Rape and Domestic Violence: Violence against women continued to be a problem. Rape carries a maximum penalty of death, which the country occasionally imposed for the crime; however, spousal rape is not a crime. The media reported hundreds of rape cases during the year. Many of the victims were noncitizen domestic workers. Police occasionally arrested alleged rapists, and several were tried and convicted during the year; however, laws against rape were not always enforced effectively, especially in cases of noncitizen women raped by their employers.
The law does not specifically prohibit domestic violence, but such cases are tried as assault. A victim of domestic violence may file a complaint with police requesting formal charges be brought against the alleged abuser. Each of the country’s 83 police stations reportedly received complaints of domestic abuse. However, most domestic abuse cases were not reported, especially outside the capital, likely due to the strong social stigma associated with publicly acknowledging such problems. Police officials rarely arrested perpetrators of domestic violence even when presented with documented evidence of the abuse, such as eyewitness accounts, hospital reports, and social worker testimony. Individuals also reportedly bribed police officials to ignore domestic abuse charges. Although courts found husbands guilty of spousal abuse in previous years, those convicted rarely faced severe penalties. Noncitizen women married to citizens reported domestic abuse and inaction or discrimination by police during the year.
A woman may petition for divorce based on injury from abuse, but the law does not provide a clear legal standard as to what constitutes injury. In addition, a woman must provide at least two male witnesses (or a male witness and two female witnesses) to attest to the injury. There were no shelters or hotlines specifically for victims of domestic violence, although a temporary shelter for domestic workers housed victims during the year.
Harmful Traditional Practices: Honor crimes, according to the penal code, are penalized as misdemeanors. The law states that a man who sees his wife, daughter, mother, or sister in the “act of adultery” and immediately kills her and/or the man with whom she is committing adultery faces a maximum punishment of three years’ imprisonment and a fine of 225 dinars ($800), slightly less than a month’s earnings at the public sector minimum wage. There were no reported honor crimes in recent years.
Sexual Harassment: There is no specific law that addresses sexual harassment; however, the law criminalizes “encroachment on honor,” which encompasses everything from touching a woman against her will to rape, and police strictly enforced this law. During the year the government deployed female police officers specifically to combat sexual harassment in shopping malls and other public spaces. Perpetrators face fines and jail time. Human rights groups characterized sexual harassment against women in the workplace as a pervasive, yet unreported, problem.
Reproductive Rights: There were no reports of government interference in the right of couples and individuals to decide freely and responsibly the number, spacing, and timing of children. Decisions regarding access to contraceptives, family size, and procedures involving reproductive and fertility treatments required the consent of both husband and wife. The information and means to make those decisions, as well as skilled attendance during childbirth, were freely available. While the government did not provide any formal family planning programs, oral contraceptives were available without a prescription.
Discrimination: Women have many political rights; however, they do not enjoy the same rights as men under family law, property law, or in the judicial system, and they experienced legal, economic, and social discrimination. Sharia (Islamic law) courts have jurisdiction over personal status and family law cases for Sunni and Shia Muslims. Sharia discriminates against women in judicial proceedings, freedom of movement (see section 1. d.), marriage, and inheritance. Secular courts allow any person to testify and consider male and female testimony equally; however, in the sharia courts the testimony of a man is equal to that of two women.
The law prohibits marriage between Muslim women and non-Muslim men. A non-Muslim woman is not required by law to convert to Islam to marry a Muslim male; however, in practice many non-Muslim women faced strong economic and societal pressure to convert. The law grants custody of children of non-Muslim women who fail to convert to the father in the event of a divorce. By law a non-Muslim woman who fails to convert is also ineligible for naturalization as a citizen and cannot inherit her husband’s property without being specified as a beneficiary in his will.
Inheritance is also governed by Sharia, which varies according to the specific school of Islamic jurisprudence followed by different populations in the country. In the absence of a direct male heir, a Shia woman may inherit all property while a Sunni woman inherits only a portion, with the balance divided among brothers, uncles, and male cousins of the deceased.
On January 26, the National Assembly passed a series of amendments that gave women additional housing, work, and family benefits previously denied to them under existing laws. The amendments provide female citizens working in the public sector with an increase in family leave benefits, and housing subsidies enjoyed by male citizens were extended to widowed and divorced female citizens, female citizens married to noncitizens, and single female citizens above 40. The amendments also grant female citizens the right to sponsor their noncitizen spouses and children for legal residency and exempt them from paying annual residency permit fees. However, female citizens remain unable to pass citizenship to their noncitizen husbands or their children. Male citizens married to female noncitizens did not face such discrimination in law or practice.
The law states that a woman should receive “remuneration equal to that of a man provided she does the same work”; however, it prohibits women from working in “dangerous industries” and in trades “harmful” to health. Educated women maintained that the conservative nature of society limited career opportunities, although there were limited improvements. Women accounted for 53 percent of the 270,000 citizens working in the public sector, 44 percent of the 60,000 working in the private sector, and 72 percent of college graduates.
The law requires that classes at all universities be segregated by gender. Public universities enforced this law more rigorously than private universities.
A parliamentary committee for women’s and family affairs exists; female parliamentarians made up four of its five members. The committee was instrumental in pushing through the amendments granting benefits to women. Additionally, some women attained prominent positions in government and business as ministers and heads of corporations. There were no female judges.