Women and Justice: Jurisdiction


Straftwek van België/Code pénal de Belgique (Criminal Code of Belgium)

Female genital mutilation or female genital cutting

Article 409 of the Belgian Criminal Code criminalizes (i) the execution or facilitation of female genital mutilation which is penalized with imprisonment, ranging from three to five years, and (ii) the attempt, incitement, advertising or the spreading of advertisements, which is penalized with imprisonment ranging from eight days to one year. The Article includes several aggravating circumstances, which will increase the severity of the punishment.

Domestic Case Law

X. v. Y. Cour du travail de Bruxelles (Brussels Labor Court) (2017)

Employment discrimination, Gender discrimination

A woman informed her employer of the fact that she was pregnant. Two months later, her employer fired her due to alleged restructuring of the company. Subsequently, the appellant started proceedings before the Court to receive an indemnity.  The appellant claims that she has a right of indemnity based on the right of pregnant women to be protected against redundancy or, following the right to be protected against discrimination. The court held for the appellant and ordered the previous employer to pay the appellant a sum of EUR 33,135.00 and EUR 703.24 and to deliver to the appellant requested social documents.

Z.D.C. v. E.M.S. Rechtbank van eerste aanleg te Antwerpen (Court of First Instance in Antwerp) (2017)

Domestic and intimate partner violence, LGBTIQ

The two accused were prosecuted for invading the home of the two victims and assaulting them, which temporarily prevented the victims from being able to work. The first accused organized the crime because she could neither accept the breakup with one of the victims nor the fact that the victim was in a relationship with a man. Additionally, the first accused created a false Facebook profile to make fun of one victim’s sexual orientation and to convince one victim to break up with the other. The Court found that the motive of the crime was, among others, the sexual orientation of the victims, which is an aggravating circumstance of the assault. The Court found that the facts regarding the first accused had been clearly established. However, the interrogation and the investigation did not provide the court with enough evidence to hold the second accused criminally liable. The Court convicted the first accused and imposed a sentence of three years imprisonment and a fine of EUR 100.00 (increased with the multiplication factor of 50, i.e., in total EUR 5000), but suspended for five years if the accused complied with the terms of probation.

Public Prosecutor v. S.C. Rechtbank van eerste aanleg West-Vlaanderen afdeling Brugge sectie correctionele rechtbank (Bruges Criminal Court) (2018)

Gender-based violence in general, LGBTIQ

The accused was prosecuted for assaulting a trans woman and her partner for being transsexual. The accused confessed to calling the victim and her partner “dirty transsexuals” and assaulting them. Following the assault, a doctor determined that the victim was unable to work. The Court found that the facts were uncontested and therefore proven. According to the Court, the accused showed a lack of respect for social norms and the physical integrity of other human beings. Additionally, the Court found the punishment should reflect that the crime was based on the victim’s transsexual status and that the punishment should serve to have a strong deterrent effect. The court convicted the accused and imposed a sentence of  six months imprisonment and a fine of EUR 100.00 (increased with the multiplication factor of 50 (i.e., in total EUR 5000))which would be suspended during three years if the accused obeyed the terms of probation.

Madam F v SA Schenk Labour Court of Appeal Brussels (2009)

Gender discrimination

A female employee was dismissed with severance pay due to a period of incapacity resulting from two consecutive miscarriages.  In the circumstances of the case, it was not possible to apply article 40 (protection against dismissal for pregnant women) of the Labour Law of 16 March 1971, because the employer was not informed of the pregnancy. However, because the dismissal followed right after the second miscarriage, the female employee was discriminated against based on her sex.  This was not refuted by the employer. Given the timing of the events and the timing of the termination of the employment relationship, the dismissal violated the law of 7 May 1991 on equal treatment for men and women with regard to working conditions, access to employment, and promotion, access to independent professions and supplementary social security schemes. This law does not provide for a fixed amount of damages. The moral damages were estimated at EUR 5,000.

ARY v International Association of the European Labor Institute Labor Court of Appeal (2004)

Gender discrimination

A female employee claimed that she was discriminated against with regard to her salary at the time of her recruitment and subsequently as she became more senior in the company.  She argued that she was granted a lower salary at the beginning of her employment than male employees with equal qualifications and that she was not later granted a higher salary in the same way as male employees who received such higher salary only based on their seniority.The Court of first instance rejected the claims of the female employee. On appeal however, the Court applied the case “Danfoss” (Court of Justice, 109/88 of 17.10.1989) to the case at hand.  Regarding her salary at the time of the beginning of the employment, it ruled that there was no discrimination. However, in terms of the subsequent increase of the salary, the Court held that there was indeed discrimination.

Cour d’appel, Bruxelles No. 89/3060 Court of Appeals of Belgium (1979)

Domestic and intimate partner violence, Sexual violence and rape

The Brussels Court of Appeal recognized marital rape and found that the husband who used serious violence to coerce his wife into having sex against her wishes was guilty of the criminal offense of rape.  Furthermore, this act was neither subject to bail nor to a defense of misunderstanding.

Cour d'appel, Bruxelles No. 96AR1629 Court of Appeals of Belgium (1998)

Gender discrimination

With regard to the marriage of persons of different nationality Belgian courts will ordinarily look to the national statutes governing each person to determine whether the conditions of marriage have been met.  Here, however, the Court refused to look to Algerian law to determine whether the conditions for marriage had been met when called upon to decide whether the marriage between an Algerian Muslim woman and an Italian non-Muslim man could be declared null.  The Brussels Court of Appeal stated that Algerian law, which includes the prohibition for a Muslim woman marrying a non-Muslim, must be rejected as being contrary to international public policy as it results in discrimination regarding the freedom of marriage based on gender and/or their religion.  The Court therefore refused to consider Algerian law with regard to the law applicable to both parties of the marriage.

Cour de Cassation de Belgique No. P.04.0595.F Cour de Cassation de Belgium (2004)

Sexual violence and rape

The Cour de Cassation held that a finding of rape does not preclude a finding of indecent assault. The court therefore rejected an appeal for lowering the appellant's sentence and stated that the finding of the lower court of indecent assault added to the gravity of the crime of rape.