Femmes for Freedom

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 is a grassroots organisation that works on all levels of society to advocate change.

  • FFF lobbies for change of legislation and policy in The Netherlands and abroad
  • FFF raises awareness and assistance, in both civil society and politics
  • FFF provides information for victims of marital captivity, as well as for NGO’s, social workers, lawyers, police, health care workers and other stakeholders.
  • FFF offers victims legal support when they take legal action against their husbands.
  • FFF initiated an online reporting tool through which victims of marital captivity can report, be identified and offered legal assistance.

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!

What is Marital Captivity

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).


Marital Captivity is violence against women

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!

International non-recognition of divorces pronounced by Dutch and other courts


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.

Causality with Forced Marriage

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.

Our accomplishments

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:

  • We successfully campaigned for an expanded definition of forced marriage to include marital captivity. Our proposal was accepted and included by the Dutch government in an adopted amendment to the Penal Law on 22 October 2012.
  • The Dutch government established the Dutch ‘forced marriage unit’ in 2014 which is named Landelijk Knooppunt Huwelijksdwang en Achterlating, due to Femmes for Freedom’s efforts.
  • FFF advocated for awareness as well as the end of Marital Captivity at the “European Caucas” at the CSW in New York in 2013.
  • FFF advocated for awareness as well as the end of Marital Captivity at the CEDAW Committee at the United Nations in 2016
  • FFF has presented multiple test cases to the Dutch courts that have resulted in a bettered positon for women that have fallen victim to Marital Captivity.
  • FFF has worked tirelessly to improve the training of various professionals such as judges, lawyers, and police in order for them to be more aware on issues such as Marital Captivity. The Dutch government has adapted our proposals and improvements for these trainings into their own program.
  • FFF has sucesfully lobbyd for a Ticket Fund for Dutch girls and women abandoned abroad. The Fund was made a reality in 2016
  • After many years of campaigning and lobby in Dutch Parliament, the government finally agreed in 2018 for an amendment in the Dutch Cilvil Code that provides that both partners will cooperate to enable the dissolution of a religious marriage.
  • FFF has become renowned for its successful campaings with banner pens against forced marriages, as well as poster campaigns in both Rotterdam and Amsterdam that advocated the freedom to fall in love, to kiss, and to chose ones own partner.
  • Femmes for Freedom’s director Shirin Musa has won the Women Inc Cordaid price for female empowerment.
  • In November 2012, Femmes for Freedom won the Red Hot Women Award for the most inspiring women in the Netherlands.
  • In January 2013 Shirin Musa won the Aletta van Nu Award
  • February 2013 FFF was awarded the Leah Globe Award for its work and achievements.
Video messages from politicians

Video’s that were made to show support for the hearing on “The Injustice of Marital Captivity” on the 25th of June, 2018

Articles in international media about our work on marital captivity
  1. The Economist 11 December 2017 How best to help women caught between different kinds of family law
  2. The Economist 9 December 2017 Marriages of inconvenience
  3. Yahoo Japan, 2 June 2017; “If there is freedom to marry, why not freedom to divorce?”
  4. Belgium Television (RTBF) 30 December 2015 on marital captivity Pays-Bas: femmes prisonnières de leur mariage religieux?
  5. Jerusalem Post 21 February 2013 Yesh Atid MK: plight of agunot is solvalble
  6. Radio Netherlands Worldwide 18 August 2012 Holiday in-Somalia turns into nightmare
  7. Leiden Law Blog 15 June 2012  Femmes for Freedom: fighting against marital captivity
  8. Radio Netherlands Worldwide 24 May 2012  Imprisoned marriage? Contact Femmes for Freedom
Articles in international media about our campaigns

For more information, please contact us. You could also send us an email: info@femmesforfreedom.com Or follow our updates on twitter and facebook!