By Malika Afilal
By Malika Afilal
Agadir – In spite of the success of the Moroccan feminist movement which dates back to 1946 and its constant struggle for new amendments in the Family law and Penal Code, women and girls still continue to suffer countless acts of violence every day solely for being female.
Various forms of violence against women occur in every stratum of society, among all classes, within various ethnic groups, across different ages and generations. Violence against women is defined as any act of gender-based assault including physical, sexual, emotional, economic abuse within the family, rape, sexual aggression and sexual harassment.
These forms of violence occur both in the private as well as the public sphere, creating victims on the street and at home. The blame for this condition revolves mainly around the socially constructed dependency of women on men in terms of economic constraints and the inability to achieve financial independence as well as social and political inclusion. In brief, violence against women is perpetuated by men, silenced by custom, institutionalized in laws and state systems and passed from one generation to the next.
The case of Amina Filali is merely one among hundreds involving young women whose courage and conscience transcend their maturity in life. Being triply victimized first by her rapist, second by custom and third by the law, Amina could have no other outlet to her traumatic experience than to put an end to her soul after a life full of injustice where rape is a concrete example of gendered violence that reinforces social scripting and gender oppression. Her action is but an outcome of being trapped in an almost no-win situation as she can neither turn to her family nor reach out for concrete legal protection.
Forcing Amina to marry her rapist meant that she would continue to be subjugated to different forms of sexual abuse. Ironically enough, even the definition of rape as stipulated in the penal code does not include ‘spousal rape’ as illegal or ‘wrong’ neither for legal codes nor as part of social custom. Amina, as well as other women in similar situations, would face tremendous obstacles when attempting to establish a case against their abusive husbands. Often a husband’s testimony denying any form of abuse satisfies the judge and invalidates the wife’s claim. In the eyes of the Moroccan law and society, rape does not exist within marriage. Despite the violent nature of the act, rape cannot be used by a wife to seek a divorce.
The area within which men, regardless of social class or educational background, remain highly protective of their privileges and rights, however, is in the private domain of home. Neither legal doctrine nor social custom have inhibited men from abusing their wives using a whole range of violent acts from spousal rape to murder. The causes of such violence find their roots in men’s certainty that both custom and Law will protect them against any outrage directed against their partners regardless of its severity.
While differences and complications pertaining to the protection of women exist in both the penal code as well as the personal status codes, it is evident that the penal code offers greater protection for female victims of violence. Nonetheless, in both private as well as public place, the law makes it incumbent on the women to prove that she has been violated. The two principal legal instruments governing issues of male abuse against women-the personal statue code or Moudawanaa and the penal code- represent state expression of male power and preference. Neither code provides women the necessary protection against male violence whether at home or in public. At this juncture, abused women cannot find justice at home or outside and if they are lucky enough they may consult centers for abused women that, to some extent, clearly come to serve a salient need and in the process have acted as potential agents of change within civil society.
The Moroccan feminist movements have constantly pointed out problems with some of the articles that constitute the Moudawana (Family Law) and propose social transformations as better tactics for combating male violence. Among the acknowledged shortcomings of the Moudawana is article 475 which guarantees impunity to the rapist as long as he marries the victim.
This is another crime that needs to be revisited and thwarted, another violation of human rights which condemns the victim to life imprisonment. Such a harrowing story is not only the story of Amina Filali, but rather the expression of the suppressed voice of a whole nation of women. Their bodies are sexually savaged and bleed from multiple unrecoverable wounds caused both by law and society, in a situation in which they can neither afford private legal representation nor are able to support themselves financially.
Silence acts as a veil, concealing crimes that these women do not have the emotional strength to recollect. As feminist Susan Browmiller argues in Against our Will: Men, Women and Rape “the meaning of rape cannot be elucidated by mere reference to individual cases, because rape is”, as she phrases it “nothing more and nothing less than a conscious process of intimidation by which all men keep all women in a state of fear.” She further argues, “The rapist degrades and denies her being and her autonomy and in doing so elevates his own.” All in all, a country where people denounce the rapes but do nothing to bring the rapists to justice is but a patriarchal state of utter lawlessness and complete anarchy where the life of female individuals is greatly undervalued.
At the close of the 20th Century great advances in rape law were made. Rape is considered within the International law a crime intertwined with a crime of genocide, a crime against humanity, and a war crime. Aligning rape with crimes that have been universally recognized as among the worst acts of mankind demonstrates that rape is equally grave and requires severe punishment. In Discipline and Punish, however, Michel Foucault argues that imprisonment produces delinquency.
One familiar argument is that while imprisonment leads to a feeling of anger against society, it creates a sense of solidarity with other criminals with whom the imprisoned cohabit and can plot future crimes. Foucault argues that prison is an environment that breeds rather than extinguishes delinquency. Foucault’s study implies that prisoners in fact are most likely to commit crimes within the same category of crime for which they were previously imprisoned, because this category of crime became associated with their identities.
However, this is not to argue that men who commit rape should go unpunished, but rather, punishment alone will not stem the rising tide of sexual violence in our country. Legal reforms, while both necessary and important in the prevention of rape, are not enough. In her preface to Transforming A Rape Culture, Emilie Buchwald argues that “we need to change values, education, media images and mentalities about gender rather than simply calling for more severe punishments for rapists, for longer prison sentences, even for the death penalty, as if exaltation of punishment could in and of itself lead to significant change.”
Accordingly, along with having feminists and NGOs struggle for the abolishment of Article 475 from the penal code there must be an articulation of strategies that will prevent or limit rape. This could be done by providing a mechanism through which to build a politics of rape prevention such as the censorship of pornography; transformations of the cultural meanings of masculinity; anti-rape education for male students; assertiveness training for girls and women to limit the rate of raped bodies.
Self-defense training and education provides a truly powerful response to rape culture by redefining women’s bodies, replacing violability with strength. This would change the terms of violence from subject-object to subject-subject, a big challenge that dislodges the political structures of patriarchy. Though these reforms might seem unattainable in a male-dominated society they have great potential not only for a politics of rape prevention but also for gender equity and women’s emancipation at home and in civil society.
Malika Afilal is an EFL teacher in Agadir. She is also a Comparative Studies MA Student at Ibn Zohr University in Agadir. Email: [email protected]
The views expressed in this articles are the author’s own and do not necessarily reflect Morocco World News’ editorial policy
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Buchwald, Emilie, Pamela R. Fletcher, and Martha Roth, eds. Transforming a Rape Culture. Minneapolis: Milkweed Editions. 1993
Brownmiller, Susan. AGAINST OUR WILL: MEN, WOMEN AND RAPE, Fawcett Books: New York ,1975.
Foucault, Micheal Discipline and Punish: the Birth of the Prison. Translated by Alan Sheridan. New York: random House, 1997