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Jordan Repeals ‘Marry-Your-Rapist’ Law

Activist and Lawyer Asma Khader Helped Lead the Fight

Jordan’s parliament just repealed a controversial clause that allowed rapists to avoid criminal punishment if they married their victim. The repeal is a major victory in a long-fought battle led by human rights activists like Asma Khader, a lawyer who’s been working toward the repeal for more than 30 years.

Asma is a fierce advocate for justice and equality. She joined her first protest for human rights when she was just 13. Today, she’s one of Jordan’s most respected voices when it comes to women’s rights, and has being working with the Vital Voices Human Rights team on issues around Early and Forced Marriage, as well as supporting the planning and facilitation of our National Justice Institutes and National Legislative Workshop in Jordan.

A former Minister and lawyer who’s specialized in victim’s rights for 40 years, Asma was a driving force behind the campaign to repeal Jordan’s ‘Marry-Your-Rapist’ clause. She started advocating for its repeal back in 1985, when Asma advised on a case where the clause was being used to legitimize the forced marriage of an underage girl. She says the greatest challenge she faced at the time was “to make the court believe that [the victim] should not accept this marriage and that she had the full right to say ‘no.’”

Much has changed since then, says Asma. For one thing, there’s been a substantial increase in the number of government-led and community-based initiatives related to equality and legislative reform. Public opinion has also shifted. As part of their efforts to repeal the clause, Asma and her team conducted a widespread survey of fellow Jordanians and learned that an overwhelming 72% were in favor of the repeal.

“The secret recipe was building a coalition,” said Asma. It was collaborating “with men, the government, and 230 community-based organizations” that ultimately led to success, she says. Coalition members were equipped with survey results and research, and trained on how to talk to their local MPs. Asma says it was critical to educate politicians and religious leaders about the historical origin of the clause – which is not rooted in Islam.

Asma hopes that other activists in the region can draw on her experience to win similar campaigns. “It is not easy. It takes a long time to get attention,” says Asma of advocating for legal reform. Together with her coalition, Asma submitted 16 demands for gender-sensitive reform to Jordan’s Royal Commission for Judiciary Reform and Development. Repealing this clause was one of them. There’s a great deal more to be done, but Asma considers this latest victory proof that progress is possible.

Just days after Jordan repealed its ‘Marry-Your-Rapist’ clause, Lebanon’s parliament did the same, abolishing a similar law that had been in place since for over 70 years.