Marital Rape Abroad and At Home

9 years ago

A new national law in non-Taliban Afghanistan now says that unless a wife is ill, she is "obliged to fulfill the sexual desires of her husband." That is the law of the land, signed by President Hamid Karzai.

Approximately 300 brave Afghan women marched against this new law and others. Jaelithe at Momocrats notes that Americans who rely on FoxNews for information probably missed the march because they were busy providing coverage of conservatives' teabagging parties, and reports that:

On Wednesday, April 15th, the Afghan women protesters made their way through a crowd of angry men, who threw stones at the marching women and screamed "Whores!" as they attempted to surround and stop the protest. With the aid of Afghan police, the women walked two miles, through threats, insults, and hails of gravel, from a conservative madrasa run by one of the drafters of the law to the steps of the Afghan Parliament.

On Thursday, April 16th, Afghan President Hamid Karzai told CNN's Fareed Zakaria that he will attempt to revise the Shia Family Law before its implementation. Karzai now claims he did not understand the scope of the law when he signed it because he had not read the entire piece of legislation, which was part of a larger bill aimed at promoting the preservation of Afghanistan's minority Shia culture.

The progressive group Credo Action has created an online petition asking U.S. President Barack Obama to put diplomatic pressure on President Karzai to abolish the law.

In Western countries, like the US where I live, we purport to be above and beyond these barbaric requirements. And, as far as I know, there are no official laws required women to fulfill the sexual desires of her husband. (I say as far as I know because I am continually surprised by some of the laws from Ye Olden Times that remain on the books in many states and towns, like the prohibition from walking backwards after dark in a town in Connecticut, so you never know.) However, while women may not legally be required to serve as their husbands' sex slaves, the idea of marital rape is still a hard concept for many Westerners to accept.

In her post in the Feministing community, Idiolect reminds readers that:

Until 1976, marital rape was legal in every state in the United States. Although marital rape is now a crime in all 50 states in the U.S., some states still don't consider it as serious as other forms of rape. The only states that have laws that make no distinction between marital rape and stranger rape are Colorado, Delaware, Florida, Georgia, Indiana, Massachusetts, Montana, Nebraska, New Jersey, New Mexico, North Carolina, North Dakota, Oregon, Texas, Utah, Vermont, Wisconsin and the District of Columbia. [Source: about.com]

On a related note, some of you might remember that as recently as 2006, a court in Maryland decided that women cannot say no after intercourse has begun. That ruling has since been overturned (but it was law in Maryland for a couple years, while I personally was living there, too) but I think it's telling that such decisions are made in the first place... This is our own culture and our own law. That isn't to say that I don't think the state of affairs in Afghanistan is also outrageous, but let's not pretend as if "those people" are the one with the problem.

Incidentally, it is also illegal to engage in oral sex in Maryland.

Connie Verneracion at House on a Hill wrote a post in 2006 about the laws in the Phillipines and Singapore:

It wasn’t until the Anti-Rape Law took effect in 1997 that the Philippines finally acknowledged that there is such a thing as marital rape. I used to think that the government should have done that much, much earlier. Actually, I still do. That’s why I was more than a bit surprised to read that in Singapore, to this day, the husband actually enjoys legal immunity from marital rape.

The Singaporean government proposes a change in the criminal law which will partially destroy that immunity... [Veneracion describes the cumbersome judicial process to do so].

That makes the proposal kind of a mere lip service. You know, like there is a law saying that marital rape is bad and, therefore, puunishable BUT for the victim to actually benefit from the law, she has to go through a lot of legal processes which, in effect, practically negates the usefulness of the law.

Shia Family Law is not the only one regulates sexual relations within marriage. In a way, I hesitate to include Judaism law here because it does not mandate that a woman must have sex with her husband when he wants it, and therefore is not permitting marital rape in any way, but like many obscure laws on the books governing sexual relations, traditional Ketubah (Jewish marriage contract) requirements spell out a wife's right to sexual pleasure. Naomi at Kosher Sex explains:

Sex is the woman's right, not the man's. A man has a duty to give his wife sex regularly and to ensure that sex is pleasurable for her. He is also obligated to watch for signs that his wife wants sex, and to offer it to her without her asking for it. The woman's right to sexual intercourse is referred to as onah, and it is one of a wife's three basic rights (the others are food and clothing), which a husband may not reduce. The Talmud specifies both the quantity and quality of sex that a man must give his wife. It specifies the frequency of sexual obligation based on the husband's occupation, although this obligation can be modified in the ketubah (marriage contract). A man may not take a vow to abstain from sex for an extended period of time, and may not take a journey for an extended period of time, because that would deprive his wife of sexual relations. In addition, a husband's consistent refusal to engage in sexual relations is grounds for compelling a man to divorce his wife, even if the couple has already fulfilled the halakhic obligation to procreate.

Although sex is the woman's right, she does not have absolute discretion to withhold it from her husband. A woman may not withhold sex from her husband as a form of punishment, and if she does, the husband may divorce her without paying the substantial divorce settlement provided for in the ketubah.

Interesting, isn't it? My Ketubah says that my husband and I will honor and cherish each other and respect other people, but now that I examine it more closely, it does say that we will "establish a home committed to our Jewish heritage," which if I link back to the Orthodox Ketubah, means my husband has violated my rights since he always travels for work. But I digress...

Back to the topic of how Westerners do not take marital rape as seriously as "other" rape, I want to end with a link to Partner Rape is Real Rape by Louise McOrmond-Plummer. Given her subject, which is to serve as a resource for survivors of partner rape, she has a disclaimer:

Be respectful - posts are on moderation because this isn't a place for silly accusations about "male-bashing", for stats pulled out of your hat about the "hundreds" of women who lie about rape because they don't want their partners to get custody of children, or how relationships imply unlimited consent. You may also share thoughts about partner rape against men, but please, no "feminists don't give a toss" diatribe. If this seems defensive, it's because I've seen it all before and don't want to provide yet another space for it.

Have a nice day/evening :)

While the new law in Afghanistan is abhorrent and should be criticized, it is also important to look at our own cultural attitudes and laws, and work toward implementing positive change at home as well as abroad.

Suzanne also blogs at Campaign for Unshaved Snatch (CUSS) & Other Rants.

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