After more than a decade of lobbying and campaigning, women’s rights activists and officials in Jordan say they are closer than ever to abolishing a law allowing rapists to escape punishment if they marry their victim.
This week, the Jordanian government voted to get rid of Article 308 of the Penal Code. The article permits pardoning rape perpetrators if they marry their victims and stay with them for at least three years, provided the victim is between 15 and 18 years old.
“It’s a huge step on the part of the government. It shows commitment. Usually, women’s issues in Jordan are shoved to the back, but the government showed some seriousness with this vote. This is a very important and long-awaited step,” women’s rights activist and writer Rana Husseini told Al Jazeera.
The cabinet vote comes after months of heated debate on the controversial issue. In October 2016, Jordan’s King Abdullah II ordered the establishment of a royal committee to reform the judiciary and review the entire Penal Code, which dates back to 1960.
In February, the committee recommended abolishing the article, leading the Jordanian government to endorse the suggestion on Sunday.
Though the move was hailed as a victory by women’s groups, there remains much uncertainty and doubt over whether the parliament will approve its repeal. Parliamentary sessions following Sunday’s vote revealed deep divisions among deputies in Jordan’s lower house surrounding the issue.
For the provision to be abolished, the Jordanian parliament will still have to debate and vote in favour of its removal, and it could be months before parliament discusses the matter.
Parliamentarian and champion of women’s rights Wafaa Bani Mustafa said she was slightly worried after this week’s discussions. “There were some voices speaking against the removal of this article,” Bani Mustafa told Al Jazeera.
“Many MPs still believe that this law is needed to ‘protect’ women and ‘guard their honour’, which is an opinion I strongly disagree with. This is one of the ugliest laws targeting women,” she added.
Husseini said the strong backlash in parliament has dented the confidence of those working to have it repealed. “I thought society was ready, but the sessions in parliament were not a very good sign,” said Husseini.
“It’s not going to be an easy battle. There are many deputies that are against anything good for women. In their eyes, if a woman is raped, she has no chance of getting married, and … she will bring dishonour and shame to her family, so it is best for her to marry her rapist.”
Women’s activist Ghada Saba believes that even if the article is abolished, many “problems within Jordanian society have yet to be solved.
“We have to change the way our society thinks in parallel. This law protects the rapist – 308 is not just in law, it’s in our heads,” Saba told Al Jazeera. “The idea that the female is simply a burden, added weight on the family, and that her rape needs to be covered up, still exists.”
The legal provision, which grants impunity for rapists, “is a form of gender-based violence, which violates women’s rights under several international human rights treaties,” Rothna Begum, a regional women’s rights researcher for Human Rights Watch, told Al Jazeera.
“It provides impunity for the rapist and punishes the victim by forcing her into marriage with her rapist, as well as further harm from domestic violence and marital rape,” added Begum.
On May 15, the Lebanese parliament is also expected to vote on whether to eliminate its version of the same penal code provision, known as Article 522.
In the past 30 years, other countries around the world made similar strides to abolish such provisions, including Italy in 1981, France in 1994, Peru in 1998, Romania in 2000, Uruguay in 2006 and Costa Rica in 2007.