Dalhousie Journal of Legal Studies


In this paper, I analyze and compare the definition of rape in three different legal and sexual cultures: Finland, Pakistan, and Canada. Ultimately, it is an attempt to release the current feminist discourse from the straightjacket of theoretical essentialism. In many ways, this work represents three separate undertakings, which are themselves self- contained and self-defining. The common thread that links them, however, is the way in which the law of rape serves as a site of gender negotiation. In each case, the way in which the question of rape is framed, understood, and negotiated is a product of the legal culture in which it is situated. Comparative analysis of rape law demonstrates the synergic interplay between law and culture and highlights the fact that rape as it is legally defined is culturally contingent. The law of rape not only impacts on how rape is culturally understood, but the legal culture in which the law is situated sets the parameters of negotiation and reform. Thus, in Canada, liberal legalism has been a defining feature in the evolution of the rape laws. In Finland, the emergence of 'women's law' has, in a legopolitical climate of 'gender harmony', created a discursive space for feminists to begin to address issues of violence against women. And, in Pakistan, the current trends towards Islamization poses special challenges for the way in which women are able to articulate crimes of sexual violence. Western frames of reference, though informative, can ultimately be counterproductive if they are not properly tailored, to meet the cultural and legal requirements of Islam including recognition of the special status that women's sexuality plays in maintaining the social order. In the pages that follow, I will undertake to examine the intersection of law and culture in the legal definition of rape. In each of the cases studies, rape law emerges as a site of gender negotiation, but, as will be demonstrated, the issues surrounding legal reform are culturally unique in terms of both content and process.

Creative Commons License

Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-No Derivative Works 3.0 License
This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-No Derivative Works 3.0 License.