Against Honor Codes
By: Sara Mohamed
Walaa* spent the first three weeks of her marriage in pain, forced to have sex despite begging her husband to wait until she was more comfortable.
She told The Caravan that her husband made several violent attempts to break her hymen and stain a handkerchief with her blood because social norms demand that he prove her virginity … and purity.
“At first, he gave me a lot of tranquilizers to sedate me, but I soon began to hallucinate and involuntarily urinate,” she said.
Having been brought up in a society which deemed her objections unacceptable she had no choice but to oblige.
“Finally, he tied my limbs to the bed with a rope so I couldn’t resist him, and covered my mouth so the neighbors couldn’t hear me scream. He injured my vagina instead of breaking my hymen.”
The trauma to her vagina caused continuous bleeding so that she had to visit a doctor, who stitched her wound and surgically broke her hymen.
“The doctor told me that my vaginal muscles tore at the time of friction due to the contractions as a result of tension during intercourse, and she advised my husband to change his sexual habits towards me,” Walaa said.
According to the World Health Organization (WHO), sexual violence includes marital rape, and is defined as physically forced or otherwise coerced penetration of the vulva or anus, using a penis, other body parts or an object.
“The wife could approve to have sex with him but she’s forced to do it to avoid making him upset,” Nada Nashaat, advocacy coordinator at the Centre for Egyptian Women’s Legal Assistance (CEWLA) told The Caravan.
“But the mere fact that she felt that she’s forced to engage in any sexual behavior with her husband is considered marital rape, too.”
According to WHO, sexual violence often produces gynecological trauma like tearing of the vagina, fistula (a tear between the vagina and bladder or rectum, or both), hemorrhages and infections or ulceration.
Both physical and sexual violence are linked to a greater risk of adverse mental health disorders among women, including depression, suicide attempts, post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) and anxiety.
The rape victim’s family is also complicit in increasing the husband’s violence since even if the woman spoke out about her issue, her family would likely silence her instead of supporting her, Co-founder of El-Nadeem Center for the Rehabilitation of Victims of Torture Magda Adly said.
“Mothers would usually tell their abused daughters to not speak about such private matters and to endure in silence,” Adly told The Caravan.
After 26 years of marriage, Walaa says that she engages in a sexual relationship with her husband for his satisfaction only.
“[Sex] is so painful and it’s more of a psychological burden, and I have to take tranquilizers and sometimes I apply local anesthetics on my vagina to avoid the pain of the intercourse,” she said.
Adly says that most times a woman is forced to accept her husband’s coercion to have sex because Islamic religious discourse reinforces the idea that a wife cannot reject her husband’s sexual appetite.
Nashaat said that even if Islamic traditions imply this interpretation, they do not endorse marital rape.
“Assuming the hadith is true, it says that the angels will curse her until dawn … It doesn’t say that the husband should rape her, beat her, or forcibly sleep with her,” she added.
Dar Al-Ifta Al-Missriyyah, a government religious institution, also advises that sexual intercourse between a man and his wife should be conducted with intimacy and love, stressing that such amicable conduct reflects piety.
“If the husband used violence to force his wife to sleep with him, he is legally a sinner and she has the right to go to court and file a complaint against him to get punished,” their website reads.
The website also states that a woman has the right to refuse to engage in sexual intercourse with her husband if he is violent or carries a harmful contagious disease.
This clause, however, is rarely practiced.
In January 2015, the National Council for Women (NCW) said that there are more than 6,500 cases of spousal violence that involve marital rape, sexual harassment and forced sexual practices.
However, Dr. Ahlam Hanafy, chair of the health and population committee at the NCW, told The Caravan that the phenomenon of marital rape is not common in Egypt, but rather prevalent in other countries such as Iraq.
“Violence against women is the most widespread in Egypt, which includes beatings and physical abuse only,” she said.
The United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA) 2015 report on gender-based violence revealed that more than two million women had one, or more, injuries as a result of spousal violence.
It also reported that gender-based violence cost the country’s ailing economy at least EGP 2.17 billion during that year alone.
The 2017 records of Family Courts show that 60 percent of Egyptian women were subjected to marital rape, while 10,000 complained of sexual violence.
While Article 267 of the Penal Code criminalizes rape, the law does not protect a woman from marital rape.
“Marital rape isn’t recognized in the Penal Code due to the fact that the [government] believes that as long as the married couple holds a legal document that proves their marriage, then it’s essentially a consensual relationship, not rape.”
Adly added that the “hegemonic masculinity” present in Egypt allows men to perform all kinds of violence against women, regardless of the physical and psychological consequences of such abuse.
“Customs and traditions, gender roles, religious perspectives, culture and mass media … All pour into the main core that men are superior over women since they were babies,” she added.
Adly said that between 2005 and 2010 El-Nadeem attempted to combat violence against women by proposing new legislation that guarantees the rights of victims.
“During those years, [Former Head of Parliament] Fathy Seror only signed that it would be sent to the parliament’s Complaints Committee,” she said.
The proposal was severely criticized by mainstream Egyptian society, journalists, and even caricaturists.
A lawsuit was filed alleging that the proposal violated Islamic traditions.
In 2017, the NCW submitted to the Egyptian parliament a draft law to protect women from violence.
It is currently mired in debate.
*The name of this person has been changed to protect her identity.