Morocco does away with a controversial law allowing the rapist of an underage girl to escape prosecution if he marries the victim. Now activists say it's time to enact change in society to protect rape victims.
Houda Lamqaddam fought for this decision for almost two years, but when it finally came, the Moroccan activist no longer felt like celebrating. Morocco's parliament, this week, voted to scrap a highly controversial law that allowed the rapist of an underage girl to avoid punishment if he married his victim.
Many girls have suffered that fate, but the 2012 case of Amina al-Filali shocked the country. Just months after being forced to marry her rapist, the 16-year-old committed suicide. To protect the family's honor, her family and a judge had put pressure on the girl to agree to the marriage, which was legal under article 475 of the penal code.
Lamqaddam and her fellow activists accordingly named their campaign against this particular law and against sexual violence against women 475LeFilm.
The fight is not over
The young woman, who received Deutsche Welle's 2013 Best Social Activism Award at The Bobs for her work, welcomed the scrapping of article 475, but added parliament's move doesn't change much in reality.
"For female rape victims, it's still very difficult to find justice," the activist told DW. "The judicial system is heavily biased in favor of men, the attackers, and there is very little support for women who are victims of rape and sexual violence."
Basically, there is no one to turn to, since families will blame the victim - there is a lot of victim blaming going on, she added.
Although the equality of men and women was anchored in Morocco's constitution in 2011, it hasn't arrived in people's daily lives. Women are supposed to be pure and virgins until marriage or they are cast out. It is engrained in the more traditional sectors of Moroccan society as well as other countries, including several in the Arab world: rape is a stigma; no other man will marry a rape victim. For Lamqaddam, this means the struggle is not yet over.
Discrimination against female rape survivors particularly means that victims often choose not to report and not to seek out support services - if they even exist - because they are afraid of being abandoned by their families, according to Liesl Gerntholtz, executive director of the women's rights division at Human Rights Watch.
"That's the global challenge - not a challenge that Morocco is facing: The way that communities and states respond to rape, and in particular the prevention of violence against women," Gerntholtz said.
Society needs to change
It is difficult to imagine the profound psychological consequences and harm caused by rape, Gerntholtz said, adding that she welcomes improvements and legal changes like the Moroccan amendment as a first step. It acknowledges that rape is a crime and that perpetrators should not be allowed to escape accountability in any way, she said. It also acknowledges "the harm caused when the victim if confronted with the act again after it occurs."
Now, she argued, the law must be adequately implemented.
Lamqaddam agreed, "The law must be translated into action - by the police, by the families, by everyone."
The police must learn to implement the law, the families must learn to value and protect girls, communities must grant victims of rape and sexual violence medical aid, psychological support and refuge. Morocco needs a law that actually protects women from sexual violence, Lamqaddam said.