Femmes for Freedom

Femmes for Freedom is a Dutch Foundation, established on 5 December 2011, which advocates for women’s rights and fights against forced marriage, marital captivity, polygamy, honor killing and forced abandonment of women during a family visit overseas. We are dedicated to preventing these crimes, putting them on the political agenda, and (legally) assisting women who are victims of marital captivity.

How are we doing this? 

  • FFF lobbies for change of legislation and policy in The Netherlands and abroad
  • FFF raises awareness and assists both civil society and politics
  • FFF provides information for victims of marital captivity, as well as for NGO’s, social workers, health care workers, lawyers, police, and other stakeholders.
  • FFF offers victims legal support when they take legal action against their husbands.
  • FFF initiated an online reporting tool through which victims of marital captivity can report their situation, be identified and offered legal assistance.

Visit our databank for research- and media articles about marital captivity. 


What is marital captivity?


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. 


The Catholic Church views marriage as sacred and as a sacrament that cannot be dissolved. Although there has been recent changes by the Pope to provide faster and more accesible annulments, both involved parties must agree upon this. It is also important to mention that in some Chrisitian communities civil divorce is not recognized as the dissolution of relgious divorce.


In Hinduism marriage is observed as obligatory and as a sacred bond known as dharma. Hindu majority countries have addressed divorce through law. For example, Indian law offers equal opportunities for women and men to file for divorce based on domestic abuse, adultery, illness, etc. Although it does reflect progress in this realm, it requires that both parties attend court to prove the case and under mutual consent in order to for the dissolution.

Marital captivity 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).

Although, marital captivity is prominent in Islam, Judaism, Catholicism, and Hinduism, this does not mean that it occurs exclusively in the aforementioned religions. It might also be a problem for other religions. 

Marital captivity 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).


FFF's success in the Netherlands and the next step

Femmes for Freedom (FFF) successfully campaigned in Dutch Parliament for an expanded definition of forced marriage: it is no longer focused solely on forcing women into marriage, but also on forcing them to remain married thus denying them the right to a (religious) divorce. This is now included in the Dutch Penal Code. The Netherlands is the first country in the world that included marital captivity in its forced marriage bill.

Before this broader definition, marital captivity was already acknowledged as a wrongful act. The right to remarry and the right to establish a new family life, in accord with the European Convention on Human Rights (ECHR), was also highlighted in Dutch jurisprudence. The minister for Legal Protection, Sander Dekker, also acknowledged the need for a new provision in the Dutch civil code that provides that both partners cooperate to achieve the dissolution of a religious marriage. This provision has been addressed in 20122014, (zie ook: A&MR 2014 Nr.02)  and 2017. These changes in legislation place The Netherlands at the forefront of the battle against marital captivity.

But marital captivity is not just a Dutch problem; it has a strong international character. As the former Dutch Secretary of Justice, Fred Teeven, said “if Dutch divorces would be recognized everywhere, we would no longer be discussing marital captivity”. As long as not all divorces are recognized equally, it remains of the upmost importance to engage in bilateral and multilateral discussions with countries that have family laws enabling marital captivity. The EU speaks for its 28 members and holds considerable influence during these negotiations. FFF encourages the EU to include family law and marital captivity as a discussion topic when negotiating new agreements, international human rights declarations and treaties, resolutions, and EU law. It is high time that marital captivity is recognized as gender-based discrimination and violence and for the international community to raise its voice. Together with you we can make this happen! Support our cause, which is your cause as well: Marital captivity is violence against women! The right to divorce is a human right as well!

First step to the EU-level

FFF has initiated a broadly supported international movement in which various organizations work together to influence laws and regulations concerning marital captivity, at a European level. 

On the 8th of December 2020 Ms Margreet de Boer Dutch MP (GroenLinks) from the Council of Europe presented a motion at the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe (PACE) to find a solution for marital captivity. On the 27th of January 2021 she was appointed rapporteur on this topic by PACE. For the upcoming time she will be overseeing the making of a report on marital captivity in Council of Europe member states, which will eventually lead to a PACE resolution.

With the help and support of the ENoMW (EU network), WAVE (European network) IKWRO (UK), Savera (UK), Seyran Ates (Germany), and LOKK (Denmark), we are closer to our objective of fighting marital captivity at a European legislative level and recognizing this form of discrimination and violence against women.

🡪 PACEmotion


Marital captivity is violence against women

Women from Jewish, Catholic, Islamic and Hindu traditions have to fight for their rights in their own communities and in the courts of their countries of origin. They have to deal with two legal systems and do not enjoy equal rights equal as men, because divorce is often the man’s exclusive right. Men do not suffer from marital captivity and are sometimes even allowed to marry multiple wives (polygamy). 

The fact that these women are forced to remain married against their will is a gross violation of basic human rights and personal freedoms, underlined in international conventions, such as European Convention of Human Rights’ (ECHR) Articles 8 and 12, Convention on the Elimination of all Forms of Discrimination Against Women (CEDAW) Article 16 and Istanbul Convention Article 37. Femmes for Freedom strives for the recognition of the right to divorce as a human right and therefore aspires full compliance with CEDAW, with emphasis on article 16: equal treatment for women before, during, and after marriage.

Let’s unite and fight for justice and gender equality in all spheres of family law! It is time to start an international movement for the recognition of the right to divorce as a human right. It is time to end the injustice and violence of marital captivity!

Pays-Bas: femmes prisonnières de leur mariage religieux.

The Transnational Effect of Marital Captivity

One of the problems encountered by many women in situations of marital captivity is the obstacle of international private law. Many migrant women find themselves in limping marriages, where the judicial divorce in their country of residency is not recognized by the family law of their country of origin. 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.

For example, the majority of Islamic countries have a sharia-based family law which does not accept a ‘secular’ (i.e. civil) divorce verdicts and therefore continues to see the couple as married. If a Muslim woman who lives in marital captivity does remarry or starts a new relationship out of wedlock she could become a victim of honor based violence in her community or legally prosecuted for adultery or bigamy in her country of origin.

Causality with Forced Marriage

Marital captivity is a multidimensional phenomenon which occurs alongside many other forms of violence such as domestic violence, exploitation, financial extortions, honor- related violence, polygamy, forced isolation, and forced abandonment. It also takes place alongside forced marriage as a causality, however, it can also occur in marriages in which both parties entered voluntarily.

Our accomplishments

Femmes for Freedom was established on 5 December 2011 and has achieved success in numerous ways. In a short timeframe Femmes for Freedom established itself as one of the leading women’s rights organization in The Netherlands:


  • We successfully campaigned for an expanded definition of forced marriage to include marital captivity. Our proposal was accepted and included by the Dutch government in an adopted amendment to the Penal Law on 22 October 2012.
  • Due to FFF’s efforts, the Dutch government established the Dutch ‘forced marriage unit’ in 2014 which is named “Landelijk Knooppunt Huwelijksdwang en Achterlating”.
  • FFF advocated for awareness as well as the end of Marital Captivity at the “European Caucas” at the CSW in New York in 2013.
  • FFF advocated for awareness as well as the end of Marital Captivity at the CEDAW Committee at the United Nations in 2016.
  • FFF has presented multiple test cases to the Dutch courts that have resulted in an improved position for women that have fallen victim to Marital Captivity.
  • FFF has worked tirelessly to improve the training of various professionals such as judges, lawyers, and police in order for them to be more aware on issues such as Marital Captivity. The Dutch government has adapted our proposals and improvements for these trainings into their own program.
  • FFF has successfully lobbied for a Ticket Fund for Dutch girls and women abandoned abroad. The Fund was made a reality in 2016.
  • After many years of campaigning and lobby in Dutch Parliament, the government finally agreed in 2018 on an amendment in the Dutch Civil Code that provides that both partners will cooperate to enable the dissolution of a religious marriage.
  • FFF has become renowned for its successful campaigns with banner pens against forced marriages, as well as poster campaigns (Celebrate Love and Zelfgekozen) in both Rotterdam and Amsterdam that advocated the freedom to fall in love, to kiss, and to choose one’s own partner.
  • After a push by FFF, a parliamentary motion is accepted in the Netherlands in 2019, which calls for the development of an action plan for consular and judicial assistance for marital captivity victims abroad.
  • Another Dutch parliamentary motion, FFF helped create, is adopted in 2019, which aims to improve the agreements with Egypt, the Philippines, and Pakistan on recognizing Dutch civil divorces.
  • Due to FFF’s campaigning efforts, late 2019 extra attention is given to marital captivity in the migration communities of the Netherlands, as the topic becomes a part of the ‘Divorce Challenge’. 
  • On the 9th of November 2020, two additional legal amendments are adopted by the Dutch Parliament that make it easier for women to seek a civil and simultaneous religious divorce, which also demand the cooperation of the husband. This is another step towards fighting marital captivity thanks to FFF and the politicians that support our cause.
  • On December 8, 2020, the first European success was booked. The Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe (PACE) motion (doc. 2)calling for a European wide research into marital captivity was put on the agenda by Dutch MP (Groen Links) Margreet de Boer. 
  • On January 27, 2021, the second success was booked: the motion was accepted and Margreet was appointed special Rapporteur. For the upcoming time she will be overseeing the making of a report on marital captivity in Council of Europe member states. This is an incredibly important step, as we need to know the marital captivity situation in other countries if we want to address and criminalise it effectively.
  • On March 30, 2021, French Senator Nathalie Delattre submitted an amendement to the French Senate. With this amendement, France can be the second country worldwide to actively ban and combat marital captivity.
  • FFF’s director, Shirin Musa, has won the Women Inc Cordaid price for female empowerment.
  • FFF was given an honourable mention for the Dutch National Volunteer Prize.
  • In November 2012, Femmes for Freedom won the Red Hot Women Award for the most inspiring women in the Netherlands.
  • In January 2013 Shirin Musa won the Aletta van Nu Award.
  • February 2013 FFF was awarded the Leah Globe Award for its work and achievements.
  • In 2015 FFF’s Shirin Musa was nominated for the International Women of Courage Award of the American ministry of foreign affairs.
  • In 2018 FFF was recognized in the Opzij Top100, which lists the most influential women in the non-profit sector.
  • In 2018 Shirin Musa was nominated for the Dutch national Women in Media award.
  • In 2019 FFF again makes the Opzij Top100.
  • In 2019 FFF wins the Zonta Centenial award by Zonta Nederland.
  • In 2020 FFF is included for the third time in the Opzij Top 100.
  • In 2021, FFF was nominated as Charity of the Year at the European Diversity Awards.

Video’s that were made to show support for the hearing on “The Injustice of Marital Captivity” on the 25th of June, 2018

Interested NGO? What can we do for each other?

What can you do?

  • Do research

Start painting the situation in your country. No matter if you simply look up the numbers online or if you start a large research project, any research is important to back-up the campaign against marital captivity. You will need national data to show the importance of the issue in your country!

  • Raise awareness

Once you have the data, use it to raise awareness. Use any form of media, owned, social, and earned, to get your campaign against marital captivity across and draw national attention to the issue. Owned media mostly concerns your NGO’s website, social media concerns Facebook, Twitter, Instagram etc., and earned media covers your network of journalists that you have built good relations with or that have grown sympathetic to you cause. Establishing such a network can be extremely beneficial for the campaign, as you have an easy-access platform to publish articles, op-eds and more.

  • Network/lobby with national politicians

Start building a network of those politicians that are open to your message and see if they can help you put it on the political agenda. Putting it on the agenda is important, as politicians are the ones that can amend national law.

Ultimate goal: outlaw marital captivity

Your ultimate goal is to outlaw marital captivity in your country and lobby for at EU level. If you would like extra information on how to do this for your country, we have gathered the best practices and can easily share them with you!


How can we help each other?

  • Share our messages

Share the infographics that we sent you, share any messages against marital captivity and let us know if we can share yours. We need to widen our audience!

  • Share our networks

Let’s share our networks! If we plan on taking this to the EU with a strong basis of support, we need to connect our networks.

  • Share our lobby at the EU

We are currently already lobbying at the EU through the Dutch politicians Tineke Strik and Margreet de Boer. Let’s keep each other updated on their plans and any plans the politicians of your country might introduce.

For more information, research and media about marital capitivity, visit our databank.


For more information, please contact us. You could also send us an email: info@femmes.wvmkb-sites.nl Or follow our updates on Twitter and Facebook!