Femmes for Freedom is a Dutch Foundation, established on 5 December 2011. Femmes for Freedom advocates women’s rights and fights against forced marriage, marital captivity, polygamy, honor killing and forced abandonment of women during a family visit overseas. Femmes for Freedom is dedicated both to preventing these crimes and to (legally) assisting women who are held captive in a marriage.
Femmes for Freedom (FFF) successfully campaigned in Dutch Parliament for an expanded definition of forced marriage: not only forcing women into marriage, but also forcing them to remain in this marriage thus denying them the right to a (religious) divorce, included in the Dutch Penal Code. The Netherlands is the first country in the world that included marital captivity in its forced marriage bill.
Before this broader definition, marital captivity was already acknowledged as a wrongful act as well as the right to remarry and the right to establish a new family life according to the European Convention on Human Rights (ECHR) in Dutch jurisprudence. Recently the minister for Legal Protection, Sander Dekker acknowledged the need for a new provision in the Dutch civil code that provides that both partners will cooperate to enable the dissolution of a religious marriage. This provision has been 2012, 2014, (zie ook: A&MR 2014 Nr.02) and 2017. These changes in legislation place The Netherlands at the forefront of the battle against marital captivity.
But marital captivity is not just a Dutch problem; it has a strong international character. As the former Dutch Secretary of Justice, Fred Teeven , said “if Dutch divorces would be recognized everywhere, we would no longer be discussing marital captivity.” As long as not all divorces are recognized equally, it remains of the upmost importance to engage in bilateral and multilateral discussions with countries that have family laws enabling marital captivity. The EU speaks for its 28 members, and holds considerable influence during these negotiations. FFF encourages the EU to include family law and marital captivity as a discussion topic when negotiating new agreements, international human rights declarations and treaties, resolutions and EU law. It is high time that marital captivity is recognized as gender-based discrimination and violence and, for the international community to raise its voice. And together with you we can make this happen! Support our cause, which is your cause as well: CEDAW must rule! Marital captivity is violence against women! The right to divorce is a human right as well!
Marital captivity refers to a situation in which women are unable to terminate their (religious) marriage. This means that even though the Dutch courts can dissolve their civil marriage, women are forced to stay informally married either under the law of their religion or under the civil family law of their country of origin (limping marriage). The issue of ‘chained women’ or marital captivity is found within Muslim, Jewish, Catholic and Hindu communities in the Netherlands.
A (Dutch) civil court can only dissolve a civil marriage; it cannot end a religious marriage or a marriage which took place in another country. When a woman wishes to end her religious or foreign marriage, she usually is reliant upon the cooperation of her husband. If he, however, refuses to cooperate she will remain trapped in the marriage. This puts women in a position of discrimination and oppression; a position from which they experience negative consequences both in their religious community in The Netherlands and in their country of origin. As long as the wife is tied to her religious marriage, she lacks independence and is hampered in her emancipation, self-determination and participation in Dutch society. She may become socially isolated and will not be able to start a new relationship. If she does start a new relationship or if she remarries according to civil law without having obtained a religious divorce, she will be considered an adulterous women which could lead to honour based violence and prosecution in Islamic countries. The majority of Islamic countries have a sharia-based family law, which does not accept a ‘secular’ (i.e. civil) divorce and therefore continues to see the couple as married. Jewish law, which is supported by Israeli law, gives absolute authority over marriage and divorce to the religious courts and empowers men as the sole executors of the divorce process. The Philippines is the only country in the world where divorce is banned due to the influence of the Catholic Church. However, it does allow legal separation, annulment and marriage ‘voids’ under the Family Code of the Philippines
Marital captivity leaves women vulnerable to extortion, manipulation and abuse. Women who live in marital captivity are trapped for long periods of time, even decades, in a state of limbo and unable to rebuild their lives. This is discrimination and violence against women. States need to take all appropriate measures to also eliminate this discrimination against women (article 16 CEDAW).
Women from Jewish, Catholic, Islamic and Hindu traditions in The Netherlands and other countries have to fight for their rights in many dimensions: in their own communities and in the courts of their countries of origin. They have to deal with two legal systems and do not enjoy rights equal to the men in their communities, because divorce is often the exclusive right of men. Whereas men do not suffer from marital captivity, as they are allowed to marry multiple wives, marital captivity affects women and their children.
That is why fundamental rights of women are at stake! In order to enable these women to participate as full members of their societies and live a life in dignity and safety action is needed. The right to family life and the right to marry are regarded as basic human rights according to the European Convention on Human Rights (ECHR). Femmes for Freedom strives for the recognition of the right to divorce as a human right and therefore aspires full compliance with the UN Women’s Convention (CEDAW), with emphasis on article 16: equal treatment for women before, during, and after marriage.
Let’s unite and fight for justice and gender equality in all spheres of family law! It is time to start an international movement for the recognition of the right to divorce as a human right. It is time to end the injustice and violence of marital captivity!
One of the problems encountered in particular by migrant Muslim women is the non-recognition of Dutch judicial divorce decisions in their communities in The Netherlands and country of origin. The Dutch laws on marital captivity and
jurisprudence are not a solution for this type of marital captivity. The majority of Islamic countries have a sharia-based family law which does not accept a ‘secular’ (i.e. civil) divorce verdicts when and therefore continues to see the couple as married. The access to justice and justice ranking of courts in Islamic countries are also a huge problem for migrant Muslim women in western countries when they want to file a divorce. Women who live in marital captivity are trapped for long periods of time, even decades, in a state of limbo and unable to rebuild their lives. If a Muslim woman who lives in marital captivity does remarry or starts a new relationship out of wedlock she could become a victim of honour based violence in her community of legally prosecuted for adultery or bigamy in Muslim countries.
Migrant women with a Muslim background who are forced into marriages in their countries of origin and who managed to return back home in Europe will still be married: this is the causality between forced marriage and marital captivity and that is why we should define forced marriage broader. Marital captivity can originate in marriages in which both parties entered voluntarily. Marital captivity is a clear discrimination and violence against women
Femmes for Freedom was established on 5 December 2011 and has achieved success in numerous ways. In a short timeframe Femmes for Freedom established itself as one of the leading women’s rights organization in The Netherlands: