Women’s Month 2017: Victories for women in Chile, Lebanon, Jordan, India

Wafa Bani Mustafa

In South Africa, August 9 is Women’s Day, a national holiday that commemorates the 1956 women’s anti-pass march on the Union Buildings in Pretoria: “Now you have touched the women you have struck a rock: you have dislodged a boulder: you will be crushed.”Wathint’ abafazi, Strijdom! wathint’ abafazi,wathint’ imbokodo,uza kufa!” The women, 20,000 strong, sang that song on that historic day, and it has inspired, and continues to inspire. August is Women’s Month in South Africa and so, with that in mind, globally this month, and along with bad and terrible news, there’s still much to celebrate, especially in Jordan, Lebanon, Chile and India. Within 48 hours this week, Chile eased its ban on abortion and India eliminated the triple talaq instant divorce. Earlier in the month, building on the passage of a progressive law in Tunisia, both Jordan and Lebanon repealed laws that allowed rapists to avoid criminal prosecution by marrying their victims. From Asia to Africa to South America, women are on the move.

On August 4, 2017, Jordanian lawmakers voted to repeal Article 308 of the Jordanian Penal Code. This article was one of the many “marry-your-rapist” laws around the world. Tunisia abolished its version of that law in late July. While many women mobilized over years to end the law, the current leader of the movement to abolish Article 308 has been Wafa Bani Mustafa, a lawyer and Member of the Parliament, head of the Women’s Caucus and Chairperson of the Coalition of Women MPs to Combat Violence against Women. According to Wafa Bani Mustafa, “Article 308 has its roots in French and Latin laws. European countries only fairly recently abolished similar clauses. In France, that happened in 1994; in Italy, 1981. The introduction of such laws in the Arab world happened largely through a mix of colonialism and through the experiences of other countries in the region. Many of the countries used Egypt as an example, which got its laws through the Ottomans and the French colonial involvement in Egypt. But in essence, it is a European product. The important thing to focus on is that such articles have no religious or societal justification – they only discriminate against women.”

For Wafa Bani Mustafa, abolition of Article 308 is part of a multinational feminist decolonization project. Two weeks after the Jordanian lawmakers’ vote, on August 16, 2017, Lebanese lawmakers abolished Article 522 of Lebanon’s penal code, which also allowed a rapist to escape prosecution and punishment if he married his victim.

On Monday, August 21, 2017, a Chilean court ruled that a law easing restrictions on abortion is Constitutional. Michele Bachelet had promised and worked hard to pass the law. According to Bachelet, who had introduced the first version of the law in 2015, “Today, women have won, democracy has won, all of Chile has won.” The law allows women to seek abortions if the fetus is not violable, if the woman’s life is in danger, or if the pregnancy is the result of rape.

The next day, August 22, 2017, India’s Supreme Court ruled that the so-called triple talaq, which allowed men the power to instantly divorce their wives, unconstitutional. Five women brought this case forward. One of them, Shayara Bano, said, “Finally, I feel free today. I have the order that will liberate many Muslim women.”

From Jordan to Lebanon to Chile to India and beyond, women pushed the State to revoke prohibitions that endangered women’s lives. In every instance, the victory this month is both landmark and partial. As Wafa Bani Mustafa explained, “This issue isn’t specific to Jordan or to the Arab world. There are countries around the world that continue to stigmatise women. There are countries that have very developed legislation, yet in practice do not treat women equally. There are countries out there where women suffer way more than they do in the Arab world in similar crimes.” The struggle continues, and women are taking it forward. Now you have touched the women you have struck a rock: you have dislodged a boulder: you will be crushed … in all the languages of the world.

Celebrations in Chile


(Photo Credit 1: Al Jazeera / Wafa Bani Mustafa) (Photo Credit 2: Guardian / Esteban Felix / AP)

She was warned. She was given an explanation. Nevertheless, she persisted.

Esraa Tayseer Kudair

Hebh Jamal, in New York, is seventeen years old. Esraa Tayseer Kudair, in Amman, is also seventeen years old. Around the world, young women are organizing and leading demonstrations, protests, movements for autonomy, solidarity, respect, peace, power and justice. They have been warned. They have been given explanations. Nevertheless, they have persisted. They are the teachers of justice and power: Hebh Jamal, Esraa Tayseer Kudair, and so many others.

Last week, protesters gathered in front of the Parliament, in Amman, Jordan, to call for the repeal of Articles 340 and 98 of the Jordanian Penal Code. These two articles allow for “mitigation” of sentences in so-called honor killings. Article 98 reads: “Whoever commits a crime while in a state of rage which is the result of an unjustifiable and dangerous act committed by the victim, benefits from a mitigating excuse.” Article 340 reads: “Whoever surprises his wife or one of his female decedents or ancestors or sisters in the act of adultery or in illegitimate bed and murders her immediately or her lover or both of them or assaulted her or both of them and the assault resulted in death or injury or harm or permanent disfiguration, he/she shall benefit from a mitigation excuse.” That he/she is misleading. All the reported honor killing victims in Jordan have been women. By October of last year, 26 women had been killed in so-called honor killings, compared to 17 in all of 2015.

Esraa Tayseer Kudair, a high school student, decided enough is too much, and, with her organization, I Change, organized the protest: “There are women that are being killed without doing anything wrong, and people are using this law to justify the killing these women.” When asked about I Change, Kudair explained, “I Change is a group of people that are gathered for a reason: to protect women from honour crimes and to educate people on this matter.” Around the world, young women students are promoting critical education, teaching and learning, all as part of the heart of the organizing agenda.

This week, in New York, Hebh Jamal, a high school student, was the lead organizer of a New York City-wide student walkout, which took place yesterday, February 7. For the past two years, Hebh Jamal has been a leading anti-racist, anti-Islamophobia organizer in New York. When the Muslim ban was announced, Hebh Jamal intensified her organizing efforts. Last week, she mobilized hundreds of people who marched from Foley Square to federal immigration offices in lower Manhattan. Yesterday, several hundred students from all over New York City showed up at Foley Square, to protest the Muslim Ban, to protest the assault on education that is embodied by Betsy DeVos, and to demonstrate their presence, wisdom, and commitment.

Two years ago, fifteen-year-old Hebh Jamal said, “If a Muslim hasn’t been called a terrorist in middle school, lower school or high school, then they’re probably in a really great school — and I’m happy for them!” This week, two years later, Hebh Jamal added, “I just want to say for me personally that I have gotten interview requests for the past week and I know it’s an interesting story because of my age, but it’s a movement of thousands, and I want to emphasize it isn’t about one person. I wanted to mention that, although it’s really great that I’m able to have a platform that a lot of Muslim women are not able to have, I really want to use it to emphasize that it needs to be a movement.”

The struggle continues, thanks to the young women everywhere who are warning, explaining, and persisting in movement building and justice creating.

Hebh Jamal


(Photo Credit 1: Global Voices / Nora B) (Photo Credit 2: Seventeen)