International Women’s Day 2016

InternationalWomensDay-landscape

Originally published on World Moms Blog

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Source: Metro

Today – Tuesday, March 8 – people all over the world will be celebrating International Women’s Day (IWD).  IWD events across the globe include marches, rallies, sporting events, art expositions, and festivals with live musical and dance performances. IWD is a national holiday in more than two dozen countries; in some countries, only the women get the day off from work.  If you use Google, you might even notice that the Google Doodle honors the occasion.

But what is International Women’s Day really all about? 

The idea for a collective global day  that celebrates women’s solidarity emerged in the early 20th century and was closely linked to women’s involvement in the labor, voting rights and peace movements in North America and Europe.  March 8 has been the global date for IWD since 1913.   The United Nations officially proclaimed March 8 as International Women’s Day during 1975, the UN’s International Women’s Year.  According to UN Women, 

Increasingly, International Women’s Day is a time to reflect on progress made, to call for change and to celebrate acts of courage and determination by ordinary women who have played an extraordinary role in the history of their countries and communities.

This year, the theme for International Women’s Day is gender parity. The United Nations observance on March 8 is focused on building momentum for the global roadmap for implementation by 2030 of the new Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), especially goal number five -Achieve gender equality and empower all women and girls- and number 4 –Ensure inclusive and quality education for all and promote lifelong learning. t their implementation by 2030.

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The UN’s IWD theme  “Planet 50-50 by 2030: Step It Up for Gender Equality” will also focus on new commitments under UN Women’s Step It Up initiative, which asks governments to make national commitments that will close the gender equality gap – from laws and policies to national action plans and adequate investment. So far, 91 governments have made specific national commitments. You can read them here.

Women and girls make up more than half the world’s population and they are often more deeply impacted than men and boys by poverty, climate change, food insecurity, lack of healthcare, and global economic crises. Their contributions and leadership are central to finding solutions to these global problems. Yet women lag far behind their male counterparts in many areas of economic engagement.  

In 2014, the World Economic Forum predicted that it would take until 2095 to achieve global gender parity. But only one year later in 2015, they estimated that a slowdown in the already glacial pace of progress meant the gender gap wouldn’t close entirely until 2133.

For IWD 2016, a group of international corporations have launched the Pledging For Parity! campaign.   According to the website www.internationalwomensday.com:

Everyone – men and women – can pledge to take a concrete step to help achieve gender parity more quickly – whether to help women and girls achieve their ambitions, call for gender-balanced leadership, respect and value difference, develop more inclusive and flexible cultures or root out workplace bias. Each of us can be a leader within our own spheres of influence and commit to take pragmatic action to accelerate gender parity.

Meet Sophie Walker: A World Mom Who is Taking Action on Gender Parity

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The Women’s Equality Party launch their first policy document. Leader Sophie Walker addresses attendees.  Photo credit Fiona Hanson 2015©.

Sophie Walker was working as a journalist and a diversity campaigner when, last March, a friend asked if she would be interested in helping to set up a new political party. In the run-up to Britain’s 2015 General Election, many voters were frustrated by what they saw as a lack of inclusion and understanding from the other political parties when it came to equal rights and opportunities for women. A group of them came together, spread the word to more, who spread the word across the country – and The Women’s Equality Party was born. Sophie was elected as leader by the new party’s steering committee in July and the party now has 70 local branches across England, Wales and Scotland, and 45,000 members and registered supporters. The Women’s Equality Party (WE) is a non-partisan political party that welcomes members from right across the political spectrum to campaign for equal representation, equal pay, an end to violence against women, equal education, equal parenting and equal representation in the media. Sophie is now standing as WE’s candidate for London Mayor.

“I want to make London the first gender-equal city in the world, where the 4 million women who live here can do the jobs they want to do and walk the streets in safety. London needs a Mayor with some imagination!” – Sophie Walker

Ways That You Can Take Action on International Women’s Day 2016

  • Join the conversation for International Women’s Day, #IWD2016! Main hashtags: #IWD2016 (#DíadelaMujer, #Journéedelafemme); #Planet5050;  (And check out the automatic emoji on Twitter when tweeting with the hashtag #IWD2016!)
  • Change your Facebook and Twitter cover image with the banners available from UN Women in English, Spanish and French (under “General”) here.
  • Bring your IWD event to a global audience. If you organize or participate in a local International Women’s Day event, share your images and messages on the UN Women  Facebook Event page.
  • Join the campaign and make a #PledgeforParity.
  • Read ONE’s new report Poverty Is Sexist and sign the letter  calling for global gender equality.
  • Check out UN Women’s multimedia resources to learn more.  See the Interactive Timeline: Women’s Footprint in History  as well as the Photo Essay: A day in the life of women.

 

News You May Have Missed (1 – 7 February 2015)

Here’s the weekly roundup of the human rights news items that I followed this week that I thought did not get enough attention.  

First, a little bit of good news from the United Nations. 

 The United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights has been collaborating with businesses and individuals to innovate better solutions to assist refugees.  The collaboration with IKEA to replace tents with flat-pack, solar-powered housing units is providing dramatically improved housing, particularly by providing safe and secure housing for women and children.  One long-term problem for UNHCR has been documentation of refugees, particularly since it involved writing things down on paper.  This week I read about a potential solution. Through a collaboration with UPS, UNHCR recently announced that it has been piloting UPS UNHCR ReliefLink a new system for storing and transmitting information about refugees based on the technology that UPS uses for tracking packages that holds huge potential.  Check out these and other innovation stories on the UNHCHR Innovation website.

Appeals judges at the International Criminal Tribunal for the former YUGOSLAVIA upheld genocide convictions of two senior Bosnian Serbs for their roles in the 1995 Srebrenica massacre, the first final judgment for genocide by the international tribunal.  Vujadin Popovic and Ljubisa Beara were high-ranking security officers with the Bosnian Serb army that overran Muslim forces and thinly armed U.N. troops in the Srebrenica enclave in July 1995 and subsequently murdered some 8,000 Muslim men and boys, Europe’s worst massacre since World War II.

In late 2013, the United Nations launched an initiative called Human Rights up Front to enhance the role of human rights in all of its work.  Through this initiative, there has been an increasing recognition that  human right violations as the first sign of conflict. This week, UN Deputy Secretary General Jan Eliasson gave a speech that very much reflects my own views on the integrated nature of development, conflict and human rights.

“There is no peace without development, and there is no development without peace, and none of the above without respect for human rights and the rule of law,” said  Eliasson.

Human rights abuses are often the early indicators of escalating conflict.  The international community usually has the information about what is happening, but is slow to respond.  So it is significant that the United Nations is acknowledging that the world should should learn from past mistakes and take preemptive action BEFORE mass atrocities take place.  I love this quote from Eliasson”

“We should act when we hear the vibrations on the ground.”

February 6 was the third annual International Day of Zero Tolerance for Female Genital Mutilation.   #endFGMFemale genital mutilation (FGM) comprises all procedures that involve altering or injuring the female genitalia for non-medical reasons.  It reflects deep-rooted inequality between the sexes and is recognized internationally as a violation of the human rights of girls and women. The UN estimates that more than 40 million girls and women alive today have undergone some form of FGM.  If current trends continue, more than 15 million girls will be cut by 2020; more than 86 million additional girls worldwide will be subjected to the practice by 2030. The UN states that, although this harmful traditional practice has persisted for over a thousand years, programmatic evidence suggests that FGM can end in one generation.

This year, the UN is focusing  is on health care workers.  Although the practice of FGM cannot be justified by medical reasons, in many countries it is executed more and more often by medical professionals. This constitutes ones of the greatest threats to the abandonment of the practice. 

Here is one good example:

(c)TARA TODRASS-WHITEHILL / REUTERS / LANDOV image retrieved from Aljazeera America
(c)TARA TODRASS-WHITEHILL / REUTERS / LANDOV image retrieved from Aljazeera America

For the first time ever, a court in EGYPT has sentenced a doctor to prison for the female genital mutilation (FGM) of a 13-year-old girl that resulted in her death.  Soheir al-Batea died in June 2013 after undergoing an FGM procedure carried out by Dr. Raslan Fadl.  A court in Mansour handed down not guilty verdicts for the doctor as well as the girl’s father for ordering the procedure in November 2014.  But Egypt’s Justice Ministry reportedly contacted the court to say it was “displeased with the judgment”, resulting in a retrial.  Fadl was sentenced at retrial to the maximum sentence of two years’ imprisonment; the father was sentence to three months’ house arrest. A ban on FGM has been in place since 2007 in Egypt,  yet this is the first time the law has been implemented. 

While FGM is most prevalent in Africa and the Middle East, it is also practiced in Asia, Latin America, Western Europe, North America, Australia and New Zealand.  This week, a new report from the Population Reference Bureau came out discussing the potential risk of girls and women in the UNITED STATES for undergoing FGM.  In 2013, there were up to 507,000 U.S. women and girls who had undergone FGM or were at risk of the procedure, according to PRB’s preliminary data analysis. This figure is more than twice the number of women and girls estimated to be at risk in 2000 (228,000).

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And in the UNITED KINGDOM, the trial of a British doctor accused of performing female genital mutilation recently began in the United Kingdom’s first prosecution of an outlawed practice.  Dr. Dhanuson Dharmasena allegedly performed FGM in November 2012 on a 24-year-old woman soon after she gave birth to her first child at North London’s Whittington Hospital. The woman in the U.K. case, referred to as “AB” in court, reportedly underwent FGM as a 6-year-old in Somalia, when a section of her labia was sewn together, leaving only a small hole for menstrual blood and urine but too small for safely giving birth.  Defibulation, or re-opening the vagina, is commonly needed for FGM survivors about to give birth, and was required in AB’s case during delivery. But AB allegedly underwent re-infibulation, or sewing the labia together again after giving birth. The stitching or re-stitching together of the labia is an offense under section 1 of the United Kingdom’s Female Genital Mutilation Act 2003.

Other human rights news you may have missed this week: 

In THAILAND, more than a dozen government officials are facing prosecution on the charge of human trafficking.  According to Thailand’s junta officials, senior policemen and a navy officer are among the officials, who are detained and being prosecuted for human trafficking.  It is significant that government officials are being prosecuted as it shows the connection between corruption and human trafficking in Thailand, a country well known for it problems with trafficking.  

Single, mostly young women from CAMBODIA are increasingly being trafficked to CHINA as brides. China’s one-child policy has resulted in many more there are more single men than women, and as those men age, they seek marriageable women.  For years, traffickers met that demand with women from Vietnam. But Vietnam has recently tightened its marriage rules and waged an information campaign to combat the problem. For traffickers, Cambodia has emerged as an attractive alternative. With fewer regulations and no awareness among Cambodian women about the risks, business has been easy. The going rate for a foreign bride is between $10,000 and $15,000. 

A court in SPAIN has ruled that a deaf couple can adopt a baby who can hear, after they appealed against the decision by social services to only consider them for the adoption of a deaf child. In their review of the prospective parents’ suitability for adoption, social services said the parents were not “the best option” for a hearing child, as the child’s development would be affected. But in its ruling, the court established that the couple are indeed able to raise a child from a young age regardless of whether he or she is deaf or not, after considering research that shows how hearing children who also know sign language have greater-than-average visuospatial skills, and that “under no circumstances does learning sign language inhibit cognitive development”. Two Spanish organisations, CNSE and Fescan, which uphold the rights of deaf people welcomed “[the] landmark ruling, as it recognises the right of people with disabilities to form a family on an equal footing with other citizens,” and that “being a deaf mother or father does not hinder the education or happiness of a child, be they biological or adopted.”  

Finally, I’ve long been a believer in humor as a tool for human rights change.  So I very much enjoyed the #MugabeFalls viral memes this week.  When ZIMBABWE’s notorious authoritarian “President for Life” Robert Mugabe tripped during a public appearance, he wasn’t hurt but he denied he had fallen.   His security reportedly demanded that photographers delete the images of him falling.  Thanks to social media and the internet, it was already to late.  Internet users responded to the attempted censorship by posting parody pictures of Mugabe in different scenarios – including surfing and dancing – and by using the hashtag #MugabeFalls. The results were pure internet gold!

#mugabefalls

Humor – A powerful tool against dictatorships!  You can see many more hilarious examples in the articles below:

http://www.theguardian.com/world/2015/feb/05/mugabe-falls-comedy-memes-of-zimbabwes-president-viral

http://www.buzzfeed.com/hayesbrown/mugabe-got-me-straight-tripping#.smqYD2VMz

 

News You May Have Missed (24 -31 January)

For Kahl Wallis and other Indigenous Australians, January 26 is not AUSTRALIA Day – they call it “Survival Day”.  “It’s definitely an important day for us. A day of survival, of remaining culturally strong and passing down our stories,” says Wallis. “It’s a day to remember our people and the struggle – the continuing struggle.”  Kahl and his band the Medics, a Brisbane alt-rock band, released a new track this week on Survival Day called Wake Up (available for free download on SoundCloud).  When asked about the songs first two lines – “you are not dissolvable / you cannot be erased”  – Wallis told The Guardian, “What I’m trying to say in that intro is that we will never lose our culture and spirit. We might be in the cities, we might be far away from home, but we will still maintain our culture and identity and fight for our freedom.

Child soldiers at a release ceremony in Pibor Country, South Sudan. Photograph: Marieantoinetta Peru/Unicef

In one of the largest demobilizations of child soldiers ever, United Nations officials said on January 27 that they had secured the release of 3,000 child soldiers in SOUTH SUDAN.  The first 280 children, ages 11 to 17, were released from the ranks of the South Sudan Democratic Army (SSDA) Cobra Faction, turning in their weapons and fatigues on Tuesday in the village of Gumuruk. The rest of the children will disarm over the next several weeks. Many of the children, who are members of the Murle ethnic group, have never been to school as they have been fighting for years for a rebel militia. Unicef is now trying to reunite the children with their families, and will then introduce them to education and training programs.

Google apologized and implemented a fix to take out anti-gay slurs from its translation tool. Translating from English into Spanish, French or Portuguese, the web version of Google Translate results included insults.  More than 50,000 people signed a petition with All Out. leading to Google’s quick response and apology.  If you see any Google Translate issues still popping up, email the AllOut team at info@allout.org

For the first time ever in the UNITED STATES, there will be an ad that draws attention to domestic violence aired during the National Football League’s Super Bowl.   The ad was released this week ahead of Super Bowl Sunday.

In the ad, which is reportedly based on a real-life story, a woman calls 911 but pretends to order a pizza so that her abuser is not aware of what she is doing.  It ends with the words: “When it’s hard to talk, it’s up to us to listen.”  It was created by the advertising firm Grey New York for the NFL and No More, a coalition of groups dedicated to fighting domestic violence and sexual assault.  The NFL donated Super Bowl airtime for the PSA and paid its production costs.  Earlier this week, Sports Illustrated decided to run a domestic violence PSA of its own, after initially deciding against it. The 15-second video portrays an uniformed football player tackling an unprotected woman.

The Church of ENGLAND consecrated its first female bishop in a ceremony on January 26. The Right Reverend Libby Lane, 48, was made Bishop of Stockport in front of more than 1,000 people. After decades of argument over women’s ordination, the Church formally adopted legislation last November to allow women to become bishops.

In EL SALVADOR, a woman known “Guadalupe” was granted pardon by El Salvador’s Parliamentary Assembly after being imprisoned for suffering a miscarriage. In 2007 “Guadalupe” received a 30 year jail sentence after authorities wrongly suspected she had terminated her pregnancy. She was only 18 years old at the time. Amnesty International called the pardon a “triumph of justice” that “gives hope to the other 15 women languishing in jail on similar charges.

The Senate of the  DEMOCRATIC REPUBLIC OF CONGO  voted to eliminate a measure in an electoral law that critics say would have prolonged the president’s time in power.  The lower house voted last week to require a census before next year’s presidential election, raising concerns that it was merely a ploy to delay that vote and keep President Joseph Kabila in power.  Kabila has been in office since 2001 and term limits prevent him from running again.  The vote in the lower house prompted large demonstrations against the measure and led to the Senate’s action. A parliamentary committee must now reconcile the bills from the two houses of Parliament before a final version can be voted on.

I’ll end with two more beautiful, inspirational advertisements.  The first is for the South African telecom company MTN and I saw it for the first time this week.

The second is from a campaign that came out last June, so wasn’t new to me. But I totally teared up watching it tonight during the Super Bowl with my daughter sitting next to me and my husband yelling “That is AWESOME!”

Raising My Voice To #BringBackOurGirls

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My son in a local march to Bring Back Our Girls

On Mother’s Day, I spoke at a local march and rally to show support for the nearly 300 school girls abducted a month ago in Nigeria.

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Here’s what I said:

Bring Back Our Girls Twin Cities March

May 11, 2014

Thanks to organizers and to all of you for being here.

I’m here as a lawyer and Deputy Director of The Advocates for Human Rights, a non-profit based in Minneapolis that works on human rights issues around the world.

But I’m also here as a mother.  My kids Simon and Eliza are here today as well to stand in honor of the nearly 300 girls abducted simply because they were pursuing their human right to education.  I think that’s pretty much the best Mother’s Day gift they could give me.

There are a lot of things that we don’t know about the situation in Nigeria.  We don’t know where the girls are or what is happening to them.  We don’t even know the exact number abducted and we only know a few of their names.  We can only imagine the agony their families are going through.

But the tragedy of the nearly 300 girls in Chibok shines a spotlight on the systemic human rights abuses against faced by women and girls worldwide.

And there are many things we do know about violations of the rights of girls and women:

  • We know that girls around the world lack equal access to basic education  (in the NE region of Nigeria where these girls lived, girl enrollment is the lowest in the country –  only 22%.  In part, they were targeted because they were seeking an education that would change their lives.
  • Educating girls, we know, is one of the strongest ways to improve gender equality.  It is also one the best ways to reduce poverty and promote economic growth and development
  • We know that girls and women are not valued equally as boys and men in many parts of the world.  The Nigerian government’s lack of action both before and after certainly makes it seem that these girls were not deemed worthy of protection.
  • We know that when these girls are found and hopefully rescued, they will need support in the form of psychosocial and health care.  Women’s access to health care is woefully limited.
  • We know that 1 in 3 girls under age 18 are still being forced into marriage too early.  By some estimates, that’s about 14 million girls a year. Too many girls still endure harmful traditional cultural practices such as FGM.
  • We know that girls and women suffer the most in times of conflict.  What these girls have experienced is likely a war crime.  Trafficking remains a huge problem around the world and in our own community.
  • We know that 1 in 3 of the world’s women experience violence, including domestic violence (The Advocates for Human Rights works on domestic violence legal reform around the world);

And we know that these are all things that have to change.

We need to do more to push our governments to make this change a priority.  We can’t stop with just these 276 girls.

Now these are human rights abuses that may seem intractable.  It may seem like you are powerless to make a difference.  But you can:

  • Continue to educate yourself about girls and women’s rights.  Here in the Twin Cities, there are many opportunities.   Through The Advocates for Human Rights alone, you can attend the free St. Paul Public Library Women’s Rights Film series, learn more about the issues on www.StopVAW.org, or participate in our Human Rights Book Club.
  • Support the NGOs that work on issues you care about. No amount is too small – a little money really does go a long way in this area.
  • Write to our members of Congress and the President to encourage support for women’s rights as a critical part of our US foreign policy.
  • For those of you with young people in your lives, teach them about the world around them so that they will grow up to continue the fight to ensure that every child, wherever he or she lives in the world, has the chance to live in safety and dignity and to achieve their greatest human potential.

For those of you doubting whether sharing this story on social media really makes a difference, I’d like to share a message I got on my blog from a woman named Winnie in Nigeria:

we here in nigeria are so angry and feel very helpless, the government and opposition leaders have politicized this, while our daughters are still in captivity. the government officials do not want to listen to ‘ordinary’ people. and word  has it that the Nigerian press have been ordered to kill the story (as the have killed other stories in the past).  pls this is a passionate plea to the international community to keep this story alive until our girls are returned home safely.

Here in the Twin Cities and all around the world, we are working to keep this story alive until our girls are returned home safely.

And after our girls come home, I hope we can keep working together for a future where all girls around the world can go to school in safety and grow up to reach their full human potential.

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Image used with permission of RaSam Photography. Thank you!

 

See also:  Nightmare For Nigeria’s School Girls   originally published on The Advocates Post.

Morocco: Human Rights Violations Under Article 475

Zohra Filali shows a picture of her daughter, Amina Filali, at their family house near Larache, northern Morocco. Amina Filali committed suicide after being forced to marry the man who raped her. (AP Photo/Abdeljalil Bounhar)
Zohra Filali shows a picture of her daughter, Amina Filali. Amina Filali committed suicide after being forced to marry the man who raped her.
(AP Photo/Abdeljalil Bounhar)

Originally published on The Advocates Post

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.[1]

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.[2] Additional news reports confirm that the use of Article 475 continues.[3]  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.[4]  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.[5]

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,[6] victims also fear prosecution and imprisonment under Penal Code Article 490.[7] 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.[8]

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.[9]

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,[10]the Family Code allows the marriage of minors when “justified” and after substantial control by the Family Affairs judge.[11]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.[12]  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[13].  The overwhelming majority of the minor spouses, 99.31%, were girls.[14] 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.[15]

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.[16]  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.[17]

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.”[19]  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.”[20]

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.”[21]

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.

Related post:  Amina Filali and Violence Against Women in Morocco


[1]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.

available at http://adala.justice.gov.ma/FR/Legislation/TextesJuridiques.aspx.

[3]See, e.g.,http://www.illionweb.com/larticle-475-tue-toujours/, http://www.illionweb.com/bouchra-victime-gang/, and http://www.yabiladi.com/articles/details/21035/tetouan-fille-suicide-apres-avoir.html.  In addition, one association working with MRA reported that their region of Morocco alone, three girls married under Art. 475 had recently tried to kill themselves. Written Communications to MRA and The Advocates for Human Rights from Moroccan NGOs (5 December 2013).

[4]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.

[5]Id.

[6]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. 490.

[7]Written Communications to MRA and The Advocates for Human Rights from Moroccan NGOs (5 December 2013).

[8]Id.

[9]Id.

[10] Dahir n° 1-04-22 du 12 hija 1424 (3 février 2004) portant promulgation de la loi n° 70-03 portant Code de la Famille («Family Code ») art. 19.

[11] The authorization is not subject to appeal. Id. art. 20.  Article 21 also requires the legal tutor’s (guardian’s) consent.Id. art. 21.

[13]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).

[15]Ligue démocratique de défense des droits des femmes (LDDF), Droits des femmes et code de la famille après 4 ans d’application(2007).

[16]Interviews with Local Morocco NGOs, (May 2012 – December 2013).

[17]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).

[18]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.html www.yabiladi.com%2Farticles%2Fdetails%2F22289%2Fviols-mineures-deputes-annulent-l-alinea.html&h=1AQFFOSTM

[19]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).

[20]Idpara. 112.

[21]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).

Haikus With My Daughter III: Girls Rights

My heart yearns for you

To live – equal – to your full

human potential.

It’s a challenge to raise a daughter in a society that innundates us with countless hidden messages about how girls should look and act, who they should be.    My daughter and I have been talking about this a lot lately, with the holiday marketing of “girls toys” and “boys toys” so in our faces.   So I was pleasantly surprised this week when she found a women’s rights message hidden in Captain Underpants and The Terrifying Return of Tippy Tinkletrousers.

IMG_1964

Captain Underpants.

The bully battle begins!

(Secret feminism.)

You go, girl! You just go and go and GO!

This post, Haikus With My Daughter , Haikus With My Daughter II  and Thanksgiving are a response to the WordPress Weekly Writing Challenge.

Assault In The Second Degree Grade

Me at age 7

I picked up my seven-year old daughter early from school one day not too long ago.  “How was your day?” I asked, as she buckled herself securely into her booster seat.  The key was in the ignition, and my brain had already sent the signal to my hand to turn it, when she replied,

“OK. Except that X touched me inappropriately this morning.”

We were running late for the appointment, but I did not start the car.  Instead, I turned around and looked at her.  She sat placidly in the backseat, the afternoon sun backlighting her golden curls like an angel’s aura. She gazed at me innocently with her big blue eyes. She didn’t look at all upset.

“Tell me what happened,” I said.

My voice sounded much calmer than I expected.  It certainly didn’t convey what I was feeling. When you are a parent,  and your most important job in life is to protect your kid, it is terribly disconcerting – not to mention heartrending – to hear her say something like this. I wanted to scream, “Who in the world would have the audacity to touch MY CHILD inappropriately?!?!”

Somehow, I stayed calm and delved for facts.  She answered each question fully and calmly. Here is a summary of what she told me and what I wrote in an email to her teacher later that night:

My daughter told me that X has been touching her a lot and making her feel uncomfortable.  She said on Friday that he was rubbing her upper thighs and touched her briefly in the bathing suit area.  She said that it is usually during circle time that this happens, so she tries not to sit near him.  I told her to tell you immediately the next time it happened, but I would appreciate it if you could keep an eye out for this behavior and help her avoid it.

I did not include this in the email, but she also told me that she always asked her friends to sit around her at circle time, a perimeter of girlfriend protection.

Up until last year, I think my reaction might have been different – more anger than the deep sadness that I was feeling. But after I wrote (and Time published) the How to Raise Boys Not To Be Total Jerks piece about my reaction when my son told a sexist joke, I heard from dozens of women about their experiences with inappropriate touching, sexual harassment, and sexual abuse.  Women of all ages, ethnicities and occupations, shared their experiences from all over the world.  A couple of medical professionals even told me about patients who had touched them inappropriately during medical examinations.  The sad truth is that these are experiences that are all too common for girls and women throughout the world.  I realized, sitting there in the car with my key in the ignition, that this was only the beginning for my second grade daughter.

In those few seconds before normality returned and we drove on to the orthodontist, I saw an image of myself in the second grade.  An image, like I was watching from above, of myself at the age of 7, pinned down in the dust on the playground at Magnolia Woods Elementary School by a boy who easily weighed twice as much as me.  I had not thought of it in more than 30 years, but now I had a sudden, strong remembrance of the feeling of being panicked and trapped, as he sat heavily on my chest and held my wrists down on either side of my head.

I had thought that we were playing chase at recess; HE told me that we were playing kissing chase.  He demanded that I hold still so he could kiss me – he caught me, so it was his right.  A kiss was the price of my freedom.  I remember thrashing, kicking, rolling my head and arching my back, all to no avail.  A crowd of first and second graders gathered to watch. I think they were  cheering him on.

The school may have taken its name from magnolia trees, but I frankly don’t remember any.  There were crepe myrtle trees all along the walkway where we second graders lined up to enter our classrooms.  Small tree frogs congregated there; they seemed to have no purpose in life other than to sing happily and spit down on us.  A certain times in the year, the crepe myrtles’ strange, pink blossoms – which looked like something right out of Dr Seuss – covered the trees.  Pink petals blanketed the sidewalk where we second graders lined up.

As I struggled to break free from this boy, oh how I longed for the crepe myrtle trees and the safety of my classroom door!  I pictured myself running, as fast as I could, to that safe spot. Instead, I lay on my back, trapped, in the dust on the playground, trying not to see the boy’s face hovering inches above me. Looking instead for the freedom above me, in the bright blue of a Louisiana winter sky and a canopy of towering swamp oaks.

I have no complaints about the way my daughter’s school responded.  The teacher replied within a few hours and forwarded the information on to the school principal and social worker.  First thing on Monday morning, the social worker interviewed both students.  By Monday afternoon, they had put place a six point plan of strategies to ensure the safety of all of the second graders.  The school social worker laid it out for me:

1)      I will  speak to all of the 2nd grade classrooms about appropriate interactions.

2)      All students will be reminded to tell an adult as soon as something happens so we will be able to address it.

3)      Teachers will be vigilant and observant in the classrooms for appropriate student interactions.

4)      The playground staff will closely monitor for concerning behavior.

5)      Seating assignments will be made based on student needs.

6)      Students who cannot follow the rules will be seated next to the teacher.

The school social worker also said, “Please acknowledge your daughter for telling you, so you could inform us.”

When my daughter got home from school the next day, she reported that all six points of this plan had already been implemented.

“I’m proud of you for telling me. It was the right thing to do,” I said.

“I know,” she sighed.  “Everyone keeps telling me that! I’m getting kind of tired of hearing about it.”

But here’s the thing.  Statistics on sexual abuse in children are hard to come by because the majority of cases are never reported to authorities (estimates on reporting range from between only 12% (see Hanson, 1999) and 30% of cases (Finkelhor, 2008)). Based on reporting percentages, the real number of cases of sexual abuse could be anywhere from 260,000-650,000 kids a year.  To put it another way, as many as one in three girls and one in seven boys in the United States will be sexually abused at some point in their childhood.

I’m not suggesting that what my daughter (or I) experienced was sexual abuse.  But it was an assault – and definitely a wake up call to my daughter’s vulnerability to the potential of something much worse. I don’t know the little boy who I call X here. I’ve also been around kids enough to know that second graders get squirrelly.  Sometimes, especially in close quarters, they have trouble keeping their hands to themselves.  I’m not willing to make any assumptions about this kid or speculate that his behavior is a sign that he will grow up to be a sexual predator.  But research shows that 40 percent of child sex abuse is committed by other children or adolescents. In fact, as many as 50 percent of those who sexually abuse other children are under the age of 18. These are facts that I did not know before.

When the recess bell rang and that boy got off of me, I sprinted for my second grade classroom door.  I got there before any of the other kids and put my face against the glass window to cool my cheeks, which were burning with shame and embarrassment.  For the next week or so, I spent recess in different part of the playground, doing penny flips on the monkey bars.  When I finally went back to playing chase, I made sure that I ran as fast as I could so I would never get caught.  For the rest of my time at Magnolia Woods, I was careful to keep away from that boy.  But I never told a single person – not my friends, not my teacher, not my parents – about him holding me down and trying to kiss me.  Not even when I saw him do the same thing to other girls.

So I’m thankful that my daughter told me about what happened to her.  And I’m thankful that the school took quick and decisive action, reinforcing the message for all of the kids and staff that school is a place where everyone has a right to feel safe. I’m especially thankful that something worse did not happen to my daughter, but also that this experience has left her better prepared for the future.

Child sexual abuse happens in all racial, religious, ethnic and age groups, and at all socio-economic levels.   Talk to your daughters and your sons about appropriate v. inappropriate touching, as well as what to do if it happens to them – or if they see it happening to someone else.  If you’ve talked to them about it once, then do it again.  Kids need to hear it again as they move through their various developmental stages. If you feel uncomfortable, just remember that what you are doing is preparing your kids to protect themselves, something they will have to do for the rest of their lives.

Resources about identifying signs of and avoiding child sexual abuse can be found at Stop It Now.  If you know of other good resources, please feel free to add them in the comments. 

 

INTERNATIONAL DAY OF THE GIRL: Kanchi’s Story

Every morning when I come into work, I am greeted by the smiling face of a young girl. Her hair is pulled neatly back into two braids, glossy black against her pink hairbands.  Her eyes, dark and alert, shine at me – I swear I can see them twinkle.

She wears the blue uniform of her school, the Sankhu-Palubari Community School in rural Nepal.  The Advocates for Human Rights supports the school to provide the right to education to the most disadvantaged kids in the area and to prevent them from becoming involved in child labor.  Photographs from the school hang on the walls of our office, reminders to us of the lives that we impact with our human rights work.

Even though I see her every day, until last month I had never met this cheerful young girl, a girl whose smile – even in a photo – comes from her core, seems to light her entire being. Until last month, I did not know that her name was Kanchi.  And I had never heard her incredible story.

*****

In 1999, Kanchi was six years old.  She lived with her family in a village in the Kathmandu Valley.  Her parents were poor farmers; they had only a little land and some cattle and they struggled to feed their family.  Kanchi was the youngest of six sisters.  She and her sisters (and also her  brother) had to help their parents in the fields and with household chores.  Kanchi’s job was also to take the cattle to the forest to graze.   Kanchi did not go to school.   There were many children in Nepal that did not go to school at that time, but girls, like Kanchi, were more likely than boys to work rather than go to school – particularly in rural areas like the Suntole district where she lived.

Kanchi was a very smart and determined little girl.  She wanted to go to school.   So when she heard that a new school was opening in the Sankhu-Palubari community – a school for kids who were not able to go to school because they couldn’t pay or were discriminated against – she was very excited.  She rushed off to tell her parents.  But her parents, who had never themselves been educated, were not as excited as Kanchi.  Why should they let her go to school?  Who would help feed the family? Why should they send her to school if she was only going to get married in a few years anyway?

Kanchi says that she cried for a month and begged her parents to let her go to school.  One day, teachers from the new school came to visit Kanchi’s parents to talk to them about the school. The teachers explained that it would help THEM if Kanchi could read and write.  They explained why it was important for all children to go to school, even girls.  They told them that all children – even the poorest, the lowest-caste, members of indigenous groups – had a right to education.

Kanchi’s older sisters, who had never had the opportunity to go to school, took her side. Instead getting an education, they had all married young and were working in the fields.  Kanchi’s sisters argued that Kanchi should go to school, take this opportunity for a life that would be different from theirs.  Finally, their parents agreed to let Kanchi go to school.

Kanchi started at the Sankhu-Palubari Community School in 1999, one of 39  students in the first kindergarten class.  To get to school, Kanchi had to walk one and a half hours each way.  There were many other obstacles along the way, too.  At various times, her parents wanted her to stop school and help them with farming.  But she stayed in school and worked hard. She told her parents,  “I want to do something different from the others.”

Kanchi liked her teachers and felt supported by them.  She felt that the best thing about the school was the teaching environment.  She stayed in school and was one of only two girls in the first class to graduate from 8th grade.  She continued on to high school and completed 12th grade at  Siddhartha College of Banepa in 2012.  The first in her family to go to school, Kanchi is also the first girl from the Sankhu-Palubari Community School to graduate from 12th grade.

I met Kanchi for the first time in September.  Almost exactly 13 years after this brave little girl started kindergarten, she is a lovely young woman who is preparing for her university entrance exams.  She plans to study agriculture  starting in January.   Her parents are proud of her and they are happy now – she has chosen the family profession – but Kanchi is interested in learning more about organic farming so she can bring techniques back to her village.  “I want to live a healthy life and give a healthy life to others,” she says.

Sitting in the principal’s office at Sankhu-Palubari Community School, I asked her what the school meant to her.  Kanchi said, “I gained from this school my life.  If I hadn’t learned to read and write, I would be a housewife.”  When asked about her sisters, she told me that they had made sure to send their own children to school.

In her free time, Kanchi likes to sing and dance and make handicrafts to decorate her room.  She likes to play with her sisters’ children.  She has a smile that lights the whole world.  She told me her nickname, Himshila.  She smiled when she told me it means “mountain snow, strong rock”.  Strong rock.  That seems just about right.

*****

October 11, 2012 is the first International Day of the Girl Child.  The United Nations has designated this day to promote the rights of girls, highlight gender inequalities and the challenges girls face, and address discrimination and abuse suffered by girls around the globe.  In many ways, the story of Kanchi and her sisters reflects the experience of girls in many countries throughout the world.  All over the world, girls are denied equal access to education, forced into child labor, married off at a young age, pressured to drop out of school because of their gender.

There are many good reasons to ensure access to education for girls like Kanchi, however. Educating girls is one of the strongest ways to improve gender equality.  It is also one the best ways to reduce poverty and promote economic growth and development.

“Investing in girls is smart,” says World Bank President, Robert Zoellick. “It is central to boosting development, breaking the cycle of intergenerational poverty, and allowing girls, and then women—50 percent of the world’s population—to lead better, fairer and more productive lives.”

The International Day of the Girl is a day to recommit ourselves to ensuring that girls like Kanchi have the chance to live their lives to their fullest possible potential.  To redouble our efforts to promote the rights of girls wherever they live in the world.   This first International Day of the Girl is also a day to honor girls like Kanchi.  A day to take the story of her success in one tiny corner of Nepal and shout it out, an inspiration for girls all around the world.  Girls like Kanchi with the strength, the bravery, the determination to change the world, but who  just need the opportunity.

Originally published on The Advocates Post.

PHOTO ESSAY: Cartooning for Peace

Cartoon by Kianoush

In May, I was in Geneva to participate in the United Nations’ Universal Periodic Review of Morocco and India.  I went for a run one day along Quai Wilson on Lake Geneva and discovered an exhibition of political cartoons. The exhibition was sponsored by Cartooning for Peace/Dessins pour la paix, an initiative conceived of by French political cartoonist Plantu and launched at the United Nations in 2006.  The goal of Cartooning for Peace is to promote better understanding and mutual respect between people of different faiths and cultures.  Cartooning for Peace also works to promote freedom of expression and to protect the rights of cartoonists.

Cartooning for Peace and the City of Geneva created the new International Prize for Editorial Cartoons to honor cartoonists for their talent, outstanding contribution and commitment to the values of tolerance, freedom and peace. On May 3, 2012  – the World Day of Press Freedom – the prize was awarded for the first time to four Iranian political cartoonists.

Cartoon by Mana Neyestani
Cartoon by Mana Neyestani

The exhibition Dessins Pour La Paix  2012 displayed the work of the award-winning Iranian artists Mana Neyestani, Kianoush,  Firoozeh Mozaffari and Hassan Karimzade.

In addition, the exhibition included dozens of political cartoons by cartoonists around the world on the themes of freedom of expression, the Arab spring and the rights of women.

The exhibition in Geneva ran from May 3 to June 3, 2012.  The full catalogue of the cartons featured in the exhibit is now available online.

Take a stroll with me along Quai Wilson and witness the power of the cartooning for peace!

ARAB SPRING 

FREEDOM OF EXPRESSION

ET LES FEMMES? (AND THE WOMEN?)

Photo credits to Amy Bergquist

Originally posted on 8/7/12 on

The Advocates for Human Rights’  blog

The Advocates Post.

Amina Filali and Violence Against Women in Morocco

Morocco demonstration

Demonstrations in Morocco after the suicide of Amina Filali

 Image source

Amina Filali was only 16 years old when she took her own life.  According to reports, Amina was raped last year at the age of 15 by an older man, but that crime alone was not what drove her to swallow rat poison. Instead of seeing her rapist punished for his crime, Amina was forced to marry him. A few months into an unconscionable marriage, her rapist/ husband was beating her, she told her mother. Her mother counseled her to try and bear it, according to the Moroccan daily al-Massa.  Amina must have seen no way out, no future worth living.

Why would a judge order – or even recommend – a young girl to marry her rapist? Under Article 475 of the Morocco Penal Code, a perpetrator of rape on a minor is allowed to escape punishment if he marries the victim.  While it may not be a provision of Moroccan law that is used frequently, it is a violation of human rights that has attracted international scrutiny both before and after Amina’s tragic death.  I saw this myself when I was in Geneva last November with a group of Moroccan human rights activists.  We were there to participate in the review of Morocco’s compliance with the United Nations Convention Against Torture.  Violence against women is considered torture under the Convention and the independent committee of experts charged with monitoring state compliance with the treaty had many pointed questions for the Moroccan delegation about Article 475 and other provisions related to the Moroccan government’s failure to protect women from violence.

There is no text that allows a rapist to escape prosecution or a “kidnapper” to escape punishment if he marries his victim, the Government assured the UN Committee Against Torture.  The penal code has a law on the rape of a minor, but the victim – if she has reached puberty – may CHOOSE to marry.  The marriage, if it takes place, continued the Moroccan Government delegation, would have to be based on the consent of the victim.

As Amina’s case shows, “consent” is neither adequate protection for a minor nor a remedy for the crime of rape.  Victims are not often in a position to offer informed consent as they may be pressured into marriage as an alternative in order to preserve family honor.  But in Amina’s case, Amina’s father has, according to some news reports, denied that the family ever consented to the court ruling ordering marriage to preserve family honor.

Amina’s story may be shocking to some of us, but it is a glimpse at the reality of the violence faced by women in Morocco every day.  While it is difficult to determine the exact prevalence of domestic violence throughout Morocco, statistics that are available demonstrate that domestic violence is a widespread problem. A 2011 national study on the prevalence of violence against women found that 62.8% of women in Morocco of ages 18-64 had been victims of some form of violence during the year preceding the study.

The Moroccan Penal Code provides insufficient protection against rape and sexual assault, which are often unreported and prosecutions not pursued. Spousal (also called marital or conjugal) rape is not specifically considered a crime in the Penal Code nor is it prosecuted in practice. Women are deemed to have consented to all sexual relations with their husband by the fact of marrying them. Women do not seek help when they are raped by their husbands because of the social stigma associated with rape, the difficulty in proving rape, and the futility in reporting an act that the Moroccan Government does not even recognize it as a crime. The issue of marital rape in Morocco is trivialized by the officials and executives, and is considered as being unimportant, and therefore, it is not defined nor is it acknowledged by the Moroccan law.

Rape cases in general are difficult to prove in Morocco, as actual physical injuries are required to prove non-consent. Under the Penal Code, rape is considered a crime against morality and not identified as a crime against persons.Women are deterred from reporting rape cases because of the lack of response from law enforcement and the criminal justice system. Even when a rape case is investigated, the perpetrator is not always punished.

Furthermore, sexual relations outside of marriage are illegal in Morocco, and penalties are increased if one or both people engaged in the affair are already married. Thus, there is a strong disincentive for a woman like Amina to report a rape as she risks being prosecuted for illicit sexual relations if she does not prevail in proving her rape case and she is not married to her rapist. Is it any wonder that Amina apparently kept her rape a secret even from her parents for two months?

Amina’s story is a tragedy.  But the media attention it has drawn is a cause for hope.  Amina’s story has raised awareness both inside and outside of the country about violence against women.  In addition to the media attention, there is a reinvigorated campaign to abolish the law.  There is a Facebook page and an online petition.  There have been demonstrations, with protests planned for this Saturday, March 17.

The silver lining to Amina’s story would be that the internal and external pressure  on the Moroccan government finally results in the passing of a Violence Against Women law in Morocco.  (A draft is currently stalled in InterMinisterial consultations and has not yet been introduced in Parliament.)

As the Moroccan human rights activists recommended to the UN Committee Against Torture last November:

The Moroccan Government should pass a specific violence against women law that contains both criminal and civil provisions.

• Care should be taken that that the new law does not contain provisions that would cause further harm to victims.
• The new law should expand the definition of violence against women and ensure various types of relationships
are covered by the law
• The new law should establish civil remedies, including comprehensive Civil Protection Order provisions for
women who are victims of violence

Morocco’s Penal Code should be amended to:

• explicitly criminalize conjugal rape;
• abolish criminal prosecutions for illicit sexual relations;
• eliminate laws that criminalize those who assist or harbor married women;
• abolish provisions that allow a perpetrator of rape to escape prosecution for marrying his victim; and
• eliminate discriminatory legal provisions that place heavy burdens of proof solely on the victim of violence.

Sources:

Moroccan girl commits suicide after being forced to marry her rapist, Al Arabiya News, March 14, 2012  http://english.alarabiya.net/articles/2012/03/14/200577.html

 Morocco protest after raped Amina Filali kills herself, BBC News, March 15, 2012  http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/world-africa-17379721

Morocco Penal Code, Article 475

U.S. Department of State, Country Reports on Human Rights Practices, “2010 Human Rights Practices: Morocco”, (April 8, 2011), available at http://www.state.gov/g/drl/rls/hrrpt/2010/nea/154468.htm (last visited October 10, 2011).

Moroccan Haut Commissaire au Plan, “Principaux résultats de l’Enquête Nationale sur la Prévalence de la Violence à l’Egard des Femmes (version française)”, (January 2011), available at  http://www.hcp.ma/Conference-debat-consacree-a-l-etude-de-la-violence-a-l-egard-de-femmes-au-Maroc_a66.html (last visited October 6, 2011); see also, UN Women, “Moroccan Government Release Extensive Gender-Based Violence Study”, (10 January 2011), available at  http://www.unwomen.org/2011/01/moroccan-government-releases-extensive-gender-based-violence-study/ (last visited October 6, 2011).

Written Communications to The Advocates for Human Rights from Moroccan NGOs (26 September 2011).

MOROCCO: Challenges with addressing domestic violence in compliance with the  Convention Against Torture 47th  Session of the Committee Against Torture (31 October – 25 November, 2011), Joint Written Statment submitted by The Advocates for Human Rights and Global Rights, in collaboration with an alliance of Moroccan NGOs at http://www.theadvocatesforhumanrights.org/uploads/final_shadow_report_to_cat_re_morocco_response_to_dv_oct_14_2011_sent_to_geneva_2.pdf