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Marital rape and CEDAW

August 2nd, 2011

Singapore is a party to the Convention On The Elimination Of All Forms Of Discrimination Against Women (CEDAW), an international treaty, and as a result the state regularly reports to the United Nations CEDAW Committee. This happened most recently in July 2011. Various NGOs including AWARE also submitted shadow reports to the Committee. AWARE’s report includes the following references to marital rape and No To Rape:

19.23 Singapore’s Fourth Periodic Review to CEDAW 2008 highlights the amendment to the Penal Code that has criminalized forced sex on a spouse under certain circumstances, e.g. in cases where a Personal Protection Order (PPO) was issued against the offending spouse. While a step in the right direction, it is submitted that this does not go far enough. In fact, the CEDAW Committee’s Concluding Comments voiced some concern for the recognition of marital rape as a crime in such ‘narrowly defined circumstances’.

19.24 AWARE, in its previous shadow report discussed this discriminatory provision that denies all married women full recourse for the criminal offence of rape merely by virtue of the fact that her husband is the perpetrator. The amendment that came into force in February 2008 clearly does not go far enough as many women might not be aware or able to get PPOs, and therefore effectively these women will have no legal recourse. It is time that protection and recourse to rape be provided for all women irrespective of marital status.

19.25 In December 2009, a petition with 3,609 signatures was submitted to the Prime Minister’s office by the ‘No To Rape’ online petition coordinator, a group of ‘concerned Singaporeans who have come together for the single purpose of promoting change on this issue.’

The United Nations Committee has considered the submissions of the government and NGOs and issued a statement, which also includes remarks on marital rape:

The Committee expresses its concern at the persistence of violence against women in the State party, in particular, domestic and sexual violence, which remains, in many cases, under-reported. While welcoming the amendments to the Penal Code in 2008 on the criminalization of rape of a spouse, the Committee is concerned that it only applies when the perpetrator and the victims are living apart and are in process of termination of their marriage, and if the victim applied for a personal protection order.

The Committee urges the State party to:

(a) Review its Penal Code and Criminal Procedure Code in order to specifically criminalize domestic violence and marital rape, and ensure that the definition of rape covers any non-consensual sexual act;

(b) Provide mandatory training for judges, prosecutors and the police on the strict application of legal provisions dealing with violence against women and train police officers on procedures to deal with women victims of violence;

(c) Encourage women to report incidents of domestic and sexual violence, by de- stigmatizing victims and raising awareness about the criminal nature of such acts;

(d) Provide adequate assistance and protection to women victims of violence, by strengthening the capacity of shelters and crisis centres, and enhancing cooperation with NGOs providing shelter and rehabilitation to victims; and

(e) Collect statistical data on domestic and sexual violence disaggregated by sex, age, nationality and relationship between the victim and perpetrator.

No To Rape welcomes AWARE’s and the Committee’s call to change the law so that all women enjoy protection from sexual violence regardless of their marital status or their relationship with the perpetrator.

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Competing visions of marriage in Islam

June 24th, 2011

In response to the recent news about a possible Singaporean branch of the Obedient Wives Club, Mohamed Imran Mohamed Taib has written an interesting article on competing visions of marriage in Islam. In it he discusses their implications for various issues including marital rape. The first vision he discusses is traditionalist:

…marriage is primarily seen not as a fulfillment of mutual love and respect, but as a set of duties and obligations. The man, as the absolute leader of the family, is entitled to absolute obedience from the woman. Any form of denying or subverting the authority of the husband may constitute nushuz (‘rebellion’).

This, inadvertently, includes the authority and right for men to demand sex, even if she refuses.

Such writings, which advocate the absolute submission of wives, are by no means rare. They form part of the episteme of traditionalist Islam. The popularity of books like Tohfa-e-Doulhan (Gift For The Bride), sold in local bookstores, obviously latches on to this dominant orientation as much as it seeks to entrench patriarchy through religious discourse. This is the crisis of traditionalist thought in Muslim jurisprudence.

He contrasts this to the views of many thinkers among Muslims all over the world, who understand Islam to promote an “egalitarian message”:

A notable Muslim jurist, Professor Khaled Abou El Fadl, brilliantly dissected such problems in contemporary Muslim discourse on gender in his book, Speaking In God’s Name: Islamic Law, Authority & Women (2001).

Scholars like him have identified the prevalence of the language of ‘obedience’ as an example of how the Muslims’ religious discourse on gender is in serious need of reform. This is a task that has been undertaken by contemporary reformists such as Ziba Mir Hosseini (Iran), Asma Barlas (USA), Riffat Hassan (Pakistan), Farid Esack (South Africa), Asghar Ali Engineer (India), KH. Hussein Muhammad (Indonesia), Nawal El Saadawi (Egypt), Fatima Mernissi (Morocco) and countless others.

In their progressive interpretation of Islam, a woman’s ‘obedience’ is owed directly to God as a principle of tawheed (monotheism), and not via ‘obedience’ to the male/husband.

They also highlighted that marriage is based on the equality of men and women, and, as specified in the Qur’an, “so that you may dwell in tranquility” and develop “deep feelings of love and mercy” (Q.30:21). Furthermore, roles and responsibilities are to be negotiated in mutual trust and respect, and are not pre-determined by God.

What is important is that their vision is grounded in the same sacred sources of the Qur’an and Hadith (prophetic traditions). Unfortunately, these perspectives have often been neglected and sometimes outright rejected in the name of an ossified and fossilised ‘Islam’.

The recent sensational news about the formation of the OWC provides an opportunity to open up discussion about one of the most taboo topics in public discourse – sex in marital life.

For reform-minded gender activists, this is the time to seize the moment and correct centuries-old assumptions about gender roles and relations – from issues of reproductive rights, inheritance law to marital rape.

It is also an opportunity to highlight the limits of traditionalist thought in properly diagnosing social issues and problems. For Muslims in particular, it is time for critical self-reflection, for reclaiming the egalitarian message of Islam, and for repositioning women as equally dignified partners in all spheres of life, marital relations included. It is time for a new gender discourse to take shape in the community.

It is also worth noting the statement of Muis (dated 17 June 2011) in response to the Obedient Wives Club (emphasis added by us):

Muis disagrees with the basis or objectives of the aforementioned Club as reported by the media.

The Club’s view that a satisfying sex life is the main solution to solving marital and social problems in the community is one that is myopic, and does not accurately portray the complexity of the problems faced by married couples. Such simplistic view is in fact demeaning to women and the institution of marriage and family which are held in high esteem in Islam.

[...] Happiness in a marriage goes beyond receiving sexual fulfillment from one’s wife. The Prophet himself (Peace be upon him) taught Muslims to engage in spousal sexual relations in a manner that is full of love and respect towards each other. This is because sexual relations are a form of ibadah (blessed deed in Islam) which requires consent and willingness from both parties.

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Getting a Personal Protection Order (PPO)

June 3rd, 2011

No To Rape calls for all instances of marital rape to be treated as “rape” under the Penal Code (or “sexual penetration of a minor”, where the victim is under 16). At the moment, this only happens if the victim has previously made applications for certain orders against their spouse. One of these is the Personal Protection Order (PPO).

AWARE have put together a helpful guide on PPOs which tells you where you can apply for them and what to do if they are not followed. Although you do not need a lawyer for a PPO, there is also advice on who you can contact if you do need legal help.

If you believe you (or anyone in your family) is at threat of violence from another family member (including your spouse), or a family member (including your spouse) has already committed violence against you (or another family member), it can be helpful to seek a PPO to deter further violence. You can access the AWARE guide by clicking here.

It is not always possible to tell in advance whether a spouse will commit violence, including sexual violence. Protection should be provided against all acts of abuse, foreseen or unforeseen. No To Rape believes the law should be changed so that no application for a PPO is necessary to treat marital rape as rape. With the law as it stands, however, the marital rape exemption is an additional reason why PPOs need to be made as easily accessible as possible, and we thank AWARE for making this useful information available.

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Update on correspondence with MCYS

March 26th, 2011

By way of update, No To Rape has received a short reply to our latest message to MCYS. Here it is:

Dear Sir/Madam

I refer to your email on 16 Mar 2011.

2 The amendments to the Penal Code were made in 2007 following substantial public consultation and deliberation. We value your feedback and will take it into consideration in future reviews of the Penal Code. Thank you.

Best regards,

Rahayu Buang (Ms), Senior Assistant Director (Family Policy), Ministry of Community Development, Youth and Sports

Please continue to stay in touch for further updates on our work.

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MCYS response and No To Rape’s reply

March 16th, 2011

[Edited on 17 March 2011 to add: A reader has pointed out that No To Rape incorrectly addressed Ms Rahayu Buang of MCYS as “Ms Buang” rather than “Ms Rahayu” in our reply. We are sorry for this error and have emailed Ms Rahayu to apologise. Many thanks to the blog visitor for pointing out our mistake.]

In October 2010 No To Rape made a submission to the Ministry for Community Development, Youth and Sport’s consultation on proposed amendments to the Women’s Charter. We reiterated our call for the complete repeal of Sections 375(4) and 376A(5) of the Penal Code, and also submitted that compulsory marriage preparation courses should emphasise the importance of affirmative consent in all sexual activity.

In November 2010 we received the below response from the Ministry. The reply that we sent them today is also reproduced below.

To date, given the absence of any reply to the original petition from the Prime Minister’s Office, this is the fullest statement that we have from the government on the issue of marital rape. No To Rape is continuing to work at a grassroots level to conduct research and build community report for legislative change. If you would like to be involved, please do not hesitate to get in touch with us.

Click here to read the MCYS response and our reply

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Submissions to MCYS on Women’s Charter

October 5th, 2010

The Ministry for Community Development, Youth and Sport is seeking feedback on proposed amendments to the Women’s Charter. Below is the submission made by No To Rape today.

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1. Background

1.1 No To Rape is a volunteer-led campaign calling for the total abolition of marital immunity for rape in Singapore. No To Rape seeks the complete repeal of Section 375(4) and Section 376A(5) of the Penal Code, so that all instances of non-consensual penetration of a woman’s vagina by a man’s penis constitute the offence of rape.

1.2 About 50 individuals from a range of racial and religious backgrounds have worked on No To Rape. The core team, responsible for management and funding, are Koh Wei Jie, Jolene Tan, Mark Wong and Wong Pei Chi. Opinions in this submission are those of the core team alone. Further information can be found at http://www.NoToRape.com/ and the core team can be contacted at notorape@gmail.com.

1.3 In 2009, No To Rape submitted to the Prime Minister a petition carrying more than 3,600 signatures by Singapore citizens and Permanent Residents in support of this legislative amendment. Notable signatories include:

1.3.1 Academics: Dr Kenneth Paul Tan, Lee Kuan Yew School of Public Policy; Professor Chua Beng Huat, NUS Sociology Department; Professor Kumaralingam Amirthalingam, NUS Law Faculty.

1.3.2 Marriage counselors and social workers: David Blakely, President of the Singapore Association for Counselling; Benny Bong, President of the Society Against Family Violence.

1.3.3 Former NMPs: Kanwaljit Soin; Braema Mathi; Siew Kum Hong.

1.4 This petition was endorsed by the Association of Women for Action and Research and by MARUAH, the Singapore working group for an ASEAN human rights mechanism. A statement of support was also received from Trinity Theological College.

2. Submission

2.1 No To Rape welcomes the move by the Ministry to review the Women’s Charter and update the statutory and other legal provisions governing marital and other familial relations.

2.2 The Women’s Charter plays an important role in ensuring that situations of familial conflict are regulated to safeguard the security and well-being of all members of those families in Singapore that fall within its remit. (We note the exception of marriages between Muslims from the scope of the Charter.) In particular, it reflects an understanding of the position of physical vulnerability and economic dependence in which individuals may find themselves in relation to other family members, and of the corresponding need for robust state protection and legal recourse against familial abuse.

2.3 It is submitted that Section 375(4) and Section 376A(5) of the Penal Code should be repealed on the grounds that they undermine this important purpose, by creating immunity against criminal prosecution in the case of sexual violence perpetrated by men against their wives under specific conditions. These statutory provisions exempt non-consensual penetration by a man, with his penis, of a woman’s vagina, provided that the man and the woman are married to each other, unless certain limited conditions have been met (e.g. there has been an application for divorce, separation or a PPO, or a written separation agreement has been signed).

2.4 These provisions are inconsistent with the spirit of the Women’s Charter, which reflects the understanding that there exist difficult and unfortunate circumstances where, despite the existence of familial relations and the formal ties of marriage, a spouse may require the law to protect him or her from the abusive actions of his or her spouse. Neither these abusive actions nor their impact upon their victims are dependent on whether any application for divorce, separation or a PPO has yet been filed. Section 375(4) and 376A(5) deprive the police, the Ministry, the Attorney-General’s Chambers and the courts of Singapore of an important option when these agencies consider their response to such abuse.

2.5 In particular, as a result of Section 376A(5), marital immunity for rape applies even in the case of adult men who non-consensually penetrate their wives, where those wives are under the age of 16. In those cases, it is extremely likely that the wife lives under conditions of physical, economic and social vulnerability vis-à-vis her husband, and the expectation that she should take steps to apply for a divorce, separation or PPO before she qualifies for legal protection from violence is particularly burdensome and unrealistic.

2.6 International studies (such as those presented at the Ministry’s Family Violence Symposium of 2009) also indicate the prevalence of family abuse, including sexual abuse, against people with disabilities. The Ministry is urged to consider the particular impact of the requirements of Section 375(4) and 376A(5) (in terms of applying for divorce, separation or a PPO) on women with disabilities who experience sexual violence from their husbands.

2.7 Public opinion in Singapore is consistent with our recommendation. A 1993 report “Social Definitions of Family Violence in Singapore” by Choi, A. and Edleson, J L, surveyed the attitudes of 510 Singapore residents and found the following:

2.7.1 95% disapproved or strongly disapproved of the use of force by a husband if his wife refused to have sex.

2.7.2 74% considered having sex with one’s wife against her will to be assault. 93% considered assaulting one’s wife to be a crime.

2.7.3 69% considered having sex with one’s wife against her will to involve the ‘major’ use of force. An overwhelming majority — 83.8% — favoured police intervention (ranging from warning to charging to arresting the husband) in even a first-time ‘major’ assault.

2.7.4 Only 11.7% considered that judges should treat wife assaults less seriously than other personal assaults. 53.4% thought they should be treated equally seriously, and 34.6% thought wife assaults should be treated more seriously.

2.8 Where it is not possible to prove non-consensual penetration to the criminal standard of ‘beyond reasonable doubt’ in a court of law, the exercise of prosecutorial discretion and/or judicial scrutiny is the appropriate mechanism for preventing any miscarriage of justice. By contrast, the existing statutory immunity is an unnecessary barrier to appropriate prosecutions and convictions even where the evidence is sufficient to meet that standard.

2.9 In addition, it is submitted that the proposed introduction of Section 12A presents a timely opportunity for further preventative action against sexual violence between spouses. The Ministry is urged to ensure that all marriage preparation courses completed in satisfaction of this new requirement equip the prospective couple with a thorough understanding of the importance of affirmative consent in any sexual activity within their marriage. Specifically, couples should be encouraged to recognise that:

2.9.1 Sexual activity should only take place when it is mutually and freely consented to by both spouses and in the absence of any coercion, whether this coercion takes physical, emotional, economic or other forms.

2.9.2 If one party is in doubt at any time as to the wishes or consent of their spouse regarding sexual activity, they should actively seek clarification.

2.9.3 Proceeding with sexual activity when one spouse has not given clear consent amounts to violence, which is punishable under the Penal Code.

2.9.4 A party who has been subjected to sexual violence from his or her spouse can seek help through applying for a PPO or making a police complaint. This is a valid self-protective measure to take, and should not be regarded as a betrayal, shame or failure.

2.10 It is noted that Section 12A is expected to apply, in particular, to marriages where at least one party is a minor (Consultation Paper). The recommendation in 2.9 above is particularly germane in view of the particular vulnerabilities of minor spouses discussed at 2.5 above.

3. Conclusion

3.1 It is submitted that the Women’s Charter (Amendment) Bill represents a timely opportunity to fully repeal Section 375(4) and Section 376A(5) of the Penal Code, so that all instances of non-consensual penetration constitute the offence of rape, in keeping with the humane and pragmatic purposes of the Women’s Charter.

3.2 Compulsory marriage preparation courses should emphasise the importance of affirmative consent in all sexual activity. This will promote better marital relations, help to prevent future sexual violence within marriages, and also better equip victims to seek timely assistance should such violence nevertheless occur.

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Please consider making a submission to MCYS in support of our proposals. You can do so through the REACH website until 24 October.

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Update on No To Rape

June 29th, 2010

Once again, we’d like to thank everyone who supported No To Rape during last year’s petition drive. Some of you are probably wondering what has happened since then. Unfortunately, more than six months have passed, and we have yet to receive any reply from the Prime Minister to our petition.

We are disappointed that there has been no response to the voices of more than 3,600 citizens and permanent residents, speaking up for the basic right of women to be protected from violence.

Nevertheless, No To Rape continues to work at a grassroots level to build community support for legislative change. If you are involved in social work, any community organisation including religious groups, or have experience of any kind – practical, academic or any other – that you would like to contribute to the prevention of sexual violence, please do not hesitate to get in touch. If you’re not sure what sort of experience you have, but simply wish to contribute in any way you can, let us know too. No To Rape is a civic movement composed entirely of volunteers, and any connections we can make will help.

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Letter to Her World (February 2010)

March 24th, 2010

By way of update, the No To Rape blog has been silent because the public petition drive has ended, but please be assured that we are continuing to work in other ways to push for the repeal of marital immunity for rape. Anyone who would like to be part of the team is more than welcome to get in touch.

For now, though, here is some wonderful news. You may remember that Her World ran an excellent article on marital rape last year, featuring interviews with women who had experienced marital rape and also the No To Rape campaign. One reader’s response to this article was published as a letter in the February issue of Her World. No To Rape wishes her friend the very best.

Sometimes life plays its own tune and forces us to dance on it. My closest friend is a victim of marital rape and when she was hospitalised after the traumatic episode; your issue came just in time.

I have no words to explain how much your article on Marital Rape helped her. We advised her that she should report this matter to the police but as usual she just turned a deaf ear. But, this article changed her perspective, so much so, that she called me instantly to ask if I could come with her to the police station. I am happy that she got an angel in Her World that changed her life remarkably.

I am short of words to explain the joy and sense of relief that I saw in her beautiful green eyes. Today, she gives credit of this grand success to your magazine. She recommends the magazine to everyone and loves it to the core. You guys, helped her sail through the tough and the harsh times.

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Petition submitted

December 9th, 2009

Earlier today, the petition was submitted to the Prime Minister by email. A hard copy of the signatures – standing at 3,609 after we went through them to remove spam – was also sent through the post. Thank you to everyone again for your work to spread the message. We will keep you updated on any responses that we receive.

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Petition Closed

December 1st, 2009

We would like to thank everyone who has given his or her support to the No To Rape petition to abolish marital rape immunity in Singapore. Twenty minutes ago, our petition has officially come to a close with over 3,600 signatures.

Over the next few days, we will be putting together the data collected before presenting it to our Prime Minister, Mr Lee Hsien Loong, by email and in hard copy. We will keep everyone updated on the progress of the campaign, so please continue to follow us by either signing up to our mailing list, joining our Facebook group, following us on Twitter, or simply returning to this blog from time to time.

This website will also undergo an overhaul to pave the way for future awareness raising and related issues that we will be working hard to bring to you. Stay tuned!

Once again, thank you very much for supporting our call to repeal marital rape immunity in Singapore.

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