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women's bodies
In many places around the world, women and young girls are viewed as commodities. Whether or not they are raped themselves, women’s bodies are used to atone for crimes committed by others. More than 700 million women alive today were married under 18, and more are used as a way to bring justice to criminals.

In some countries, it is legal for a rapist to escape prosecution if he marries his victim, who is usually a minor. This practice is allowed in Algeria, Bahrain, Indonesia, Iraq, Jordan, Kuwait, Lebanon, Morocco, Syria and Tunisia. The law was also up for debate in Mozambique earlier this year. Even in places where the law is not on the books, often rural, traditional customs allow for it.

This year, a man in Zimbabwe raped a 14-year-old girl. He had been harassing her, and her grandmother told her to marry him. After the rape, her grandmother continued insisting she marry the man, and he took her away from her home. Against the law of the state, he called her his wife and continued raping her until her mother paid for her bus fare to get home.

A 13-year-old girl in India also reported that cops forced her to marry one of her attackers after being gang-raped.

The motivation behind the marriages has to do with honor. Girls who lose their virginity are seen as worthless, or unable to find a husband, so their families will often marry them off to their rapist in order to restore their honor. Some countries do not view marital rape as a crime, so anything happening within marriage is seen as honorable. Sometimes there is external pressure to force their child into marriage.

In 2012, 15-year-old Amina Filali killed herself by ingesting rat poison after she was forced to marry her rapist. She endured continued rapes and beatings before committing suicide. Her family and her rapist’s family agreed to have the two married, in part because of honor, but also because of pressure from authorities.

Families also force children into marriage because of war. Child marriage is seen as protection from the raping and kidnapping that often happens in conflicts.

Honor is a major factor, and rape causes shame for the victim, not the attacker. Sometimes the quest for honor affects justice for rape victims. In Northern Africa, the punishment for rape depends on whether the victim is a virgin or not. In Pakistan, although a Women’s Protection Bill was passed in 2006, if a woman is of “generally immoral character,” punishments are not as severe or are completely ignored.

A Somali girl named Aisha Ibrahim Duhulow was gang-raped by three men in 2007. The family reported the incident to the militia, but instead of prosecuting the perpetrators, Aisha was stoned to death. According to the local police force, she had committed adultery.

The honor associated with young girls’ virginity extends beyond their own sexual experiences. Sometimes local law will allow young girls to be raped because of crimes committed by family members. The idea is that a girl’s loss of virginity is a blow to the entire family’s honor, so the crime of the family can be paid by her body.

This year, in a northern Indian village, a leader ordered the rape of a 14-year-old girl. Her brother had sexually assaulted another woman. The victim’s husband was to carry out the rape himself, while she received no assistance. A 22-year-old was ordered to be gang-raped by 13 of her neighbors for going outside her community for a relationship. A 24-year-old was gang-raped because her brother eloped with another man’s wife. She was then forced to marry one of her attackers.

All of these women’s bodies are being used in the name of justice. The highest reports of rape come from Europe and America, but the social stigma, discriminatory laws and patriarchal culture of some areas of the world prevent women from speaking out against their attackers.

Women fear the consequences of speaking out. Sometimes they are not even related to a crime, but their bodies are used to exact “justice,” anyway.

– Monica Roth

Sources: Amnesty International 1, Amnesty International 2, Al Jazeera America, Jezebel, UNICEF, Mumbai Mirror, The Nation, The Daily Beast, NewsdzeZimbabwe
Photo: The Daily Beast

women's rights
Despite enormous strides made toward gender equality, the world today is still riddled with gender disparities. Below are a list of five reasons why fighting for women’s rights is so important, and why it’s still an ongoing battle.

1. Workplace Inequalities Around the World…Including the United States

For most Americans, it isn’t a secret that women still face extreme disadvantages in the workplace. Despite putting in equally long hours and given identical responsibilities as their male counterparts, women still only make 77 cents for every man’s dollar in the United States, and it’s even worse in other countries. Not only do women make less, but their responsibilities at home are often more rigorous; according to Harvard studies, men still put in a significantly less amount of time in household chores as their female partners.

2. Skewed Gender Ratios

In some countries, where population control laws were put into a much stricter affect, gender ratio disparities are skyrocketing. A favorable push of male-to-female in these countries has resulted in unbalanced gender ratio problems, where some female babies can be killed or left abandoned. In China, the gender ratio of male to female was 108:100 based on a 2013 data consensus; in India, it was 107:100.

3. Violence

According to a statement made by U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon in 2008, one in every three women is likely to be “beaten, coerced into sex or otherwise abused in her lifetime.” In fact, violence against women is so common in developing countries that oftentimes it doesn’t even make the news cycle. And while many countries fail to protect their rape victims, other countries such as Morocco and Saudi Arabia have much stricter punishments. Rape victims in these countries can be charged with crimes for being “alone with an unrelated man, or for getting pregnant afterwards,” only further perpetuating the damaging notion of rape culture.

4. Marriage and Divorce

According to UNICEF, more than one-third of women between the ages of 20 and 24 were married before they turned 18, which is considered below the minimum age for marriage in most countries. Nevertheless, these child brides risk greater chances of giving birth at earlier ages and suffer from risks of complications in childbirth and a greater chance of contracting HIV/AIDS. Courts do little to help the problem; in Yemen, it is against the law for a woman to leave the house without her husband’s permission. This results in a high percentage of women, who are afraid of the legal ramifications, to stay in abusive relationships.

5. Education

Women currently make up two-thirds of the world’s illiterate adults. Whether they are kept from school in order to keep up with household chores or their father deems it time for them to marry, women are consistently being denied their right to education; a right hardly ever denied to their male counterparts. While numerous studies have been proven to show that educating women is key to eliminating poverty and aiding development, the gender gap in education in many of these developing countries is only continuing to increase.

– Nick Magnanti

Sources: The Washington Post, Harvard Summer School, Discovery, United Nations Population Fund
Photo: Act 4 Entertainment

sudan_child_marriage
The recently released African Report on Child Wellbeing 2013 highlights a startling law in Sudan that has devastating consequences for its female population: the legal minimum age to be married is ten. The report, published by the African Child Policy Forum research institute, called on Sudan to raise its legal age of marriage to 18 to comply with international child rights standards.

Such a call is sorely needed; surveys conducted in 2010 found that nearly 38 percent of Sudan’s girls were married before the age of 18. In Blue Nile State, that number is over 60 percent – and a full fifth of girls there are married before the age of 15. The effects of marrying so young are devastating for girls. UNICEF has termed child marriage “a fundamental human rights violation that impacts all aspects of a girl’s life.”

Likely no aspect is more impacted than a girl’s health. Child marriage makes early pregnancies more likely, the consequences of which can be deadly. Fatal complications related to childbirth and pregnancy account for 50,000 deaths of girls between the ages of 15 and 19 worldwide. For girls between the ages of 10 and 14, the picture is even bleaker: they are five times more likely to die from pregnancy and childbirth than women who are between the ages of 20 and 24. Sudan’s maternal mortality rate is 730 per 100,000 live births. By comparison, it’s 21 in the United States.

In addition to the dire health risks related to early pregnancy, girls married before the age of 18 are also more likely to be beaten, raped or infected with HIV by their husbands and abused by their in-laws. They are also far less likely rise out of poverty. Furthermore, children born of child brides are more likely to die before their first birthday. Those who survive are more likely to face poverty, be malnourished and grow up without an education.

Sudan’s official minimum age of sexual consent – the advocated-for age of 18 – should protect its girls from many of these destructive consequences. Yet its Personal Status of Muslims Act of 1991 allows an exemption that protects a spouse from being charged for sex within marriage even if one of the parties is under the age of 18.

Though this exemption in Sudan’s legal code accounts for the lowest legal marriage age in Africa, a number of other countries are not doing much better. In the Democratic Republic of Congo, Gabon, Seychelles, Cameroon, Niger, Swaziland, Tanzania and Malawi, the legal age of marriage is 15. In Senegal, Guinea-Bissau and Zambia, the age is 16.

– Kelley Calkins

Sources: CIA, Reuters, UNICEF, African Report on Child Wellbeing, Reuters
Photo: Trust

kenya_marriage_bill_borgen_project_opt
A bill on marriage introduced in the Kenyan parliament has generated outrage amongst Kenyan men. The marriage bill is intended to unify the many and various local marriage laws and customs in the country to a single code. However, in doing so, the bill also strengthens some aspects of women’s rights in the country.

The bill allows for polygamy in Kenya under Islamic and customary traditions. However, the code will stipulate that men disclose the possibility of polygamy to his future spouse prior to marriage. All marriages will also be issued a certificate, even those performed under traditional laws. Issuing this certificate is intended to provide a legal proof of the union. Many marriages performed under traditional customs are not currently issued certificates, leaving spouses without a legal proof of the marriage.

Many wives are unaware that their husband has additional spouses and children until he passes away leaving behind a custody battle for assets. Polygamy is not permitted in Christian or civil marriages.

The majority of negative reactions seem to be caused by a clause stating “damages may be recoverable by a party that suffers a loss when the other party refuses to honor a promise to marry.” This clause seems to imply a man making a promise of marriage is required to follow through or pay for any monetary loss. In Kenya, a dowry is often paid from the prospective husband’s family to his intended wife’s family. The bill limits these payments to “token amounts” in the hope to dissuade poor families from selling daughters into marriage. The bill also sets the minimum age for marriage at 18.

Under Kenya’s 2010 constitution women gained the right to own and inherit land, unprecedented in the country’s history. While the constitution provides additional rights for women, these are often unknown or ignored in more traditional rural areas of the country.

A program launched in 2011 by Landesa and USAID in Kenya engages rural tribal leaders and elders in a discussion about women’s rights and the new constitution. Through this the program has seen progress in male acceptance of women’s rights provided in the constitution. As a result, some areas served by the program have seen increased female enrollment in schools and engagement of women in the community. Engaging community members in a frank conversation about the benefits of women’s rights and their impact is an essential element to gaining widespread acceptance. While many constitutions in sub-Saharan Africa include women’s rights they remain largely ineffective if many rural villages ignore them.

Callie D. Coleman

Sources: Thomas Reuters Foundation, The Huffington Post
Photo: Thomas Reuters Foundation

Child Marriage: A Promise of Poverty

The average teenager worries about hanging out with friends, getting good grades, and fitting in with a group of people—not marrying a stranger and creating a home.

However, child marriage is a reality in the world’s 51 least-developed countries.  Half of all girls living in these countries are married before the age of 18, according to the United Nations. Parents arrange the marriage, and the groom can be more than twice the bride’s age.  Girls are ripped from their communities and forced into social isolation. These abrupt marriages sever a girl from her support network—a group of people necessary for helping the girl face the physical and emotional challenges of marriage.

Many cultures view girls as economic burdens, subservient individuals, or family mistakes. Marrying girls off as soon as possible alleviates the household expenses and restores the family’s reputation.

The UN Convention on the Rights of the Child (UNCRC) established that the minimum age of marriage is 18 years old. This is considered the upper limit of childhood, and the individual is fit to decide whether to be married.  Many countries continue to practice child marriage despite proven physical and psychological effects.

World Vision reported that child marriages are increasing due to the increase in global poverty crises. 14 million girls under the age of 18 are married each year.  Child marriages are most prevalent in rural, poor areas and are associated with areas of low education and healthcare.  Polygamy is common, and these marriages are bargaining chips between two parties.

South Asia (46%) and Central Africa (41%) are the top areas for child marriages.  These regions do not monitor the age of spouses carefully.  Girls who live in countries with humanitarian crises are most likely to be subjected to child marriages. Fear of rape, unwanted pre-marital pregnancies, family shame, and hunger are the main motivators for child marriage. Poverty, weak legislation, gender discrimination, and lack of alternative opportunities reinforce these motivations.

Anti-poverty organizations, such as CARE, are working in various countries to combat child marriage.  According to CARE, “As levels of education and economic opportunities increase, so does the average age of marriage.”  CARE mobilizes community organizers, parents, and tribal and religious leaders to lobby against the child marriage law in Ethiopia. Leaders are constructing savings and loans groups to empower families financially. Though child marriage still exists, this will eliminate one major cause of child marriage. Community forums now focus on the elimination of bride price, bride abduction, and child marriage.

Whitney M. Wyszynski

Source: NBC News

Afghan_wedding
In war-torn Afghanistan, the country’s youth believe that there is something much stronger than a life of poverty and the Taliban regime’s oppressive rule: love.

Although banned by the regime, Valentine’s Day is becoming a popular, albeit secret, celebration among Afghanistan’s romantic young couples. In a country where most marriages are arranged, Suliman and Farzana Sharifi’s marriage is unique, as the 23-year-olds met and married for love and consider Valentine’s Day a special celebration of their relationship, and hopefully even a way to reduce hate and violence in their country. Farzana said, “when love comes even the Taliban can’t stop anybody.”

An American charity operating in the region had the same outlook and has been using weddings as a tool to fight against rampant poverty and against Taliban recruitment throughout Afghanistan. The act of marriage can be prohibitively expensive in the country, where the average annual income is a mere $500, and a dowry to the bride’s family for marriage can reach up to $10,000, making a wedding financially impossible.

Comfort Aid International recognized this conundrum and organized the weddings of 38 couples last year alone, which local representative Sayeed Saleh Qasimi says is a vitally important way to keep young men away from Taliban recruitment: “We did this to prevent our youth from joining the Taliban side. They often join the Taliban because they are single and poor.”

Comfort Aid International has collaborated with local NGOs to negotiate dowry prices down to make it much easier for young couples to marry, and so far has coordinated weddings for more than 1,000 couples in Afghanistan. One beneficiary of the charity, Sayeed Hussaini, is young and unemployed but maintains that he would not have been able to marry without the charity’s help. He also points out that young men do not have many choices financially, saying “a lot of people are doing bad things for money like joining the Taliban.”

The Taliban have been known to target regions where severe poverty is rampant, using poor and uneducated youth who have minimal opportunities for survival other than to join the extremist cause that promises food and shelter.

Hussaini goes on to state that he is still very poor, but will not join the Taliban and risk his life, because of his new wife.

Christina Mattos Kindlon

Source: NBC News