The Jordanian parliament voted on Tuesday to abolish a provision in the penal code that allows rapists to escape punishment if they marry their victims – a move that is being hailed as “historic” by activists and locals.
“We are celebrating today. This is a historic moment not only for Jordan, but for the entire region. This achievement is a result of the concerted effort of the civil society, women’s rights and human rights organisations in Jordan,” Salma Nims, secretary-general of the Jordanian National Commission for Women, a semi-governmental organisation, told Al Jazeera.
Article 308 permits pardoning rape perpetrators if they marry their victims and stay with them for at least three years.
Hundreds of civil society activists staged a sit-in outside the parliament building on Tuesday to call for the complete abolition of the provision.
Nims said that there was a “strong pushback from some parliamentarians not to abolish the provision, but to only amend it until the last minute.
“We were really worried, but our efforts were successful,” she said. “What we need to do is to work on amending the complete set of laws that affect the status of women in Jordan – specifically the personal status law and other laws that impact the life of women in Jordan and affect their rights in terms of equality.”
In October 2016, Jordan’s King Abdullah II ordered the establishment of a royal committee to reform the judiciary and review the entire penal code, which dates back to 1960. In February, the committee recommended abolishing the article, leading the Jordanian government to endorse the suggestion in April.
The decision must still be approved by the Jordanian parliament’s Senate, or upper house, and then be signed by King Abdullah II.
Last week, Tunisian politicians abolished a similar clause and recognised domestic violence as a punishable crime.
Khaled Ramadan, a parliamentarian who pushed to abolish the provision in Jordan, said: “This is a historic day in Jordan’s history.”
“After 57 years of this law, this is an important step towards societal reform and for equality. Today we are sending a message to every rapist that ‘your crime will not be overlooked and we will not let you get away with it’,” Ramadan told Al Jazeera.
“This debate has been going on for decades. We respect everyone’s point of view – but repealing this provision has become endorsed by all Jordanians. When it is voted on by the Senate, it will mean that Jordanian society has decided to put this article behind us.”
Asma Khader, a leading women’s rights activist and lawyer, said that her organisation, the Sisterhood is Global Institute, and other NGOs worked hard to “provide parliamentarians with the right information about victims of this article.
“We had counter-arguments to all the viewpoints put forth against repealing the provision within the parliament. We managed to reach many of the parliamentarians and worked with them over a long period of time to get to this point,” Khader told Al Jazeera.
“The article is not based on a logical or legal rationale. It is not justified and it does not stand in line with our culture, knowledge and logical thinking,” she added.
Amani Rizq, senior programme officer of the Swedish gender equality organisation Kvinna till Kvinna Foundation in Jordan, said that while “the legislative achievement of today is a great step towards justice for women in Jordan … it needs to be part of a plan to protect women victims of rape crimes in a holistic approach”.
“The societal discrimination that comes with the stigma of being raped is where practical practices are needed for women’s protection, especially if they get pregnant,” Rizq told Al Jazeera.
Jordanians and others in the region also took to social media to voice their opinions about the vote.
Such rape-marriage provisions continue to exist in Algeria, Bahrain, Iraq, Kuwait, Lebanon, Libya, Palestine and Syria, as well as several countries in Latin America and Asia.
Once Jordan formally repeals this provision from its penal code, it would be joining three other countries in the region that made similar reforms: Egypt in 1999, Morocco in 2014 and Tunisia last week.
In the past 30 years, other countries around the world made similar strides to abolish such provisions, including Italy in 1981, France in 1994, Peru in 1998, Romania in 2000, Uruguay in 2006 and Costa Rica in 2007.