I do not know much of the background to this story, and I am glad that is so. You must have caught the story about the jailed rape victim who has now been freed but agreed to marry her attacker - no?
She is Afghan - I only mention that so that some context can be put on the story. She was raped by a relative and was imprisoned and gave birth to her baby in prison. She was sentenced, so the newspaper, The Times, has it, to 12 years imprisonment for adultery - incidentally, the same term, it seems, as her rapist was given for raping her. She at first refused to marry her attacker in some ‘bargain' to be set free early from prison - and no, I am not kidding. She was then one of the subjects of a film about women's rights (‘In-Justice') but the EU cited concerns about relations with the Afghan Government and the safety of the women concerned in the documentary for not showing the film. The woman has now been pardoned by the Afghan president. At nineteen, she and her baby daughter faced a bleak future in gaol - but I am not sure how much brighter it now is, even though she is no longer in prison.
What is shocking is the reluctance of EU diplomats to permit the showing of a documentary telling her story. They cited concerns about relations with Afghanistan and fears about the safety of women in the film, but one wonders what sort of attitudes towards women and family life are being portrayed here, and by implication, tacitly supported by a failure to censure. The lack of courage which is shown is in stark contrast with the sheer bravery demonstrated by this woman. She seems to recognises the stark, nay, brutal, reality of her existence - that it matters whether she has a man about the house and a father for her child, that she will be even more (if that is possible) unrecognised, without power and vilified even, and her child regarded as a ‘bastard' in Afghan society if she does not marry her rapist. What seems clear to her is that no other man will marry her because she is no longer a virgin and has a child to look after. Without male support she and her daughter face struggles, to say the least. There has to be something wrong in that - in anyone's culture.
The most recent news on this sad tale is that the rape victim has set a dowry of around four times the size of the average dowry in Afghanistan - a sum of around £14,000 - which makes the apparently agreed marriage highly unlikely as the rapist-groom and his family do not have the money to pay this dowry.
There are some values that really are universal. Recognition of the rights of women to say no to sexual intercourse, to be recognised as a victim when ‘no' is ignored, and not to be forced to marry an attacker, the convicted rapist who put her in this position, has got to be among these universal values. To be forced to contemplate marriage like this in order to bring peace and avoid further ‘trouble' or even bloodshed, between two families has taken the minimal life choice from this woman. By comparison, women in the west take so much for granted - but actually, we should not be excusing reprehensible behaviour by saying how much better it is by comparison with what we are accustomed to here.
Penny is a freelance lecturer and writer, and will soon be taking up an appointment at the University of Manchester Law School as teaching fellow in Family and Child Law. She is also an Honorary Research Fellow at Liverpool University Centre for the Study of the Child, the Family and the Law.