’s Penal Code and Penal Procedure Code to facilitate procedures for bringing sexual abuse and rape of minors cases, including eliminating discriminatory legal provisions that require proof of actual physical injury and place heavy burdens of proof solely on the victim.
Amend Morocco’s Penal Code to abolish criminal prosecutions under Article 490 for “illicit sexual relations.”
Develop and implement a plan for educating the judiciary and public that criminal proceedings against rapists will not be terminated if they marry their victims and that Article 475 is not to be applied in cases of sexual abuse and rape of minors.
Penalize all acts to encourage, pressure, or threaten minors to marry, whether by public or private actors.
Amend Morocco’s Family Code to establish clear and objective criteria under which judicial authorizations for the marriage of minors may be granted in only exceptional cases, and in all events establish a threshold minimum age under which authorization to marry may never be granted.
Dahir n° 1-59-413 du 28 joumada II 1382 (26 novembre 1962) portant approbation du texte du code pénal, as amended, (« Penal Code »), Art. 475: 1) Quiconque, sans violences, menaces ou fraudes, enlève ou détourne, ou tente d’enlever ou de détourner, un mineur de moins de dix-huit ans (Article modifié par l’article premier de la loi n° 24-03 modifiant et complétant le code pénal, précitée), est puni de l’emprisonnement d’un à cinq ans et d’une amende de 200 (cf. supra note correspondant à l’article 111) à 500 dirhams. 2) Lorsqu’une mineure nubile ainsi enlevée ou détournée a épousé son ravisseur, celui-ci ne peut être poursuivi que sur la plainte des personnes ayant qualité pour demander l’annulation du mariage et ne peut être condamné qu’après que cette annulation du mariage a été prononcée.
Written Communications to MRA and The Advocates for Human Rights from Moroccan NGOs (5 December 2013). In the same Written Communications, another association from a different region reported that Article 475 was raised in 3 of 5 rape cases that they handled where the victim was a minor. A third association reported their experience that in 6 cases where Article 475 was raised since 2011, the average age difference between the victim and the rapist was 10 years (with victims ranging in age from 14-17 and rapists from 23-28). Id.
Id. Note that these numbers are consistent with information from the local level. One local association that works with MRA reported that from January to November 2013, the First Instance Court in Khemisset granted 325 of 442 petitions for authorization to marry minors. Written Communications to MRA and The Advocates for Human Rights from Moroccan NGOs (5 December 2013).
Ligue démocratique de défense des droits des femmes (LDDF), Droits des femmes et code de la famille après 4 ans d’application(2007).
Interviews with Local Morocco NGOs, (May 2012 – December 2013).
Abdellah Ounnir, Les justiciables dans le circuit judiciaire relatif au contentieux de la famille, inLe Code de la famille: Perceptions et pratique judiciaire, pp. 89-139 (Morocco: Friedrich Ebert Stiftung, 2007);Démocratique des Femmes du Maroc(ADFM), Implementation of the CEDAW Convention: Non-Governmental Organisations’ Shadow Report to the Third and the Fourth Periodic Report of the Moroccan Government(Nov. 2007).
In January 2013, the Justice Minister made a statement to the effect that he would not oppose proposed modifications to 475. A bill (sponsored by MPs) to modify and complete article 475 was adopted by the Council of the 2nd Chamber of Parliament and transferred to the relevant Committee on legislation within that Chamber for review on January 29, 2013. This bill would increase the penalties, eliminate the 2nd paragraph of 475, and reinforces the link between 475 and the later sexual abuse of minors articles in the Penal Code. A second bill (sponsored by MPs) presented in the 1st Chamber would eliminate the 2nd paragraph of 475 (among other modifications to the articles on sexual abuse), but the version adopted by the legislation committee had eliminated these reforms. Another bill (sponsored by MPs) for a VAW law in 1st chamber that would cancel 475 among its 35 articles was transferred for review to the legislation committee in February 2013. The current status of these three bills is unknown and it is unclear what subsequent steps if any have been taken on these three bills. A proposed VAW bill submitted by the Family Minister to the Government Council (and tabled) did not contain any modifications to Article 475. See http://www.medias24.com/POLITIQUE/5975-Benkirane-desavoue-Bassima-Hakkaoui.html. Most recently, on January 8, 2014, the Committee on Justice, Legislation and Human Rights in on of the Parliament’s chambers voted to abolish paragraph 2 of Art. 475. See http://www.aujourdhui.ma/maroc-actualite/societe/viol-des-mineures-au-maroc-une-loi-debattue-au-parlement-107202.htmlwww.yabiladi.com%2Farticles%2Fdetails%2F22289%2Fviols-mineures-deputes-annulent-l-alinea.html&h=1AQFFOSTM
U.N. Committee Against Torture, Consideration of Reports Submitted by States Parties Under Article 19 of the Convention, Information Received From the Government of Morocco in Response to the Concluding Observations of the Committee Against Torture, para. 111, CAT/C/MAR/CO/4/Add.1(9 September 2013).
U.N. Committee Against Torture, Consideration of Reports Submitted by States Parties Under Article 19 of the Convention, Information Received From the Government of Morocco in Response to the Concluding Observations of the Committee Against Torture, para. 112, CAT/C/MAR/CO/4/Add.1(9 September 2013).
“Our house was small, and when you grow up with domestic violence in a confined space you learn to gauge, very precisely, the temperature of situations. I knew exactly when the shouting was done and a hand was about to be raised – I also knew exactly when to insert a small body between the fist and her face, a skill no child should ever have to learn.”
He had me at “Tea. Earl Grey. Hot.” In my opinion, his Jean-Luc Picard is the only Star Trek captain worthy of helming the USS Enterprise; Picard makes Kirk and the others look like a pack of braggarts, whiners, and wimps. For more than 20 years, my love for Patrick Stewart has burned strong and bright, “the star to every wandering bark”. A talented Shakespearean actor, Sir Patrick nails every role he plays, from Othello to Shylock to the Seattle Opera director with a crush on Frasier. Then there’s his one-man version of Charles Dickens’ A Christmas Carol. I can’t think of another actor who I would want to see play 40+ characters. And let’s not forget the lecherous caricature of himself that he played inExtras. Good gravy, that made my heart beat faster!
My love for Patrick Stewart is sexless, as chaste and pure as that of the heroine in a Victorian novel. I feel for him what the young X-Men feel for Professor Charles Xavier – admiration, respect, passionate loyalty. It’s a love, I know, not meant to be tested in real life. Yet I can’t help myself.
I’ve never met Patrick Stewart. I know almost nothing of his personal life beyond the fact that he choses to use his fame to support human rights. He’s been a long time supporter of Amnesty International in his native UK. I’ve written recommendation letters for students applying to the internship program he endowed at Amnesty. (None of them ever got the Patrick Stewart Human Rights Scholarship, so I can’t even claim that two-degrees of separation.)
What really took me ’round the bend on Patrick Stewart was his decision five or six years ago to talk about his own experience with growing up with domestic violence.
“I experienced first-hand violence against my mother from an angry and unhappy man who was not able to control his emotions or his hands. Great harm was done by those events – and of course I mean the physical harm, the physical scars that were left, the blood that was spilled, the wounds that were exposed – but there were also other aspects of violence which have a lasting impact physiologically on family members. It is so destructive and tainting.
It’s taken me a long time to be able to speak about what happened. Then, two years ago, around the time of the launch of the Amnesty International campaign to Stop Violence Against Women all that changed. After consultation with my brothers, we all felt that it was time for me to speak out about what had happened in our childhood, and to show people that domestic violence is protected by other peoples’ silence.”
Domestic violence is a worldwide epidemic. It violates the fundamental human rights of women and often results in serious injury or death. Studies show that between one quarter and one half of all women in the world have been abused by intimate partners. Certainly men experience domestic violence as well, but women are victims of violence in approximately 95% of cases of domestic violence. (For sources and more statistics, see StopVAW.org)
It took the human rights community far too long to recognize domestic violence and other gender-based rights as human rights abuses. Because the violence is committed by private actors rather than the government in the context of family life, domestic violence was long considered to be a “private matter”. Fortunately, the international human rights law has progressed and violence against women is now considered a human rights abuse. The government has a responsiblity to prevent violence against women from taking place and to prosecute or punish the perpetrators of the violence. The UN Committee Against Torture has even clarified that violence against women, including domestic violence, can in certain circumstances be defined as torture under the Convention Against Torture.
Implementation of laws that protect women from domestic violence is, of course, the ongoing problem throughout the world.
It is never easy for survivors of human rights abuses to talk about the violence they experienced. It comes at great personal expense and sometimes that expense is just too great for people to overcome. There has been a lot of outrage recently about Rihanna and Chris Brown. I wish Rihanna would become an advocate against domestic violence – photographed holding an Amnesty International placard – but I can’t judge her or the decisions she makes about her life. It does make me think, though, that it is doubly important for male celebrities like Patrick Stewart to use their fame as a platform to raise awareness about violence against women.
I defy you to watch this video and tell my love of Patrick Stewart is wrong.
What will it take to end domestic violence worldwide? It will take more than Sir Patrick Stewart. As he says in this Amnesty video, it will take sustained government action to ensure that domestic violence is treated as a public health issue rather than a private matter. But Patrick Stewart’s decision to use his celebrity to speak out about the domestic violence experienced in his childhood home puts us one step farther along that road.
“Violence against women diminishes us all. If you fail to raise your hand in protest, then you make yourself part of the problem.”