As It Happens

The fight to repeal Jordan's 'marry the rapist' law was decades in the making

Activist Salma Nims speaks with As It Happens about the decades-long fight to scrap a part of the penal code that allowed rapists to escape punishment.
Women activists protest in front of Jordan's parliament in Amman on Tuesday, August 1, 2017. The banner in the middle in Arabic reads, 'Article 308 is a disgrace in the Jordanian justice system.' The banner on the left says, 'Article 308 does not protect honour, it protects the culprit.' (Reem Saad/Associated Press)
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Story transcript

It's being hailed as a historic win for women in Jordan.

The country's parliament voted to repeal an article in the penal code allowing rapists to escape punishment by marrying their victims.

Women's rights activists hailed Tuesday's vote as a major victory after a years-long campaign, but said a long struggle lies ahead.

Salma Nims is secretary general of the Jordanian National Commission for Women — a semi-governmental organization that campaigned for the repeal of the law. She says it's "high time" that articles like this one be repealed.

"They are totally inconsistent with the fact that we are a modern nation and we need to move forward towards a more modernized penal code that enforces that criminals — specifically in cases of violence against women, in cases of rape, in cases of sexual assault — need to be sentenced and have to pay for their crimes," she says.

Nims spoke with As It Happens guest host Piya Chattopadhyay from Jordan's capital Amman. Here's more of that conversation: 

For women in Jordan, how significant is the repeal of this law?

This has been a demand for the women's movement and the human rights movements in Jordan for the past two decades, at least. Of course, it's … a whole set of legal amendments that we are demanding  — some of them are within the penal code, others are within other legislations.

However, this one has been one of the most important and significant because it was kind of contradictory with the idea of legal justice. So that was why it was very important for us to repeal it and not only amend it. 

It's 2017. Why do you think it has taken so long to get this law, this kind of law, off the books in Jordan?

Specifically in societies like ours, issues related to giving women rights become the last on the agenda when you're looking at ... ensuring that the country is stable.

You don't want to challenge traditions that are established over hundreds of years, where concepts of reputation and honour are connected to the body of the women.

This is something that is a concept or a principle or a value that is adopted by all sects of Jordanian society — whether it's Christians or Muslims, from different tribes. So, it is not the challenge that the state would take if there are other political or economic challenges.

The excuse has always been that the society is not ready.- Salma Nims

There was no real effort to change mindsets, no real effort to make a cultural shift within the society for the past two decades. We didn't see shifts through the educational system, through the religious discourse, or through the media. So, the excuse has always been that the society is not ready.

In April, Lebanese activists displayed these wedding dresses to protest a law similar to the one that has just been repealed by Jordan's parliament. (Hussein Malla/Associated Press)

Recently, Tunisia got rid of a similar provision … but this provision still exists in a number of countries in the Middle East — and in other parts of the world. But what kind of impact do you think the repeal in Jordan could have on efforts to abolish the law in other parts of the region?

We do get affected by each other. The civil society movements use changes that happen in similar countries, specifically within the region, as part of its pressure over its own governments and parliaments to adopt similar amendments.

Two days before parliament was going to be reviewing the article, it was when Tunisia actually adopted the law. This has given us a revamped energy to actually say, "No. We're not going to stop at this. Our fight is going to continue to the last minute."

Over the last weekend, the civil society organizations with the support of the Jordanian National Commission for Women, we brought ourselves together and … pushed into recreating a new campaign within 48 hours that created a new pressure on the parliament and I think has played a lot in affecting decision making at the highest level in pressuring towards ensuring that this is going to be adopted.  

With files from Associated Press. This conversation has been edited for length and clarity. To hear more from Salma Nims, listen to the audio above.

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