Breakthrough for universal women’s rights in France Liberté, egalité, féminité with Dutch input

Today, the French senate can add this amendment by Senator Nathalie Delattre to the Projet de loi contre le séparatisme’ by president Macron, with which it will add to the protection of women. If this amendment is accepted, marital captivity – the forced onset of a marriage against the woman’s will – will be actively banned and combatted in France. France would be, following the Netherlands, the second country worldwide to legislate this right. 

The submission of the amendment alone is a huge step for women’s rights and the recognition of the injustice of marital captivity. The amendment will be submitted by the RSDE. It builds on Dutch legislation as well as the recommendations made by Renew Europe. Both are the result of a longstanding legal and political battle by women’s rights organisation Femmes for Freedom.

Femmes for Freedom is excited about this breakthrough in France. It hopes that other EU member states will follow France and the Netherlands in this important fight for the protection and promotion of women’s rights for all women in the EU. 

The law that will be discussed by the French parliament today, concerns three extremely important women’s rights in the private sphere for women in islamic countries and communities:

  1. A ban on declarations of virginity by doctors for girls and women;
  2. Strict enforcement policies against arranged marriages;
  3. A rigorous approach to polygamy. 

The amendment adds:

  1. A ban on the forced onset of marriage – so-called marital captivity. 

Legislating these rights would be huge step forward for equality for all French civilians, regardless of descent, sex or religion.

What is marital captivity?

Marital captivity is the forced onset of a marriage. The woman wants to dissolve a religious, closed, islamic marriage, but her husband does not. An islamic divorce is only possible with the cooperation of the husband. This is not the case when the man wants to divorce and the woman does not. A man can always divorce, regardless of the consent of the woman. This is a severe injustice. 

A woman in marital captivity can get divorced by law, but this is not recognized in Islamic countries (with the exception of Morocco, Turkey and Tunisia). The inability to dissolve a religious marriage happens in all religious communities and traditions, however the consequences are most severe for women in islamic marriages. 

A woman in marital captivity, in the Netherlands, France or any other country, can become a victim of serious honor-related violence. When she visits her country of origin or someone presses charges against her, she can be persecuted for adultery or bigamy.  This can happen when she is in a new relationship or a new civil marriage. In some countries, this is even punished by death penalty. The man is able to remarry, because polygamy is allowed for men. The refusal of a man to divorce his wife therefore not only leads to a situation of marital captivity, but also to polygamy. 

This results in a third class citizenship for muslim women. This gross violation of human rights is unacceptable to Femmes for Freedom.

What can a democratic constitutional state do to combat marital captivity?

Ten years ago, women’s rights organisation Femmes for Freedom started to fight for legal resources for women to free themselves from marital captivity. After a long battle, Dutch women in an islamic marriages now have the right to divorce. Measures have been taken, both in criminal and civil law, to combat marital captivity. A judge can, on the grounds of unlawful acts and the violation of fundamental human rights, order a man to cooperate with the islamic divorce. This order is under penalty of periodic penalty payments.

Further protection of women’s rights: France and the EU

All EU-member states have signed and ratified the Convention of Elimination of All forms of Discrimination against Women (CEDAW). It is therefore Femmes for Freedom’s position that every EU-member state is obliged to take all necessary measures, including legislative measures, to ensure the enjoyment of fundamental human rights for all women. 

Renew Europe in the European Parliament, to which Macron’s party LREM and the Dutch VVD and D66 belong, has prepared steps that EU-countries can take to free women from marital captivity in its action plan from 2018. It is clear what steps need to be taken. 

A special ‘shout-out’ to Fanny Weiermuller-Sacepe who has constantly supported us. Her efforts and input have greatly contributed to this French success. Merci Fanny for your feminist solidarity and sisterhood!