Marriage is practically sacrosanct in our country, and wives are expected to idolize their husbands. But a marriage should instead thrive on mutual understanding,respect and trust. And in no way does it mean that once you are married, you have no say over your body and sexuality. Sex is not a “right” that comes automatically with marriage.
The Supreme Court of Nepal has declared sex without the wife´s consent is rape and punishable by law. Marital rape is a non-consensual act of violence in which the perpetrator is the victim’s spouse. Fewer than 15 percent of UN member-states have laws against marital rape and Nepal is one of the few countries that have identified marital rape as a crime.
Still a taboo subject
Talking about sex is a taboo in our society. Besides some hushed discussions with friends, sex or sexual rights are not explained clearly. This makes girls more vulnerable to sexual violence like martial rape.
Many women are sexually exploited by their husband, but only a few dare seek legal remedies. Family loyalty, fear of the husband’s retribution and lack of awareness about laws are some of the reasons why women do not report marital rape. Many women still believe that sex is an obligation within a marriage, thus justifying forced sex as “wifely duty”. For many women “real” rape only occurs when the attacker is a stranger. There are difficulties in proving the crime as well. However, one can prove rape by means of medical evidence, history of physical/medical reports and witness testimony.
Being married does not change the social rules. Just because a woman is your wife does not mean she can be forced to have sex. Sex should always be based on mutual consent.
Before 2006, there was no specific law for martial rape. However, in 2001, Forum for Women, Law and Development (FWLD) filed a petition that called for the amendment in the existing laws regarding rape and in 2006, a new legislation specified that sex without the wife’s consent was a form of rape punishable by the law.
But this legislation soon became a nightmare for many women. Societal pressure that discourages divorces and deepens a wife’s dependence on her husband rendered the legislation useless. Instead, when women threatened their husbands, they were further victimised. Due to social stigma surrounding rape, they would have few supporters and would not be able to file cases against their husbands. As a result, the number of women filing cases against their husbands declined precipitously. This demonstrates how the issue of marital rape goes beyond laws.
Awareness is key
A step-by-step process has to be followed in order to recognise rape within marriage as a crime. The existing law should also be revised. Moreover, there is a need to create mechanisms and shelters where the women can stay while they decide what to do and when they have nowhere else to go. However, what is more
important is for women themselves to be aware of their sexual rights. Besides enforcing the law, awareness measures have to be put in place to create an environment for victims to come forward and speak up.
Women need to have financial security in their hands, which comes with empowerment and education. There already are various organisations dealing with the cases of marital rape and providing shelters to women, while many are working on the elimination of violence against women. The government can coordinate with them to provide support, awareness, capacity building and shelter services to victims. It takes more than an institution or an individual to bring about changes at the national level. Apart from judicial awakening, we primarily require awareness. As the UN reiterates ‘educating boys and men to view women as valuable partners in life, in the development of society and the attainment of peace are just as important as taking legal steps to protect women’s human rights’.
We have to be the voices and to give women the voices they need so their stories are better explained and their problems.
The article was published in The Kathmandu Post.