In a cruel night which saw her cry, shout, ask for help, with no ears to hear her pain and offer her comfort and support. Falling unconscious, it is only the next morning that she wakes up to find her clothing torn, her body a scene of a violent sexual relationship.
Millions of women worldwide are exposed to this brutal crime weekly, and sometimes daily, but lack any form of social or legal protection due to their marital status. It is these women who endure horrific and cruel nights, facing their spouse who surprises her and forces himself on in a vicious sexual assault, without her desire or consent.
Because so few care to hear their voices, or fob them off with excuses, women frequently have to resort either to silence, out of fear of social stigma, or committing crimes against the husband to get rid of these physically and psychologically harmful relationships.
No victim support in marital rape
In the 10 years that she has been married, 35-year-old H. A., who spoke on condition of anonymity, has suffered much at the hands of her husband.
In a society that frequently does not recognise marital rape as an actual crime against women, there has been little support for the young woman, despite the significant impact it has had on her all-round well-being.
“I am tortured weekly, particularly every Friday when my husband has his weekend, as he insists on having a sexual relationship with me,” H. A. said, “If I refuse, he hits me and insults me and forces me to be intimate with him.”
It has reached such an extent that she now says she has “reached the level that I hate being a woman, I hate my body.”
These are heartbreaking words to read, but ones that reflect a daily reality for many women experiencing this form of domestic abuse.
“We have been married for 10 years now, and I have never seen him praying or going to the mosque for Friday prayers,” H. A. says, “He does not know anything about religion, and yet when I talk to him to convince him that intimate relations should not happen by force, he always replies that I am violating a divine law and will be cursed by angels.”
This reflects a frequently held belief that “Angels curse the woman who refuses to have a sexual relationship with her husband whenever he wants.”
A. said that she married her husband after a fairy tale romance, with the couple producing a daughter who is now six years old. She notes that, following the passing away of both her father and mother, she now has only one sister on which to depend. She adds that she has no one to whom she can go to, to describe her ordeal or from whom she can receive support.
She has thought of asking for a divorce from her husband many times, but always feels shy to talk to anyone of what she has suffered. Instead, she has resorted to women’s rights organisations, who have provided her with only psychological support to help her continue her life.
In yet another example of how little support women get in situations of domestic abuse and marital rape, a 25-year-old newlywed, who spoke on condition of anonymity, describes her own experience of abuse.
Her husband, who is also her cousin, always hits her and treats her badly if she refuses intimacy with him whenever he desires.
“I thought that if I marry my relative, he will be more respectful of my feelings, but instead I have found that all our problems are driven by our family,” she said.
“Unfortunately, since day one he has been raping me, and following our honeymoon I decided to talk with my family about what he did,” the young woman says, “My father and my brother reacted in a way I did not expect, shouting at me and saying that I am impolite.”
She also says that both her father and her brother beat her after she voiced her experiences, as they feel that these matters should not be discussed outside the marital bedroom. She adds that talking of such matters of marital abuse and rape are considered a disgrace.
“I left my home, and am now living with a friend until I file a divorce case, but unfortunately most of my friends have told me that it takes time and there is no law criminalising marital rape,” the young woman notes, “Please pray for me that I can have my rights, as I am not only fighting my relatives or husband, I am also fighting a whole family and society.”
No let-up during illness
Just as love and kinship were not enough to prevent husbands from forcing themselves on their wives, so illness does not necessarily save women from the same fate.
A woman who formerly suffered from a uterine disease that caused heavy bleeding was warned, by her doctor, against having any sexual intercourse before she is fully healed. However, the woman’s husband did not follow the doctor’s instructions, and frequently forced himself on her until she passed out.
“I used to suffer from severe bleeding, from time to time, due to health problems in the womb, so the gynaecologist asked for some medical tests and warned me against having intimate relations with my husband,” said A. A., also speaking on condition of anonymity.
She said that her husband went with her to the doctor, and himself heard the instructions that having a sexual relationship in that period might cause his wife’s death due to the bleeding. Against medical advice, however, he insisted on such acts, and forced himself on his wife, leaving her unconscious and soaked in blood afterwards.
“He thought that I was pretending to be unconscious, until he realised I wasn’t, and it was only then that he took me to the emergency room in the hospital where my life was saved,” she said.
Despite the incident, it did not stop her husband from forcing himself on her after only a couple of weeks, when the same incident occurred.
A. added that her gynaecologist told her that she should file a case against him and would willingly testify in court against him. Despite the medical advice and the hard-to-miss physical evidence, the physical pain and the unquestionable after-effects, A. A. still subconsciously tells herself that it is her husband’s right to sexual relations, no matter what happens as a result.
A 2014 study said that as many as 45.6% of Egyptian women had been exposed to violence at the hands of their husbands, while 10% reported experiencing marital rape and sexual violence at the hands of their partners, according to Reda Eldanbouki, Lawyer and Executive Director of the Women’s Center for Guidance and Legal Awareness
During the pandemic, there has been an issue with reporting cases as such offences often go unnoticed, instead they remain unspoken.
“I think that due to the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic, at least 80% of women are exposed to this type of violence, and this is likely to continue after the pandemic comes to an end,” Eldanbouki said, “The pandemic has unfortunately led to an increase in all forms of violence against women.” Eldanbouki said.
He said that the marital rape has certainly increased during the lockdowns put in place during the pandemic, due to the presence of the two parties together for a long period at home. This has, in turn, released some repression or behavioural disorder, which was reflected in the increasing number of marital rape incidents.
“Unfortunately, the culture embedded in our society is that any sexual intercourse is the right of the husband, and that if the wife refuses, she will remain in sin, and that the angels curse her,” Eldanbouki said, “This is entirely incorrect, and the aim is to insult and diminish the status of women, humiliate them and control them, and to ensure that there is a gender gap.”
To end the mistreatment of women in the marital home, Eldanbouki called for a unified law to be established, which will combat sexual violence, and criminalise marital rape. It should also establish an anti-discrimination commission to fulfil Article 53 of the Egyptian Constitution that talks about establishing an anti-discrimination commission.
Egypt should also adhere to international conventions and lift any reservations to the 1979 Convention on the Elimination of all Forms of Discrimination against Women (CEDAW), which Egypt has signed and ratified.
There is a widely held belief that there is no such thing as ‘non-consensual sexual intercourse’ between a husband and a wife. Husbands believe it is their lawful right to perform intercourse with their wives, as marriage stands as a contract to have that right.
As a result, any acts of violence that take place in the marital bedroom leave women in a state of despair. Stories have surfaced of women who have filed complaints against their spouse, but instead of receiving support, they have been asked to endure it because they are making an issue out of nothing.
Such is the supposed “normality” of this situation, that it has been both normalised and internalised due to the concept of consent never having been adequately taught. Women need to be made aware of their legal rights. And men need to know that marriage is not a ticket that they can use to cash in for intercourse whenever they want.
An added impediment to dealing with the issue is that talking about all matters to do with sex is a taboo, and very hush-hush. Any open discussion of this issue, even within families, means that a woman has not been raised well.
Mohamed Samir, counsellor and spokesperson for the Administrative Prosecution Authority (APA), told Daily News Egypt that the Egyptian penal code does not criminalise or even define marital rape.
Samir said, “Article 60 of the Egyptian Penal Code stipulates that penal provisions do not apply to every act committed in good faith pursuant to a right established according to Sharia [Islamic law].”
He noted that there is a real need to define marital rape in law, and importantly, to ensure that it is considered as a crime.
“The Egyptian penal code does not criminalise marital rape, but if a wife went to a police station to report marital rape, the police will deal with this crime in the best case scenario as a misdemeanour hit or trespass on her body, but there is no specific penal code for the marital rape,” according to Eldanbouki.
Talking to Daily News Egypt, Eldanbouki said that it is easy to prove the marital rape if the action has been committed violently. However, due to the immense social pressures and stigma surrounding this issue, most cases remain silent and no fight is taken up.
He added that marital rape could be proven by examining the whole body to look for abrasions, external injuries. Wounds around the mouth should be looked for, along with the wrists when the woman is suffering paralysis, and any injuries that may have been caused in the upper thigh area or on the back as a result of being thrown on the ground.
Eldanbouki stressed the urgent need to implement legislation to combat domestic violence, and pointed to the fact that some countries do punish marital rape.
Another reason for many of Egypt’s marital rape victims remaining silent can be attributed to those misusing religion, and basing their ideology on weak hadiths and incorrect religious interpretations.
Daily News Egypt put forward a question regarding the religious stance on marital rape from, which was answered by Ahmed El-Sabag, a scholar with Al-Azhar, Egypt and Sunni Islam’s highest religious authority.
We asked if it is permissible, according to Islamic Sharia, for a husband to force the wife into a sexual relationship.
El-Sabag responded by saying that this is Haram, or unlawful, according to Islamic Sharia, and cited two verses from the Quran to highlight this.
He made light of Verse 222 from the second chapter of the Quran, Surat Al-Baqara, which says, “And they ask you about menstruation. Say, It is harm, so keep away from wives during menstruation. And do not approach them until they are pure. And when they have purified themselves, then come to them from where Allah has ordained for you. Indeed, Allah loves those who are constantly repentant and loves those who purify themselves.”
He also highlighted the following verse in the same chapter, “Your wives are a place of sowing of seed for you, so come to your place of cultivation however you wish and put forth [righteousness] for yourselves. And fear Allah and know that you will meet Him. And give good tidings to the believers.” (223:2)
El-Sabag added that the phrase “put forth [righteousness] for yourselves”, means that Islam teaches us the same message as modern psychologists, which is to ensure intimate relations take place with consent. Such activity should always take place willingly, while forcing the women is considered an encroachment on her.
Amna Nosseir, Professor of Islamic Thought and Philosophy at Al-Azhar University, told Daily News Egypt that when the husband wishes for intimacy to take place with his wife, he should pave the way through offering her affection and tenderness throughout the day. In this way, the wife will be able to provide her unpressured consent, and that she will have the space to prepare and welcome the marital relations whenever they happen.
Replying to those who assume that Sharia law stipulates that a wife who refuses intimacy with her husband will be cursed by the angels, Nosseir said that some men lack the conscience for marital life. She added that Sharia law specifies that marital life should be built on affection and mercy.
Men are taking snippets from the text of the Quran and placing them out of context, using only those phrases which they assume gives them power. By taking the text out of its context, identity and relevance, they then use them to exploit the wife’s position.
What the Quran and the Hadith are clear about is that the husband should open the pathway towards intimacy with his wife, and do so in an affectionate way, rather than forcing her without her consent, which is Haram. In the latter case, affection and compassion are often neglected, which are the real bridges for the relationship between the husband and wife.
Meanwhile, El-Sabag said that there is another Hadith outlining how a man should never hit his wife during the day and then desire intercourse with her at night, as the relationship needs complete harmony. He continued that this Hadith emphasises that forcing a wife into sexual intercourse is haram.