The Violence is Not Our Culture (VNC) Campaign1 and the Women Living Under Muslim Laws (WLUML) network are very pleased to present this publication, which offers a comparative study and feminist analysis of zina laws, to help activists, policy-makers, researchers and other civil society actors to acquire a better understanding of the challenges facing those initiatives that would ensure that culture and/or religion are not invoked to justify laws that criminalise women's sexuality and subject them to cruel, inhuman and degrading forms of punishment. This is one strategy for attaining gender equality and social justice, and could – and should – be used alongside other rights-based approaches, including the promotion of secular spaces, reinterpretation of religious and cultural traditions, engaging with human rights laws, and awareness-raising through creative mediums. As a contribution to the broader objective of ending violence in the name of ‘culture', we hope this book goes some way to unpacking zina laws in some Muslim contexts and communities in order to tease out connections between the criminalisation of sexuality, gender-based violence and women's rights activism.
This book has been a long time in the making. It has been recognised that laws and customs that restrict women's rights, and prescribe or enable violent punishments to be meted out for alleged transgressions, must be better understood by civil society and decision-makers. This publication addresses zina laws: those that regulate any illicit sexual activity outside of marriage in Muslim contexts, including adultery and fornication. Some Muslim contexts have not historically had laws regulating zina, and in others, they have been instated or reinstated in the 20th century. These are one type of laws that can prescribe violent punishments to women and men who violate social norms when they engage in consensual sexual activities, and in some contexts, in cases of rape. Other times, allegations of zina can mask other divisions in society such as socio-economic disparity or the treatment of widows and other unmarried women. They are often linked to other laws and customs that limit women's rights, including inequitable marriage and divorce laws, guardianship laws and public order laws. Like all laws, they vary widely from country to country in terms of their development and implementation. And in all contexts, those who defend the rights of women have challenged the criminalisation of sexuality and so-called ‘morality', using strategies drawn from religion, human rights and customary traditions.