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Positive Steps in the Fight to Prevent Violence Against Women in the Middle East and North Africa

The passage of the Tunisian Law on Eliminating Violence against Women, as well as the redaction of the loophole in Jordanian parliament, demonstrates that a groundswell of people in MENA stand firmly against gender-based violence.

Article by Shannon Bradford August 7, 2017 //   4 minute read
Women in Amman hold a protest on International Women's Day. (Photo by Jordan Pix/ Getty Images)

Violence against women is a pervasive occurrence around the world, and countries of the Middle East and North Africa (MENA) are no exception. However, recent developments in Tunisia and Jordan, thanks to the diligent activism of civil society organizations, politicians, and impassioned individuals, may be indicators of shifting trends.

The Tunisian parliament recently passed a landmark Law on Eliminating Violence against Women which stipulates that gender-based crimes of a physical, moral, sexual, or economic nature are punishable offenses; the law also explicitly condemns domestic abuse. A first-of-its-kind ruling for Tunisia, the passage of the law eliminates a hotly contested loophole for rapists and kidnappers that allowed perpetrators to avoid punishment by marrying their victims.

Jordan also made great strides confronting chauvinistic statutes, when the lower house of parliament removed a similar penal code to that of Tunisia that made rape permissible through marriage. The redaction still must be approved by the upper house and signed by King Abdullah II, but the victory represents an important step.

According to the World Health Organization’s statistics on violence against women, 35.38 percent of women in MENA have experienced intimate partner violence, as compared to a global average of 26.4 percent. And, while most countries in the region have laws that protect women in some instances of violence, social stigma and convoluted burden of proof on victims prevents many women from coming forward about the abuses they suffer.

Tunisia and Jordan’s gains will set a precedent for other MENA countries to follow. While Morocco and Egypt have repealed their impunity loopholes already, they have yet to pass significant legislation against domestic violence, although there is heated debate in their parliaments on women’s rights. Meanwhile, rights groups in Lebanon are using bold marketing strategies to pressure lawmakers to repeal, and Bahrain is considering excising its own version of the law. Algeria has adopted a law that makes gender-based violence a criminal offense, yet it falls short of the Convention on the Elimination of all Forms of Discrimination against Women (CEDAW), an international standard bearer for laws protecting women.

These gains for women in the region are the result of decades of protests and activism. Following the series of revolutions that swept across MENA, catalyzed by Tunisia in December 2010, women and men have begun to feel emboldened to speak up against unfavorable laws and practices with renewed fervor. As a result, countries like Tunisia and Jordan are reaping the benefits of this labor, and, hopefully, other countries’ parliaments will soon follow suit.

Implementation remains to be seen still, as the passage of Tunisia’s law details referrals of women to shelters and the provision of financial assistance for long-term accommodation, yet, no mechanisms are in place to provide such funding.

Nevertheless, these steps in Tunisia and Jordan must be applauded by the international community as examples for the region to emulate. The passage of the Tunisian Law on Eliminating Violence against Women, as well as the redaction of the loophole in Jordanian parliament, demonstrate that a groundswell of people in MENA stand firmly against gender-based violence.

The Bush Institute trains community-oriented women from MENA in leadership skills. Learn more about our Women’s Initiative Fellowship here. Learn more about our other initiatives supporting women here.