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Justice not honor: It’s time for sexual violence laws that protect and promote human rights

A woman in a black hijab looks out over a landscape

In societies where sexual violence remains taboo, laws that see girls and women as vessels of their family’s honor rather than human beings with rights often go unchallenged. An analysis of Kuwait’s Penal Code released today in collaboration with our partner, Abolish Article 153, reveals the extent to which Kuwait’s laws are failing to protect women and girls. 

Kuwait is one of a dwindling number of countries where the law allows perpetrators to escape punishment by marrying the woman or girl they abducted and raped. Laws like this reinforce the patriarchal belief that women and girls, and their sexuality, are the ‘property’ of their families. To save their family’s ‘honor’, women and girls are forced to marry the men who rape them. These laws are not only a barrier to justice for women and girls, they actively condone and reward sexual violence. Typical victims of these provisions are adolescent girls who are then at risk of a lifetime of abuse within these marriages. These laws should be abolished without delay.

Our partner, Abolish Article 153, is working to create a safe environment where mothers, daughters, sisters, and wives are protected from all forms of violence, to raise awareness of these violent practices and the legislation that sanctions them and ensure the creation of safe houses for women under threat of violence, which are lacking in Kuwait.

Ahead of the launch of our joint legal analysis of Kuwait’s laws on sexual violence, we spoke to one of the lawyers who is part of the campaign to Abolish Article 153:

“Ever since I qualified as a lawyer I’ve been working to protect the rights of women. Kuwaiti law around sexual violence does not protect women and girls, instead, it centers the family’s honor.

“I represented Hana* who became pregnant after she was raped when she was 16. Hana was forced to marry the man who raped her as a way to ‘save the honor of the family’.

“Hana’s marriage lasted only a few days, then she was able to divorce her rapist. Hana’s parents refused to let her raise her child. Instead, the child lives with their father, Hana’s rapist.

“I would encourage the government of Kuwait and Parliament to repeal Article 182 as it discriminates and violates the right of girls and women to live in dignity and without forcing them to marry their rapists.”

The failures of Kuwait’s Penal Code extend beyond the so-called ‘marry-your-rapist’ article; Article 153 provides a lenient sentence for a man who kills his female relatives, a provision again rooted in valuing ‘honor’ over the human rights of women and girls; the Penal Code does not explicitly criminalize marital rape; and the definition of rape is reliant on the use of force, threats or deception rather than being grounded in consent.

In recent years, the world has witnessed a reckoning on sexual violence. Egypt has recently seen a ‘feminist revolution’, with survivors speaking up about their experiences like never before. Globally, activists are calling out the discriminatory laws and practices that are fueling the continued systemic oppression of women and girls and allowing perpetrators to commit sexual violence with immunity. For many, it feels like we are reaching a tipping point, and we cannot let it pass Kuwait by.

With 2021 on the horizon, we have an opportunity to define a new and inclusive future. Together with activists in Kuwait and around the world, we are determined to build a world we want to live in, using the law to create an equal world that works for our mothers, our sisters, our daughters, our friends, our communities. A world without impunity for rapists, where survivors of sexual violence have the support they need to live their lives free from stigma and revictimization.

Are you in?

*Name has been changed to respect anonymity.