Woman at a radio station (Photo by Jeroen van Loon)
| Author: Rineke van Dam | Function: Advocacy Officer

Blog: A right to rape?

On the 10th of December, we celebrate Human Rights Day which marks the end of this year’s 16-day campaign (#16Days) to eliminate violence against women. It is a bitter-sweet day. Even where human rights treaties and standards address gender based violence and protect women's rights, national laws dictate the daily lives of women.

Protest against Rape in India (FlickrCC_Ramesh_Lalwani)In India for example, only six months ago the Delhi High Court judged they could not prosecute Vikash who drugged and forced his wife into marriage and subsequently raped her. Although this woman found the courage to pursue justice against her ‘husband’, the court did not consider this case rape. When a woman says yes to marriage, she agrees to have sex with her partner upon his requests, whenever, wherever. Sex is his conjugal right, and the woman's body becomes his playground.

It is just one example of how national laws continue to dictate when women may truly decide over their own bodies, despite international agreements. In too many countries around the world rape within marriage is not considered a criminal offense. For instance in Kenya where sex is a right of a husband, as well as in Ghana where conservative policy makers prevented marital rape to be made a criminal offense in the 2007 Gender Act.

All too often marriage is even used as a 'solution' to rape: Nurame, from Ethiopia, was abducted when she was only 8 years old, raped and forced to marry her abductor. Only 47 countries around the world have made explicit legislation that makes marital rape a criminal offense. However, 127 countries have not done so.

As world citizens we too have a responsibility with regards to human rights. A responsibility to demand those rights and tell our governments that human rights are universal and therefore apply to everyone. That national laws need to be amended and brought in line with these standards to ensure all forms of rape, including within marriage, are made a criminal offense. Such laws are an indispensable step towards the elimination of violence against women and the creation of a society where men and women have equal rights. Only when Human Rights Day can be enjoyed by all, it becomes a true celebration.

Rineke van Dam
Rineke van Dam Advocacy Officer

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