Policy loopholes in Jordan, Egypt, Lebanon and Sudan 'fail' women's rights

Policy loopholes in Jordan, Egypt, Lebanon and Sudan 'fail' women's rights
A report by Plan International looks at civil society and law reform in the MENA.
3 min read
25 November, 2020
Lebanese women protesting [Getty]

National laws to protect women in Sudan, Jordan, Egypt and Lebanon remain inadequate despite efforts made to change legislation, a new report by Plan International says.

"National laws and policies in the four countries contain specific restrictions on women and girls’ access and enjoyment of rights including in Personal Status Laws and Penal Codes that set the scene for rights violations in the MENA region," the humanitarian organisation says in a report due for release next month seen by The New Arab.

This comes as the United Nations launches its annual International Day for the Elimination of Violence against Women, with added focus on the Covid-19 pandemic, which has killed more than a million people worldwide.

Non-government organisations are calling for legal reforms to enshrine protection of women in the four countries mentioned in the report.

Some reforms have been made; Previously in Lebanon for example, a rapist could escape punishment if he married the victim.

In 2016 the penal code was challenged, and on December 7 2016, members of the Parliamentary Committee for Administration and Justice announced an agreement to repeal article 522 of the Lebanese Penal Code, which allows halting the prosecution or suspending the conviction of a person who has committed rape, kidnapping, or statutory rape if he marries the victim.

However marital rape remains an issue. Lebanon’s Article 503 of the penal code defines the crime of rape as "forced sexual intercourse [against someone] who is not his wife by violence or threat".

Activists in Lebanon have for years called for the terminology to include rape in marriage.

In Syria, the Penal code states that if the rapist marries the victim, he escapes punishment.

"These changes have largely been in the area of legal reform, which has granted more rights to women. For instance, following civil society campaigns Jordanian authorities increased civil rights to children of Jordanian women, who previously could not access education, health, work, investment and inheritance opportunities and could not obtain a valid driving license," the report is expected to say.

Another issue facing women in the Middle East and North Africa (MENA) region is a shrinking civil society, which curtails women-focused organisations. This in part is due to regional laws that allow local authorities to abolish civil society organisations, such as Nazra in Egypt, the Salmah women studies centre in Sudan and the Syrian Women's Union.

"As a result of the political instability, civil strife, and increasing violence and extremism, civil society groups – especially those engaging in human rights in MENA have experienced a significant decline in presence and engagement," the report says.

"Women-focused civil society organisations are sometimes subjected to systematic campaigns to both intimidate and curtail their operations. Activists have been detained, tortured, and killed in the region." 

"Without the proper legal and policy protections, women and girls will continue to be under threat in the Middle East. These ‘loopholes’ and laws need to be changed, but the issue is it’s not easy, and there seems to be no political appetite for it especially during the Covid-19 pandemic," Hiba Alhejazi, Plan International’s Advocacy and Influencing manager told The New Arab.

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