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Kimberly M. Brown for Equality Now – WNN SOAPBOX

Woman protester Mozambique

A woman protests on the streets of Maputo, Mozambique wearing a white bridal gown in March 2014 as she makes a large statement against the unjust revised draft penal codes that may be set by vote on June 17, 2014 to reduce rights for women and girls. Image: Lambda Mozambique/Equality Now

(WNN/EN) Washington D.C., U.S., AMERICAS: Every day we open newspapers around the world to read stories of the tragic injustices faced by women and girls in their communities. Often we remark in disgust, wondering what could’ve been done and how we can prevent such atrocities from happening in the future.

Ensuring strong, robust legal frameworks that uphold and enshrine fundamental human rights norms are the first step to ensuring systemic change and the realization of gender equality.

On June 17th – mere days away – Mozambique’s Parliament will vote on a revised penal code for the first time since 1886. In December 2013, the draft Penal Code Review Bill was pre-approved, despite archaic and discriminatory provisions that would unfairly impact women and girls in Mozambique.

Over the last few months, the Plataforma de Luta Pelos Direitos Humanos no Código Penal, a coalition of 16 NGOs (Non-governmental Organizations) has made tremendous progress in pushing for further reforms. One such backward article, which has since been removed, allowed a rapist to escape punishment so long as he married his victim and stayed married to her for five years.

Despite these gains announced in late April 2014, several problematic provisions remain in the draft penal code that severely violates the rights of women and girls. Some of these problematic provisions include Article 218 on rape, in which it is vaguely defined, thus making it easier for rapists to escape prosecution. The crime of rape also carries light penalties similar to those levied for petty theft.

Article 24 allows relatives of criminals to escape prosecution for hindering an investigation or evidence tampering, worsening impunity for crimes of sexual violence. Article 219 erroneously defines the rape of a minor as the rape of someone under the age of 12, which directly contradicts laws in Mozambique that would otherwise note that it should be anyone under 18. Article 253 fails to adequately address widow dispossession, which is rampant especially in southern and central regions – where widows are often chased from the property by her greedy in-laws. The current draft only criminalizes a surviving spouse seeking to dispossess children.

A problematic new chapter was also added.  The entirety of Chapter IX on domestic violence, which was introduced in early May 2014, detrimentally contradicts Mozambique’s comprehensive 2009 Domestic Violence Law. This latter law domesticates Mozambique’s obligations under CEDAW, the Maputo Protocol, and the Gender and Development SADC Protocol. Mozambican NGOs are calling for the entire chapter to be removed due to the haphazard nature of its addition.

On May 11th, the coalition of NGOs working together on the penal code reform shared a comprehensive document with both observations and recommendations for reform that Parliament should consider to ensure Mozambique lives up to its domestic, regional and international human rights obligations.

With so little time left, we call on everyone to take action today with Equality Now and our partners in Mozambique to ensure that Mozambique removes damaging and discriminatory provisions in the draft Penal Code.

Together we can ensure that all eyes are on Mozambique’s parliamentarians on June 17, 2014 to ensure they amend the new penal code in order to protect, enforce, and uphold the fundamental rights of women and girls.

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Kimberly M. Brown is a legal consultant with Equality Now’s Nairobi Office, which has been working to end violence and discrimination against women in girls for over 20 years. As secretariat of the Solidarity for African Women’s Rights (SOAWR) coalition, Equality Now works with 44 organizations working across 24 African countries to promote and protect women’s rights on the continent.  

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