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Women’s Bodies as “Justice”

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