It’s 2015, and marital rape is not illegal in Egypt. The fact remains that a husband forcing his wife to have sex without her consent is not a crime. Let that sink in for a second.
Despite signing various international accords, most notably, the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women (CEDAW) in 1984, Egypt still has a long way to go before it can claim to equally protect the rights of men and women.
Most of us know that laws discriminating against women are rife within our penal code – we only need to look at laws that govern personal status or sexual violence, to conclude that, yes, we have a serious problem protecting women. There are certain crimes, such as adultery, where women receive harsher sentences than men by virtue of being female. According to the Egyptian Penal Code, women can receive up to two years imprisonment for committing adultery within the marital home, while men can receive up to six months.
While these laws are incredibly disturbing in their own right, none are as alarming as the idea that intimate partner sexual violence is not criminalised by law. Obviously, this issue does not end with the law, but is compounded by social, cultural, religious, and judicial factors that only make it more difficult for women to protect themselves or to get justice.
How is it possible that the Egyptian government does not consider that a woman, regardless of marital status, is the only one who can decide what to do with her body?
According to the Egyptian Initiative for Personal Rights (EIPR), the penal code regarding rape and sexual violence is failing women on various fronts.
Firstly, while rape (defined as sexual intercourse with a woman without her consent) is considered a crime and wives are not explicitly excluded from the definition, the Court of Cassation has ruled that ‘a woman is not allowed to refuse sexual intercourse with her husband without a valid reason according to Sharia’ – thus effectively decriminalising spousal rape.
Additionally, the courts require proof from the accuser that she physically (not verbally) resisted the assault. Physical and forensic evidence must be obtained, which can be particularly difficult when evidence is not immediately collected after the fact. Often, due to cultural and social taboos regarding sexual assault, and due to a lack of public awareness of support services, women do not immediately report incidences of assault. This isn’t surprising given the way police officers treat women reporting cases of rape or sexual assault.
According to EIPR, women who report rape are discouraged from filing complaints by police officers at the precincts. They are also publicly subjected to intimate and intrusive questions regarding their sexual behaviour and moral integrity. Police stations in Egypt, on the whole, turn complainants into suspects. It goes without saying that investigative techniques should not degrade, abuse, or humiliate victims further.
Unsurprisingly, considering everything we know about our legal system, while ‘verbal refusal’ is not considered evidence, evidence testifying to the woman’s ‘morals’, her ‘reputation’, and her ‘previous sexual conduct’ is admissible in courts.
The final nail in the coffin for women in instances of rape (marital or otherwise) lies in Article 17 of the penal code. Even in the rare cases where women manage to prove, in spite of all odds, that they have been raped, Article 17 grants judges the discretionary power to lessen sentences, where there are ‘mitigating circumstances’. Mitigating circumstances are not defined by law, and the judges do not have to provide any kind of justification or evidence for lessening the sentences. According to EIPR, case law analysis reveals that judges use this discretionary power in most rape and sexual assault cases, resulting in ‘undue leniency for the perpetrators’.
As signatories of CEDAW, Egypt has a duty to protect complainants from further violence. However, it does not provide an avenue for a complainant to file for a restraining order, or provide any other kind of protection for women who report rape or sexual assault or domestic violence, and who fear for their safety as a result of reporting.
On all fronts, and by all accounts, the legal system is failing women on a colossal scale – it does not protect them in their homes, on the streets, in police stations, or in court-rooms. The legality of marital rape is just a drop in the ocean of injustices and abuses that women in Egypt face on a daily basis.
If society isn’t going to protect us, shouldn’t our legal system?
Information gathered from EIPR and Egypt Independent.
Feature photo credits go to Jerusalem Post.