Femmes for Freedom is a Dutch Foundation, established on 5 December 2011. Femmes for Freedom advocates women’s rights and fights against forced marriage, marital captivity, polygamy, honor killing and forced abandonment of women during a family visit overseas. Femmes for Freedom is dedicated both to preventing these crimes and to (legally) assisting women who are held captive in a marriage.
Femmes for Freedom successfully campaigned for an expanded definition of forced marriage. According to Femmes for Freedom not only forcing women into marriage, but also denying women the right to divorce should be illegal. Femmes for Freedom presented this new definition of a forced marriage and marital captivity to Dutch MP’s and, consequently, the Dutch Parliament recently accepted the forced marriage bill with this broader definition in the Dutch Penal Law. Before this broader definition, marital captivity was already acknowledged as a wrongful act in Dutch jurisprudence.
What is marital captivity? It is violence against women!
Marital captivity refers to a situation in which women are unable to terminate their religious marriage. This means that even though the Dutch courts can dissolve their civil marriage, women are forced to stay informally married under the law of their religion or women who are forced to stay married under the family law of their country of origin.
The issue of ‘chained women’ or marital captivity is found within Muslim, Jewish, and Hindu communities in the Netherlands. Women from these various religious backgrounds often marry twice: The first marriage is the Dutch civil marriage, the ‘second’ marriage ceremony takes place in a church, synagogue, mandir or a ceremony performed by an Imam. When these women wish to divorce, they have to divorce twice: according to Dutch civil law and according to their respective religion. A Dutch court can only dissolve a civil marriage, it can not end a religious marriage. When a woman wishes to end her religious marriage, she usually is reliant upon the cooperation of her (ex-)husband. If he, however, refuses to cooperate she will remain trapped in the religious marriage. This puts women in a position of discrimination and oppression; a position from which they experience negative consequences both in their religious community in The Netherlands and in their country of origin.
As long as the wife is tied to her religious marriage, she lacks independence and is hampered in her participation in Dutch society. She may become socially isolated and will not be able to start a new relationship. If she does start a new relationship without having obtained, for example, an Islamic divorce, she will be considered an adulterous women in most Islamic cultures and countries. The majority of Islamic countries have a sharia-based family law which does not accept a ‘secular’ (i.e. civil) divorce and therefore continues to see the couple as married. Jewish law, which is supported by Israeli law gives absolute authority over marriage and divorce to the religious courts and empowers men as the sole executors of the divorce process. This leaves women vulnerable to extortion, manipulation and abuse. Women who live in marital captivity are trapped for long periods of time, even decades, in a state of limbo and unable to rebuild their lives. This is discrimination and violence against women. States need to take all appropriate measures to also eliminate this discrimination against women (article 16 CEDAW).
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