Violence against women is poorly legislated against and rarely prosecuted the world over. North Africa is no exception. Although Tunisia provides for the death penalty in cases of rape of girls under 10 years old, rape in Morocco is regarded as indecent assault or public indecency.
By Mary Kimani
In Egypt, domestic violence and marital rape are not considered crimes. Victims have to use other laws, such as battery or physical assault, if they wish to prosecute perpetrators.
But interpretations of Islamic shari’a law have sometimes proved flexible. In April 1998, during Algeria’s civil war, the country’s Supreme Islamic Council, the highest religious body, issued a fatwa (religious edict) permitting abortions by victims of war rapes, although abortion is not legal in most Muslim countries.
But at the other extreme, about 30 women displaced by the war and seeking work in two oil towns were raped, killed and mutilated in 2001. The attacks were condoned by conservative clergy who claimed that since the women were travelling without a male escort, they were prostitutes. The attackers were never successfully prosecuted.
In 1999, Egyptian women’s groups successfully lobbied to change a law that forgave rapists if they married the victims. The Ministry of Social Affairs subsequently put in place 150 family counselling centres to help victims.
The Egyptian Centre for Women’s Rights conducted a survey in 2005 on the harassment of women walking in public. “At the time, it was impossible to talk about the issue,” Ms. Rebecca Chiao of the Egyptian Centre for Women’s Rights told Africa Renewal. “Even the word ‘harassment’ was not accepted. Nobody knew what it meant and they were offended by it.
”The centre then recruited volunteers to raise awareness on the issue. “We tried to be creative and innovative. Teachers talked to schools, journalists recorded advertisements for radio and we had music bands and film. Since then, we have seen substantial change.”