Warning: This article contains a description of sexual violence.
On the first night of her marriage, Safaa was raped by her husband. The attack left the 34-year-old woman with injuries to her groin, wrist and mouth.
“I was on my period and wasn’t ready to have sex that night,” says Safaa.
“My husband thought I was avoiding sex with him. He beat me, handcuffed me, silenced my voice and raped me.”
However, Safaa refused to report her husband to the police for fear of social stigma. The attitude of blaming victims is common in countries with a patriarchal cultural society, especially if the victim is a woman.
The turning point occurred during Ramadan, last April. When a television series called Newton’s Cradle aired a scene of a husband forcing sex with his wife.
For many women, the episode evoked bad memories but at the same time provided the courage to share experiences on social media.
In a few towns, hundreds of testimonials popped up in the virtual world, including 700 netizens in a Facebook page titled Speak Up.
Among the 700 people, there is 27 -year -old Sanaa.
“My husband used to be like an angel to me. A year into the marriage, I was pregnant and about to give birth,” she wrote on the page. “We had a trivial quarrel and he decided to punish me.
“He was rude and raped me. I miscarried.”
Sanaa decided to divorce and is now living separately from her husband. However, she still mourns the loss of her fetus.
Acts of violence and sexual relations with atrocities are common in Egypt, especially on the first night of a wedding.
This topic became hotter when a famous singer’s ex-wife shared her story via Instagram about allegations of marital rape. The video of the woman telling stories while crying has gone viral and has been widely reported.
The singer responded to the accusations by posting a video on Instagram. In the video, he called his ex-wife’s words “baseless”.
His ex-wife then called for the legal system in Egypt to be changed so that perpetrators of marital rape are punished.
According to a January 2015 study, the National Council for Women (NCW) under the government noted that every year on average there are more than 6,500 cases of violence against women involving marriage rape, sexual harassment, and the practice of sexual coercion.
“Marriage rape occurs because there is a culture in Egypt that believes marriage requires the wife to be available 24 hours and seven days for sex,” said Reda Danbouki, a lawyer and executive director of the Center for Legal Aid and Awareness for Women.
This belief, continued Danbouki, is based on a religious interpretation that classifies women as “sinners” and “cursed by angels all night” if they refuse to have sex with their husbands.
In order to settle this debate, Dar al-Ifta as the institution authorized to issue fatwas in Egypt, released a statement:
“If the husband uses violence to force his wife to have sex, the husband is a sinner and the wife has the right to go to court and demand that the husband be punished.”
Despite that statement, the Center for Legal Aid and Awareness for Women still records 200 cases of marital rape over the past two years. Some of those cases are due to what’s known as “first night fear”, Danbouki said.
Egyptian law does not classify marital rape as a crime, even though the World Health Organization (WHO) has categorized it as a form of sexual violence.
It is difficult for the court to prove it. Most cases of alleged marital rape in court do not lead to convictions under Article 60 of the Egyptian Penal Code.
“The rules in Criminal Law do not apply to acts committed in good faith, whose rights have been determined in Sharia law,” the article said.
However, Danbouki argues, marital rape can be proven by “examining the whole body for abrasions, external injuries. Wounds around the body should be looked for, as should the wrists”.
Change is often slow in Egypt because conservative values still dominate. However, for victims of marital rape, their voices are starting to be heard.
Safaa and Sanaa are not real names. Their names have been changed to protect their identities.