Reporter: Aya Nabil
Jan. 29, 2017
Cairo, Egypt, (Aswat Masrya) – Loud arguments between Zaynab, 32, and her husband, 36, went on through the night in their home in Al Khusus city, Qalyubia Governorate. Neighbors were used to this fighting and didn’t think much about it. But this argument ended differently. Zaynab left very late for her brother’s, and the next morning, police found her husband’s body.
During questioning at the Al Khusus police department, Zaynab confessed to hitting her husband across the head with a broom. She said she was fed up with his repeated attempts to force her into sex with him while he was on narcotics. The police report for case Ref: 3398/ was released in July 2016. Zaynab was jailed while awaiting trial for voluntary manslaughter.
When Zaynab had complained to her family about her husband’s abuse, she had been scolded. To them, Zaynab’s husband had the right to do whatever he wanted with her as dictated by norms, traditions, and religion. Stories like hers are not uncommon. This investigation documents cases of tens of women who suffered similarly.
In another case, Dalia* endured six years of abuse at the hands of her husband who forced her to have sex under all circumstances. The first time she complained to her family, her elder brother whipped her with a belt and warned her against tarnishing the family honor with gossip about her sex life. One evening high on narcotics, her husband tried to forcefully have sex with her despite her pregnancy pains, knocking her to the floor and punching her in the stomach. She sought safety with her divorced mother. Lawyers assured Dalia that her only option was to request a Khulah.
In more fortunate cases, such as Amal’s*, an injury at the hands of her husband only a few days after a cesarean section saved her life. A medical report proved that her husband’s action had caused her a life-threatening injury and, thus, he faced charges of attempted murder. Amal took advantage of the situation, giving her husband a choice of jail time or her not pressing charges in exchange for a divorce and a financial commitment to their three daughters.
*Names have been changed
Except for the 2014 nationwide Population and Health Census conducted by the Health Ministry, marital rape has not been documented by local entities in Egypt. Results from the census show 4 percent of women in a sample of 6,693 experienced marital rape. Thirty percent of women who have separated from their husbands were exposed to sexual violence at least once. The statistics found are in line with a 2013 World Health Organization report, showing that 35 percent of women face physical or sexual abuse by their husbands.
According to the Population and Health Census, in rural parts of Egypt and Al Saeed districts, marital sexual abuse in the case of women separated from their husbands exceeds 50 percent. The NGOs’ Union Against Harmful Practices on Women and Children studied 700 families in the Akhim center in Sohag governorate between 2012 and 2015. This showed that 80 percent of married women are exposed to sexual violence at the hand of their husbands.
However, Fadea Abu Shahba, a forensic law tutor at the National Center for Social and Criminological Research, questioned the reliability of the data on marital rape, referring to it as “suppressed figures.” She said the statistics collected only reflect 10 percent of the actual figure because for various reasons so many hide their suffering.
An online survey on marital rape brought in 12 replies in two weeks. All participants spoke about how they were raped by their husbands, using words like “pain,” “humiliation,” and “vulnerability.” Nahida Amara, in charge of the psychological support unit at the Center for Egyptian Women, said the psychological damage married woman suffer from marital rape is the same as that of other rape victims.
Misinterpretation of Religious Text
Although in all cases documented in this investigation, husbands used religion to justify their behavior, Mohammed Hamodeh, the Imam of Al Sidiq mosque in Sohaj, disagrees. He is part of a campaign to raise awareness about the dangers of violence against women. He points out Allah’s definition of the relations between husband and wife with references to a commitment to “marrying them in kindness”, and to not throwing themselves onto their wives like animals.
Hamodeh said Islam prohibits a man from having intercourse with his wife during pregnancy and shortly after childbirth, and anal intercourse is viewed as “against nature”. Hamodeh believes the lack of proper education has resulted in misinterpretations which people then, in turn, bend to suit their own desires.
Hamodeh said, “Before a husband refers to verses of Hadith that speak of his religious rights to his wife, he must be educated in his wife’s rights regarding him. A husband must not abuse religion to his own ends.”
Lack of Legal Protection
Definition of sexual-based violence according to WHO?
Any sexual act, attempt to obtain a sexual act, unwanted sexual comments or advances, or acts to traffic, or otherwise direct, against a person’s sexuality using coercion, by any person regardless of their relationship to the victim, in any setting. Sexual violence includes rape, defined as physically forced or otherwise coerced penetration of the vulva or anus, using a penis, other body parts or an object.
Under Egyptian Law, marital rape does not exist and is not a criminal offense. Mohammed Aarim, secretary of the culture committee at Egypt’s Lawyers’ Union, clarifies that Article 60 of Egypt’s Penal Code states none of its clauses apply to actions committed in “good intentions”, including all actions committed under the confines of marriage. A marriage contract under Egypt’s Personal Status Law (1) 2000 gives a man the right to seek pleasure from his wife in accordance with the Sharia Law. This makes marital rape nonexistent under clause (267) of the Penal Code on rape. Intisar Said, director of the Cairo Center for Development, said that the lack of legal procedures to protect wives from such abuses leave women with few options. Many families are broken up as a result. Consequences are however worse for women who cannot afford the financial burden of Khulah.
Khulah, according to Article (20) of Egypt’s Personal Status Law, legally separates a woman from her husband, but she must drop all her post-marital financial rights and return the dowry her husband paid at the start of the marriage.
Although Egypt has signed the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women (CEDAW) and committed to the international human rights’ agreements according to Article 93 of Egypt’s Constitution, these cases continue to occur.
Civil societies such as Al Nadeem Center for the Rehabilitation of Victims of Violence have tried to put procedures in place to criminalize sexual violence within marriage. The center worked on a draft law in 2008 to create special units in police departments to include female officers, gynecologists, and deputy prosecutors. According to this draft, every witness had the right to report abuse and practices must be put in place to protect the privacy of female witnesses. The draft law stated that abuse can be proven with a forensic report and witness statements. The suggested sentences vary in severity, from placing protection parameters around the victim by removing the husband from the scene of the abuse for a duration determined by a judge, and enforcing a sentence of public service, up to criminal charges for repeat violations.
Majida Adli, manager of the Al Nadeem Center, said an aggressive counter campaign was launched against the law as soon as it was announced. The counter-campaign considered the law a contradiction of Sharia and religion. Parliament halted action. “We pushed for the law again in 2010 and it was accepted, but then the process was halted again after the 2011 revolution. Legislators stopped discussing the law altogether after that,” said Adli.
Egypt’s National Council for Women announced in 2013 that it was preparing a draft law to address violence against women. The Council presented it to parliament last October. But, marital sexual abuse was not included. Ihab Al Tamawi, Secretary of the parliament’s Legal Committee, stated the parliament may discuss the draft law during its current term. He said parliament will not focus on any one particular issue, but he promised that the new law would incorporate all of the women’s rights stated in the constitution and will combat discrimination against women. No deputy brought up violence against women during the entire first term of parliament.
When it comes to an absence of legal measures to prevent violence against women, Egypt is no different from most Arab countries. Tunisia is the only Arab country where parliament is taking a clear stand on the husbands’ abuse against wives. Tunisia’s former Grand Mufti Hamda Sa’id appeared in a televised debate in December 2015 to categorically ban “forced intercourse” between husband and wife. This was followed by deputies from the Islamist Al Nahda Party presenting a draft law in October 2016 to stop violence against women. The draft law, still under discussion, states clearly that rape within a marriage is a crime. Tunisia’s current Penal Code does not criminalize marital rape.
In most western countries, marital rape has been banned for many years. France issued a law in 2010 governing the relationship between spouses. A family judge in France can issue a removal order against the abusive husband with immediate effect, to protect a wife against three felonies, one of which is marital rape. The same applies to US laws. In 1993, 51 states including Washington DC legislated against marital rape. Six states regard marital rape as of equal severity to rape outside of marriage. Police arrested a Syrian husband in Germany last October after his wife accused him of rape.
Denial of Marital Rape by Hospitals and Shelters
As the state does not recognize sexual abuse within a marriage, hospitals, shelters and safe houses in Egypt are limited in the help they can offer victims.
Dr. Iman Abdullah, a gynecologist at El Matareya Educational Hospital, said she once treated a patient whose husband used his hands to rape his wife so violently he damaged her internal organs. She was treated, but the hospital could demand no action against the husband. Egyptian hospitals will only release a report to prove sexual abuse in cases of women being raped by men other than their husbands and backed with a police report.
A call was made to the ministry’s hotline, a service to offer advice to victims including information about safe houses. In a recorded conversation seeking advice on behalf of a friend being sexually abused by her husband and getting no support from her family, little help was offered. The only suggestion was to file a Khulah case. Similarly, nine women’s shelters run by the Ministry of Social Solidarity in Egypt turn away victims of marital abuse.
Abu Shahba said that the patriarchal culture of Egypt dictates that a marriage gives a man the right to have his wife whenever he wants. The wife may not deny him for any reason. Without legal protection, a wife cannot file a complaint against her husband or obtain forensic evidence to prove sexual abuse.
Kulah or endurances are the only choices.
This investigation was completed with the support of Arab Reporters for Investigative Journalism (ARIJ) www.arij.net and coached by Imad Omar.